MY FIST BIRD WATCHING TRIP – SEEING SARUS CRANES
I always wondered what a real bird watching and wildlife tour would be like, so I decided to visit – Anlung Pring Sarus Crane Conservation and Development Community Project. This project not only offers an interesting tourism experience, but also supports the conversation of the Sarus Crane. Armed with appropriate outdoor clothing and lots of mosquito repellent, my friend and I started our journey to this unique ecotourism site.
We left Phnom Penh on a bus for Kampot, Kep and the Vietnamese border, the journey took approximately 3,5 hours. Once we reached the intersection with a road going to Kampong Trach Caves we got off the bus. From there, we choose to hire motodops to reach the site, as we wanted to save time (you can also take a tuk-tuk, but it might be a bit slower than the motorbikes). The 8km distance took us a 25minutes in the dry season.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by Jennifer, an English volunteer who arrived at the project a few weeks ago, and the leader of the community. We were taken to the Tourism Centre. A new building, which is elevated above the ground. This allows for stunning views of the landscape and its’ sizable wetland. We could see the large grassy meadow with some small streams where animals come to drink. The area covered by the Anlung Pring community project is extensive, so the visit to the Tourism Centre gave us an opportunity to better understand the project, the wildlife and a range of activities that tourists can participate in here. The place itself is tranquil and peaceful… and you can hear the birds singing.
As it started to get dark by this point, we were taken directly to our homestay, where our host family – a Khmer couple, waited for us with a big smile. For dinner, we had rice, omelette and grilled fish with a beer. Simple food but a perfect combination after a very long day. The family also shared with us a locally made rice wine, a Cambodian wine (more like a spirit) produced in the village. And, we even had a dessert! I don’t need to say I had seconds. The family and I did not speak the same language, but we understood each other thanks to the gestures and the smile, so it did not feel strange for us. Fortunately, there was a translator who made it much easier for everyone to communicate.
After dinner, a good shower was needed. I was taken to the shower area where there were a huge jar and a scooping bowl. A truly local experience, but effective enough especially when you need to wash off the sweat and dust that you collect during the day. After a good shower, I wished my incredible hosts a “goodnight” with my not-so superb Khmer, but the important thing was that they understood me. Once in my room, I saw a clean mattress, a mosquito net, a fan, a pillow and a blanket, all that I needed to fill me with happiness and take me very quickly to the land of dreams.
The next morning, after breakfast we headed to the ranger station to start our Wetland Wildlife Experience. It only took minutes before we were able to see the magnificent Sarus Crane, tall and noble, marked by his distinctive red mark on their head which makes it possible to differentiate them. It was a beautiful show, where the Sarus Cranes were gradually accompanied by other birds arriving into the area. Blue, red, yellow – all kinds of birds of all colours arrived! A beautiful rainbow of colours, and with the binoculars (equipment owned by the project) you could see the birds really close. We were accompanied by a young but already excellent guide, who skilfully explained to us each bird that we could see. We also saw a huge bison, it is true that they are easier to spot. The time passed incredibly fast, and soon it was already 11:30, time to eat. So, we went back to the Buffalo Café which is based at the Tourism Center, and a feast awaited us. Rice, omelette, minced meat, vegetable broth, shrimp and a lot more.
After eating our delicious lunch, we had last few minutes to look and check the sky with the telescope to see for the one last time the magnificent Sarus Crane. Soon after it was time to return to Phnom Penh.
So, this was my first “birding” experience, and I have to say that as a 22 years old Frenchman I enjoyed it a lot more then I have ever hoped. The Anlung Pring Sarus Crane Conservation and Development Community Project is not only a place to see fantastic wildlife but also a place to enjoy Cambodian hospitality and experience real Cambodian rural life. The Sarus Cranes are only at the site during part of the year, usually between late December and April, but there is so much more to do and see, so you will not be disappointed.