OFF INTO THE WILDERNESS AT STUNG ARENG
Koh Kong Province is often described as a mystical place. Stung Areng in the Valley of Areng is no different. The thought of natural forest, wildlife, fresh air and adventures in a new place in Cambodia and I was enticed. A nature escape was what I was looking for as I hopped on a bus from Koh Kong town – and unbeknownst to me an adventure awaited.
After a night in Koh Kong town, I spent the morning exploring the town. First thing coffee before I meandered through a bustling market. I watched as fresh produce was unloaded off the back of pick up trucks bursting at the seems with allsorts. Durian, Cambodia’s favourite smelly fruit, by the truck load. The spiky fruit is known to grow well in this area due the cooler climate a nutrient rich soils. Not a fan myself, its pungent aroma I could already smell from metres away.
I sat down to munch on a bowl of noodles with chopsticks and metal soup spoon, striking up broken conversation with a Khmer shop owner. After explaining I was heading to Stung Areng, a big smile spread across his face and eyes lit up. He explained he had family who lived in the Areng Valley. With brows furried in thought he described rivers with fish in abundance and forests with massive trees.
“Bus leave 1pm or…” He paused. “2pm maybe, here.” He gestured to the front of the market, a cheeky grin on his face.
I thanked him for the noodles, paid my 5000 riel ($1.25USD) before heading on my way.
A JOURNEY ON A LOCAL BUS
I returned to the market at 1:30pm and soon found the bus I needed. A deep blue minivan was being stocked full of products from the market. Inside, three old Khmer ladies with colourful scarfs wrapped around the heads, sat across bench seats at the front of the bus. I squeezed in next to them, securing my backpack next to packets of chips and cans of soda in the back of the van.
It wasn’t until an hour later that the bus left. By this time, there were atleast 12 in the van. A little squishy but the smiles I received from passengers either side made me feel calm and excited for the journey ahead.
It was atleast 1 hour on the main highway before the bus turned off to the left onto a dirt road. Going slowly over bumps and up and down small hills I was able to gaze out in awe at the views either side of me. I was visiting Stung Areng at the beginning of wet season (May). As such large trees were looking lush. Green leaves sparkled and the air smelt strong of rain. The humidity was heaving and the threat of rain evident by looking up into a darkening sky.
A WARM WELCOME
My first time to area, my immediate impression was of richness. Deep green forests extended for miles, birds circled overhead and a deep breathe in provided clean, crisp air. Just by looking out the bus window I could admire a landscape that felt incredibly alive and thriving.
After many stops along the way, I arrived at a Community Office in Stung Areng around three hours later. I was greeted by two friendly Stung Areng staff: Tith Ly and Kao Ny. Within half an hour I had arranged a tour for the next few days, having already pre-booked a homestay for my first night.
Kao Ny showed me to my homestay, two doors down from the office. The sky had begun to turn a brilliant red and orange as the sun set behind the Cardamom Mountains. What a view. I met the family I was spending the night with and my heart melted just a little. Despite limited English the shy smile from the Father and cheeky smiles of the two children made me feel immediately at home.
I had a delicious dinner of rice, fish and vegetables prepared at the office. Not too long after, I retreated back to my homestay before an early night. Not even crickets could be heard from outisde. A silent and peaceful sleep at Stung Areng.
At the risk of spoiling the surprise of what Stung Areng and the community there has on offer….I will keep my description short.
A WILDERNESS ADVENTURE
The next few days in the mountains near Stung Areng were adventurous and re-energising to say the least. With a local guide, I trekked through stunning forests and over undulating hills. I swam at picturesque swimming spots on the Areng river and camped atop a mountain, only to wake to a sunrise that almost made me tear up with joy.
My stomach was full with delicious food cooked in the forest. Sometimes we stopped to pick herbs or mushrooms to add extra to the meal. For two nights I slept under the protective canopy of the forest. I emerged from the forest with a body that needed a little rest from all the adventure. Yet, a mind that was so full from the beautiful landscape and people I had met.
Leaving Stung Areng on the same bus I had arrived I had time to reflect on my favourite aspects of the trip.
Perhaps it was being the only guest in the village. It’s often what we search for when we are looking for an authentic experience on our adventure travels. It did feel special. Or, was it when I was deep in the forests of the Cardmom Mountains? Here I truly felt as if I was somewhere away from it all. But how could I forget such welcoming and friendly faces at my homestay or the Stung Areng staff?
Anyhow, if you are in need of a nature escape, or a time to recuperate…head to Stung Areng, you won’t regret it.