THE UNSPOILED BEAUTY OF OU CHOAM ECOTOURISM COMMUNITY
By James Wicker
Ou Choam Ecotourism Community is in the southern part of Battambang Province. People started to settle in this part of this country, on the border with Thailand in late 1980’, and over time the community of 2 villages started to develop an ecotourism initiative. It is a remote, and immensely beautiful part of Cambodia, that does not get often featured in glossy magazines. However, the trip is definitely worth the distance you have to travel to reach it. Unspoiled natural biodiversity of the area is not easily available in most of the Kingdom of wonder.
We travelled to the village from Battambang, and luckily for us the almost 2 hour VIP van journey was very smooth. Ou Choam Ecotourism Community is located at an altitude of 2600 meters, the journey itself was fascinating, watching the landscape change from virtually flat rice fields to more dense growth to virgin forest.
Once we arrive at the village, we were gifted with magnificent views. We were totally taken by the place and even though it was getting late we decided to go for a short walk to explore the local area and the marvellous forest, we had little time before it got totally dark. We walked through the dark deep forest without any human devastation, along a stream that flows from a source much higher up in the forest. The water looked very refreshing, so we decided to have a swim… after a very hot day, this was refreshing and a much-welcomed reward.
Swimsuit, towel, flip-flops, refreshed after our swim, surrounded by total silence, only disturbed by cry of a bird or a monkey, we could not have wished for more – we have found paradise on the Earth. As we walked back, the sunset over the horizon and the temperature dropped dramatically. It started to be cool at this high altitude, and we needed to wear our warmer clothes. If you plan a visit here, remember to bring warm clothes as it gets cooler in the night here and you might even need a jacket… not something most of us living in Cambodia often bring with us.
It was time for dinner. On the menu was grilled fish, vegetables, meat broth and pickled gherkin, a perfectly balanced meal that was accompanied by a small spicy sauce to enhance the taste. We were really hungry, so we really appreciated this feast. The project offers both camping and homestay options for accommodation, and Julie and I chose to sleep in the tented accommodation; eager for new experiences. The tents were comfortable, and soon after retiring to our beds, we were asleep. It got a little bit cold in the night, so I had to put extra clothes on to be warm. Saying that, as soon as the sun came up we were woken by the heat of the day…. And with extra clothes put on during the night I was boiling. This seems to be the problem, I always have when I camp in Cambodia, too hot in the morning to really have a lie-in.
At 8am whether you like it or not, whether you are tired or not, you are up because it is far too hot to cope with the heat for me. Our hosts prepared an excellent porridge, with many ingredients that could be added, such as soya, spices, coriander etc. The programme for the day was to hike to the Ou Choam waterfall. We were lucky to be guided by the vice-president of the community. With his support, we went up the stream along the river we discovered the day before. It was hot, humid and we did not really have the best shoes for this trip, as we naively hoped that flip-flops will be good enough footwear. However, the setting was beautiful and soon after we forgot about our discomfort, the unsuitable shoes, the heat and humidity, as we were presented with the most spectacular untouched forest. It almost felt like no human has ever been here before us; listening to birds and monkeys, we enjoyed the majestic trees that surround us. Nature lovers, bird watchers or photographers, this place is made for you, you will leave with fabulous photos and memories to match. It was an amazing day, we felt the freedom to explore and joy this amazing place. Our spirit was awakened, we felt part of this amazing place. Never before in Cambodia, have I felt so strongly protective of a place; wanting to make sure that it is preserved in this state for others to experience and enjoy it. To understand the need for humans and nature to live in harmony.
After this amazing day, it was time for us to leave, going back to Phnom Penh the city of business, noise and traffic. Just before getting on the bus, one of the local families invited us into their yards of full of longan trees. The fruit is locally known as the longan (/ˈlɒŋɡən/), which is a tropical tree species that produces edible fruit. The fruit of the longan is similar to that of the lychee, but less aromatic in taste. The trees are native to Southeast Asia, and are widely grown in Cambodia. The longan (from Cantonese lùhng-ngáahn 龍眼, literally “dragon eye”), is so named because it resembles an eyeball when its fruit is shelled; the black seed shows through the translucent flesh like a pupil/iris. The seed is small, round and hard, and of an enamel-like, lacquered black.
The family, having many trees in their garden, gave us so much fruit to take with us on our journey to Phnom Penh. As we were leaving, the homestay owner opposite opened the door and beckoned us in, she wanted us to see what it would be like to sleep in the homestay to tell others if camping wasn’t their thing. This was a marvellous trip to a little known part of Cambodia, with a welcoming community, unspoiled nature and much cooler climate than most of Cambodia.
This is an ideal place for anyone wishing to de-stress, rediscover nature and enjoy a few days in unspoiled natural beauty. You will not be disappointed if you come for a trip here, just remember warmer clothing for colder evenings and good shoes might be useful.