Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
122Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
The Cardamom Mountains are one of the most intact rain forests in South East Asia. Chi Phat is a village in the South Cardamom Mountains and at one time was a centre of poaching and logging. A few years ago the Wildlife Alliance set up a community based Eco tourism project that was designed to give the villagers of Chi Phat an alternative form of income to logging and poaching. The village has 500 families and was just a traditional rural village in Cambodia before the project began, now the project provides hundreds of jobs such as guides, moto drivers, boat crew, guest houses etc for the local community. We found out about Chi Phat over a year ago so were really pleased we got the opportunity to come.
We didn't really know what to expect from Chi Phat as there is very limited information available about the project, when we asked in Sihanoukville for bus tickets, the lady looked at us like we were crazy and said " why do you want to go there? no tourists go there!". We managed to get a bus anyway and had to ask the driver to drop us off in a village close to Chi Phat, we got dropped off at the side of the road in a tiny village with next to no-one around, you could see people looking at us thinking what the hell. The place we got dropped off was called An dong Teuk and we were supposed to get a boat from there to Chi Phat, we were waiting at a little shack by the side of the road for about an hour when a guy who works for the re forestation project at Chi Phat offered us a free ride.
When you first get to Chi Phat you have to go to the CBET office. Everything we did was booked and organised through the CBET office, they arrange your accommodation, moto drivers, guides, kayaks, dinner etc. It was so well organised it was excellent. There is currently one Western volunteer but the rest of the staff are all from the local village, the all speak very basic English so the volunteer is there to help them along until they can manage it themselves. There was so many different activities to choose from but after about an hour we had finally decided that we wanted to do some mountain biking with and over night stay at a waterfall as mountain biking is something we haven't done yet on the trip.
There are 12 guest houses in the village and the one we stayed at was really good, we weren't expecting much but it was really clean and nicer than a lot of places we have stayed. That afternoon we hired some bikes and went for a ride around the village, the village people where all really friendly and all the kids seemed to love trying out their English on you. The village consisted of a small market, a dock, some tiny shack shops and then loads of traditional stilt houses. We cycled to a waterfall 3 km from the village but as its the dry season there was hardly any water at all, just one tiny trickle.
On the way back we stopped in at a locals house to see how rice wine is traditionally made. It was just two locals that tried to explained how it all worked, they didn't speak any English but it was surprising how much communicate without actually speaking so we kind of got the idea of it. They showed us that after they have fermented the rice and drained off the alcohol they give the rice to their pigs and the pigs get drunk!! They were really nice guys though and we had a right laugh. We tried some of the rice wine, it was so strong though and they gave us a bottle full for the road.
After dropping off the bikes we went and watched the sunset by the river, we seem to be watching loads of sunsets in Cambodia but they are amazing here the best we have seen so far. We had dinner at the CBET office, all the travelers eat dinner at the CBET office in the evening which is really nice as everyone sits around telling everyone what they have been up to and the food was excellent. There is no menu or anything the local cook just cooks whatever they can find from the market that day. After dinner we went to help out with the English class in the classroom next door. CBET offers English lessons free of charge to all the villagers so they can try to communicate with the tourists. They have different times for all the different people for example moto driver 4-5, guest house owners 5-6 we went at 7 when it was time for the kids lesson. there was only about 10 local children but they were all really great and their English was a lot better than the majority of adults we spoke to. The kids just asked us loads of questions practicing their English and we asked them questions back, they were all really cute and very enthusiastic.
The next morning we got up early for our first day of mountain biking. We met our guides, who were both local villagers who spoke very little English, got our bikes sorted and set off on the trail. We soon noticed that we were better than them at mountain biking but we didn't care as they both really nice. The first part of the trail was through with was mainly through plantations, Em was struggling a bit it was really sandy and a bit difficult at times but the hardest part was the heat, in the open plains it was blistering hot. Lucky for us on our guides chain broke and we got a break while he sent for a new one. After a few hours the trail turned into jungle so we were protected by the heat and the riding became a lot more fun, there was loads of up and down hills on dirt tracks and we got really into it.
We arrived at the campsite at around 2pm after about 5 hours of biking, we were a abit early but that was fine with us as we were both nackered. The campsite was next to a water fall that was about 10 metres high and really deep it was just what we needed after being so hot and sweaty all day so we spent a few hours swimming about and jumping off the water fall. Dinner wasn't too great, some tinned fish with eggs and rice, rice is really starting to get boring now, we have never eaten so much of the stuff, we knew that it was going to be the staple food over here but really they eat it breakfast lunch and dinner every day. Our camp was a hammock with a mosquito net built in, they are comfy to start with but after a few hours it soon looses its cosiness.
The next morning we had some fresh fish for breakfast, the night before one of the guides relatives set a fishing net up in the waterfall and came back to collect it in the morning, he gave us a couple of his catch which tasted great and a nice relief from all the rice. After another quick swim we headed off on the track back towards Chi Phat, the track was ok but not as good as the day before, the views of the jungle where amazing though. We got back to Chi Phat at lunchtime, the mountain biking was really good we both really enjoyed it. The guides were great really friendly and helpful if not a bit in experienced, but that is what this project is all about giving these guys a chance to learn a new trade instead on logging and poaching.
So that afternoon we went to the reforestation project that was set up by three Israelis and provides loads of jobs for the local villagers . After years of logging in the Cardamoms the Government have now protected large areas and the workers at the project are trying to repair some of the damage done. They have taken seeds from all the plants and trees in the jungle and planting them back in the forest. The project is contracted for 4 years so they will plant as many trees as they can in that time. A local villager that worked for the project showed us around all the different nurseries and explained about the project. At the end we planted a tree which was cool. The rest of the afternoon we chilled out around the village, wandering around talking to the local children, having drinks and noodle soup at our favourite hang out - a tiny shack next to the CBET office with the friendliest people we have ever met. In the evening we went for dinner at CBET.
Next morning we set off to the Jar site on the back of two motorbikes, it was a 22km journey through some ridiculously steep dirt tracks, through rivers and all sorts but the scenery was amazing so we really enjoyed the ride. We arrived a hour or so later and had a quick 2km hike through the forest. At the top there were huge rocky out crops we had to climb via bamboo ladders and peered on top of the rock to see the jars. The jars were found in 1984 and have bones inside them, it is not yet known why they are here but they have found a few different jar sites throughout the Cardamoms. There were also some wooden coffins lined up on top of another cave which looked a bit freaky as you could see all the bones laying inside. Some Kiwi's have just taken a sample of the bones to try and work out how old the bones are, they think they are about 500 years old. It was a really interesting site and the views were amazing over the forest.
That afternoon we rented some kayaks and went out on the river. It was boiling hot so was quite hard work but we paddled along for a couple of hours. The river was beautiful and was really relaxing just enjoying the scenery. When we got back to the pier there were loads of local children hanging around and they all wanted a go on the kayak so they took it in turns to go on the kayak with Chris for a ride. It was Chinese new year so the village was pretty hectic, all the kids were running around setting of bangers, all the adults were drunk and everyone was gambling outside their houses it was great to see everyone letting their hair down as usually everyone seems to be working so hard. We went to our favourite hang out and had some noodle soup, Em is getting addicted and had a few beers. The owners keep giving us loads of different fruits to try, they didn't speak any English so we have no idea what fruits they were but they all tasted pretty good.
We had our last meal at CBET that evening and left the next morning, the public boat wasn't running as it was still Chinese new year so we got motos back to An dong Teuk and waited for the bus. The bus was supposed to arrive at 11am so we arrived at half 10 and sat in a little sugar cane stand waiting for the bus, 6 and a half hours later the bus decided to show up!!!! We couldn't believe it but ended up going through a number of Angkor beers, trying to communicate with the locals that spoke no English, it was a good laugh.
The organisation is great and it was fantastic to see tourism done in such a sustainable way and providing the local community which so many opportunities. It was definitely one of the highlights of Cambodia, if not the trip so far as it gave us such a good opportunity to interact with the local community and gave us a great insight into Cambodian life. We would definitely recommend Chi Phat to anyone coming to Cambodia.
Cambodia as a whole has been fantastic, the people are the friendliest we have met so far and we have had so many great experiences. Cambodia is developing at a really rapid place and will definitely become more popular in the future but we are really glad to have had the opportunity to see the country as it is now. The Cambodians have an awful recent history and you can still see the effects of war throughout the country but it is admirable to see how the Cambodians have coped with it. Our highlights have to be chilled out vibe of Siem Reap, the beauty of Koh Rong Samlon and the adventures in Chi Phat, it has been a brilliant and we are really sad to be leaving.