Eco-Touring Cambodian Style

By Jane Mountain | May 2, 2014

13,483 km so far.

The rains last night had us a little concerned that the dirt road we’d taken to get up to Chi Phat would have turned into a red mud bath overnight.

On the side of risking it: me. On the side of taking the tourist boat back down to the highway: Stephen.

Stephen’s note: This was my ‘side’ mainly because we had made a deal last night that if it rained, we’d take the boat, not wanting a repeat of one of our first rides in Italy.

After making enquiries with the staff at the Wildlife Alliance office about the state of the road, we decided to risk it.

The girl working told me that since it’s a dirt road, and it didn’t rain much last night, it will be fine. If it was a sand road, like most of their roads, that would be a problem.

Red Dirt And Rain

We crossed back over the little ferry, which today consisted of two small row boats with a table strung across them to make the platform, and hit the dirt.

Luckily, my guess that the road was dry packed enough to stand a little rainstorm was good, and the ride back down to the highway was gorgeous.

A few puddles, but nothing to worry about, near Chi Phat.

A few puddles, but nothing to worry about, near Chi Phat.

This is the first time we’ve really seen any untouched wilderness in Cambodia, and the bright jungle greens set off by the red dirt road and the misty blue-grey of the hills in the distance, was duly impressive.

cyclist on a red dirt road cambodia

The Chi Phat road is amazingly well built.

From the highway, it was just a short 40 km hop to Traepang Roung. We are now on the edge of the Cardamom Mountains, so hills are sneaking their way slowly back into our lives. The first one today was not that steep, but under the wet heat of the morning sun, it seemed almost interminable. I had to take a few breaks and even push my bike up one section just to stay sane.

Near the top, storm clouds started to rally above us, and we heartily cheered them into existence. At the top of the first hill, we stopped for a rest, and waited for the rain to start. It didn’t take long before it was pelting down around us.

Sadly didn't see any elephants. Note the pouring rain in the background.

Sadly didn’t see any elephants. Note the pouring rain in the background.

We stood with our faces pointed to the sky, as our bodies quickly returned to a humane temperature.

Wildlife Alliance

After two slightly challenging hills, we badly needed a Coke break, so we stopped at the first drink stand we saw.

As we pulled in, we noticed that the parking lot was full of motorbikes, and every available seat was taken by a group of men. Many of them were in uniform, with the Wildlife Alliance crest stitched on the sleeves.

As we sat with our Cokes, a few of them invited us to join their group, so we scooted over to have a chat. Only two of the men at our table could (or would) speak English to us. They asked us all the usual questions about being married and having kids and where we were going. Then we got to talking about their job.

They spend their days going out into the jungle, looking for people doing illegal hunting; they protect wild animals and birds from poachers.

As a long-time supporter of WWF, I have heard a lot about these programmes, which take people, often former poachers themselves, and re-educate them and re-employ them as champions of the wilderness. It was fascinating to actually meet the people doing it.

Meanwhile, projects like Chi Phat and Traepeng Rung, where not only do they offer homestays, but also treks, kayaking, and bicycling trips, help involve the local community and give them new ways to make money.

Chi Phat has gone as far as to educate the village about proper garbage disposal and how it can improve the health and the lives of the villagers. There wasn’t a scrap of garbage around the town, even at the waterfall where we went to swim, which was very impressive.

Home For A Rest

Our stop for the night, Traepang Roung, has only become a possibility for overnighting in the last few years. Wildlife Alliance is starting an eco-village project here to mirror the one in Chi Phat. It’s just taking a hold, though, so it is not crawling with tour groups just yet, and most homes are still homes, not homestays.

We were placed in Homestay #2 (there are 8 here). A friendly woman who spoke little English, accompanied by her small granddaughter, met us at the Wildlife Alliance office and led the way back down the highway and along a little dirt path to her home.

Homestay #2, Traepang Roung.

Homestay #2, Traepang Roung.

At the house, two other small girls, somewhere between the ages of 10 and 15, grabbed our bags and hoisted them up the wooden staircase to our room.

It is a simple home, with wooden slats for floorboards, and a thin foam mattress for our bed.

Our little room in Homestay #2, Traepang Roung.

Our little room in Homestay #2, Traepang Roung.

With the only other rooms in the house being the bathroom, another guest room, and a porch, we found ourselves wondering where the family lived.

They spent most of the afternoon working, playing, and studying on a wooden platform (like a bed without the mattress) under the raised house.

Bikes under the house, Homestay #2, Traepang Roung.

Bikes under the house, Homestay #2, Traepang Roung.

They also made us a delicious dinner with all the vegetables and fruit coming from their garden.

It wasn’t until bedtime that we realised that there was another tiny room next to ours with a bed in it – though we’re not sure who slept there. All we know is that when we went to bed around 9pm, grandmother and three kids were all arrayed under a mosquito net on the sleeping porch, watching a video on a tiny phone.

There were no parents around during our visit, but we are hoping they were just away for a few days.

The work Wildlife Alliance is doing in this part of Cambodia is amazing, and we’ve seen first-hand how it can change the lives of the people involved. Yet another inspiring story of people coming together to make things a little better for the world around them.  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.

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