Welcome To The Jungle

By Stephen Ewashkiw | May 3, 2014

13,547 km so far.

Leaving our home stay this morning, we rode out along the dirt road to highway 48, not really looking forward to today’s elevation profile.

blue wooden house cambodia

Homestay #2, Trapaeng Roung.

There are a few big climbs today, and it’s a scorcher.

In The Flow

It isn’t often we make a detour from our route to visit a tourist spot. Taking a detour on a bicycle is time consuming, and it is often the case that the sight isn’t really worth the effort. Today was an exception.

Tatai Waterfall is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Cambodia, if the internet is to be believed.

Tatai Waterfall.

Tatai Waterfall.

To get there, we turned off the highway a few kilometres past Tatai, and rode along a dirt track, until we were met by a gate across the road. After paying the entrance fee of 2,000 riel (50¢), we rode a further 1 km down a rocky, dirt path that led to an empty cleared area with a Parking Lot sign.

There we locked our bikes behind a clump of bamboo and wandered down the path towards the sounds of people playing in water. After a steep descent, a beautiful scene appeared before us.

Tatai Waterfall, most impressive.

Tatai Waterfall, most impressive.

Bubbling pools of swirling water, monks bathing in the bright orange robes, tourist boats collected at the bottom of the falls, and a handful of people taking photos.

Under the falls, Tatai Waterfall.

Under the falls, Tatai Waterfall.

The force from the main waterfall was intense, and crossing the main channel was a challenge of strength, stamina, and will. This is me trying to swim up to the main falls.

Grand Rapids

At one point, as she tried to cross the channel, Jane disappeared from sight as the current forced her down a short set of rapids. I tried to rescue her, but found myself stuck between a submerged tree and the force of water rushing past me.

Jane’s note: If you ever find yourself in this situation, point your feet downstream, keep your head out of the water, and go with the flow. Feel free to swear loudly a few times, no matter how many monks are standing around watching you.

Stephen swimming upstream with squad cheering him on, Tatai Waterfall.

Stephen swimming upstream with squad cheering him on, Tatai Waterfall.

Fortunately she emerged shortly after, a bit discombobulated from the unexpected ride, but unhurt. It turns out you can actually ride the rapids if you know the spots to go, and later a monk showed me how so I rode down through two sets of rapids a few times. It was really fun, getting pulled along by the river, dunked under, knocked into rocks, and thrown out the other end.

man diving into a huge waterfall cambodia

Local diving, Tatai falls.

Thankfully we both had our Keen sandals on, or our feet probably would be a bit cut up. There were quite a few rocks hiding under the surface with corners and sharp edges, but we both know that you ride rapids feet first, and the same goes for finding your way around waterfall pools.

Things We Lost In The Falls

Towards the end of our visit I was talking with one of the monks, who told me they had all been to Thailand this morning, and were now enjoying the waterfall before heading back to their pagoda. He asked who I had come to the waterfall with, and I told him, “My wife.” She was nearby so I called Jane over.

It has become common on this trip for me to show people my wedding ring as a way of saying “I am married, and that is my wife.” When I went to make this gesture to the monk, I realised I wasn’t wearing my ring.

I had been when we got to the waterfall.

Somewhere, down in the cracks and crevasses of the rocks, sits my wedding ring.

My preciousssss.

A little more than 15 years ago Jane and I travelled to Dublin to buy wedding rings. We both got claddagh rings, hers a traditional one, mine on a gold and white gold band. I know logically that the ring is a symbol, that it was just some manipulated gold, and that it isn’t the one ring to rule them all. But I am gutted. I feel like I have failed at some great test by losing it.

Jane’s note: To me, things are just things, and I don’t attach sentimentality to them. Sure, it’s sad that the ring is gone, but it’s just one more story we have from our trip, that we’ll be telling for years to come.

But, we do have an excuse to visit Dublin again now.

You’re In The Jungle, Baby

In the past week people have begin referring to the forest around here as ‘the jungle’. I hadn’t realised Cambodia had jungle, but here the woods are thick and dense. A machete would be needed to walk through it – the perfect modern definition of a jungle. Add exotic animals, insects, and plants, plus the hot and sweaty air, and there you have it: jungle.

Jungle in all its glory, near Koh Kong.

Jungle in all its glory, near Koh Kong.

An aside: When researching what a jungle is I discovered an interesting fact. Did you know that before the 70s the term ‘rainforest’ didn’t exist, and that what we now call rainforest was then called jungle?

Our final 16 km ride to Koh Kong was through some dense, noisy jungle. We could hear all kinds of animals calling out to each other as we rode along the road, and there is even the famous (to cycle tourists at least) “Caution, Elephant Crossing” sign as if to drive it home that we are in fact, in the jungle, baby.

Caution, Elephant Crossing, near Koh Kong.

Caution, Elephant Crossing, near Koh Kong.

At one point I heard an animal calling from close to the road, and stopped to see if I could spot it.

There, running through some trees right about 50 feet away, I saw a small mammal which resembled a squirrel but in the sunlight appeared to be a deep rusty red colour, and larger than a typical squirrel, and its call was more chipmunk-like.

Later, I found out it was a cream-colored giant squirrel. Thanks to the internet, you can hear what it sounds like. The field recording also gives a good example of what the jungle sounded like as we rode through it.

We ended the ride with a nice long, steady descent into the town of Koh Kong, looking out over its vast mangrove forest (also technically a jungle) with the Gulf of Thailand in the distance. This is our last stop in Cambodia, and we plan on spending a few days here before heading back to Thailand.

Soundtrack: The Beach Boys, Smile | Dengue Fever Present Sleepwalking Through The Mekong | This American Life Podcast  

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


  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie May 8, 2014 at 8:47 am

    HOLY CRAP! That sounds exactly like a regular squirrel when it’s perturbed that you’re too close to it’s cache, except GIANT! That would’ve scared the crap out of me! :D

    Too tragic about your wedding ring! But glad you’re both handling it in stride. A sentimental part of me loves that it will forever remain in such a happy place, with many stories to tell if it ever is found.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen May 9, 2014 at 1:06 am

      It was really cool Cassie. I don’t think it would have scared you in reality. It was so amazing, deep, bright red, and those ears!

      I love what you said about the ring. Thanks.

  2. Comment by Geoff L

    Geoff L May 7, 2014 at 12:53 am

    So sorry to read about your wedding ring, Stephen. I nearly lost mine in Isfahan in 1978 (down a very smelly plug hole in an apartment bathroom), and I was hugely upset until I was able to relocate it (it had been a gift from Iran’s father). But, indeed, the upside could be a return trip to Dublin, where the “Liffey Water” tastes better than anywhere else in the world, and a warm welcome awaits if you can make it across the Irish Sea.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen May 8, 2014 at 3:38 am

      I will take the excuse to drink “Liffey water” as it is meant to be drunk, definitely. Silver linings and all that! Glad you found your ring, even if it meant rummaging around a mucky plug. Mmm.

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