Upstream Through Cambodia’s Jungle Chi Phat, Cambodia

Chi Phat is a small community on the banks of Preak Piphot river in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains. Wildlife Alliance has launched an ecotourism project in this village where once many people lived from poaching and logging. Now the whole village profits from the project and the local community center offers a range of activities from trekking to mountainbiking to kayaking and boat tours.

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A jungle trek – or maybe not

Initially, we wanted to do a two day hike and spend one night in the jungle. However, the rainy season had started and there are way too many mosquitoes around. We weren’t keen on becoming mosquito food so we decided to stay in the village and do day tours.

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We stayed in a bungalow at Cardamom Cottages – a great choice! It was almost mosquito free (thanks to mosquito coils and a good mosquito net we left the village with only a few bites), and not too hot. There’s no electricity during the night so the fan doesn’t work but since the bungalow is made of bamboo, the air goes through, making it surprisingly cool at night. This isn’t the case in the guesthouses which are built of concrete. Plus, the bungalow is lovely and the owner, Veasna, super nice and his wife cooks the best food in town.

Mountainbiking

The first day we went mountainbiking – really exhausting in that heat! I think we’ve never before drank so much water in one single day. The trail leads through jungle, meadows, very small villages, and a school in the middle of nowhere and, at the end, to an amazing waterfall.

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A boat tour

The next day we wanted to go on a sunrise boat tour. For two reasons we didn’t see the sunrise: First, it was cloudy and second, the boat driver didn’t show up on time. I’m not a morning person and waking up before sunrise isn’t my thing so I wasn’t particularly happy about the driver’s delay. Once on the boat however, I had to admit that it was really nice being on the river that early in the morning; there was a lot of fog and mist on the water and it looked fantastic.

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After breakfast – eggs and rice, the same as for lunch (the breakfast and lunch packs are more than generous, it’s impossible to eat it all) – we went for a hike in the jungle. Soon, however, we realized we had been bitten by leeches (they leave some ugly marks!) and many more of these slimy beasts were creeping up our socks and trying to wiggle their way through the fabric to get a good bite, so we quickly turned around.

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Sailing back to the village the driver had some difficulties maneuvering the very small boat. I’m not sure what he did but suddenly the boat started to capsize, water came sloshing in and our hearts skipped a beat. Instinctively, we grabbed our bags and cameras and leaned in to the other side and managed to stabilize the boat. The water wasn’t deep and it wouldn’t have been so bad to fall into the river (would have been nice to cool off). But the cameras… I don’t even want to think about it. The driver then dropped us off at the village and before we could tell him goodbye, he was gone. Poor guy.

Environmental issues

Chi Phat is, from what we’ve heard and read, one of the cleanest villages in Cambodia. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s clean, you still see garbage lying around. But yes, it’s much cleaner than most other places – Cambodia does, unfortunately, have a huge garbage problem. That’s not the only threat to Cambodia’s nature, however. There are plans to cut parts of the protected forest close to Chi Phat – a project that will make a lot of money for a few people in the short term but that will forever destroy large parts of important rainforest. So although the Chi Phat ecotourism project is not as well organized as its website may suggest, it’s still a good thing worth supporting and it helps to create environmental consciousness among the villagers and to give them an income opportunity other than poaching or illegal logging.

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