Registered in 1995, Ream National Park is one of the Cambodian coast's main crowd pleasers. Sitting predominantly on the mainland, much of the park is easily accessible from Sihanoukville town as a day trip, though the islands of Koh Thmei and Koh Ses also fall within the boundary of this bountiful natural playground. Most of the mangroves, wildlife and beaches are in pristine condition, with landscapes for everyone: mangrove forests, a mountainside waterfall and miles of beaches unmarked by footprints. Nearly 200 bird species live within the park, including herons and cranes. King cobras and pythons have been spotted too, so be vigilant on hiking trails!
Popularity comes with a price and Chinese developers have begun to dip their toes into the potential of the park's sandy white shores and no doubt large, trampling footprints can be expected at some point in the not-too-distant future -- a few trees have already been felled. For now, however, you should still expect to hear the sounds of wildlife rustling the leaves of the thick evergreen forest or fluttering around the lush mangroves, rather than of any construction work.
Ream 'village', essentially a run of seaside restaurants up to Ream Beach Guesthouse, lies on the mainland just seven kilometres past Sihanoukville airport and the Ranger's lodge, down the airport turning off National Road 4. The breeze is good here but the beach is narrow and unremarkable; though there is another three kilometres further along, we were told rubbish is an issue. The Cambodian navy has a base at Ream and sailors may appear unexpectedly; usually they're doing little more than cooking their lunch. Ream village also serves as an alternative access point to Koh Ta Kiev Island, with the respective island accommodations running boats when they have a booking. Or, you can simply stay in Ream and take a boat out island hopping for the day. Aside from Ream Beach Guesthouse, bungalows were being constructed in Ream village when we visited late in 2014.
Plenty of day trips are offered by travel agents in Sihanoukville to Ream National Park. However, it's easy enough to get here on your own, either with a motodop or by renting a motorbike. There are around 35 rangers in Ream park, and several speak English. Trekking with a ranger is advisable; their services are reasonable at $2 per hour. Hikes to meditation mountain and Keng Kong waterfall are popular trips. The Ranger's lodge is opposite the airport -- expect to pay around $13-15 one-way from Sihanoukville (yes, Sihanoukville tuk tuks are excruciatingly expensive compared to the rest of the country).
Alternatively head to the information centre further down National Road 4, heading out of Sihanoukville, where most people 'enter' Ream National Park -- bypassing Ream village. This is the launch pad for the most popular day trip, a boat tour down mangrove-lined Prek Toeuk Sap river to a sandy beach. This can also be arranged on arrival without a pre-booked tour; for one to five people it's $35, and for six or more the going rate is $6 each. The Prek Toeuk Sap freshwater river is salty in the dry season as seawater flows inland and fills with freshwater from ponds in the rainy season. Flying fish cartwheel out of the water, and dolphin sightings are not uncommon.
The sandy beach at the end of the Prek Touek Sap river has a pier and is home to basic bungalows catering to the Chinese market -- Sun Moon Resort which has been up for a couple of years and, new in 2014, Ream Boutique. For daytrippers, this means there's a restaurant so you won't go hungry, though if you're hiking elsewhere in the park don't expect to stumble across water or food supplies so do bring your own. These accommodation developments are courtesy of the catchily-named Golden & Silver Gulf International Tourism Resort in Ream National Park, with a Chinese investment group behind it. A road has been built through the forest to provide direct access to the beachside accommodation -- the turning is off National Road 4. You can drive a moto down here, skipping out the hour and a half mangrove boat trip; the road is sealed for most of the way but not all.
The same developers have also moved onto Koh Thmei and had got as far as carving out where a road would go when we last visited in November 2014. If this follows the pattern of development on other islands, this may just sit as it is for a few years while infrastructure elsewhere plays catch up.
Another diversion is to check out the set of the film Un barrage contre le Pacifique (The Sea Wall). Cambodian director Rithy Panh chose Ream as the filming location for the 2009 film, based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras. Rithy Panh was looking for a place on the Cambodian coast where he could recreate the Cambodia of the 1920s when the French occupation was still in full swing. He found it on a slender thread of beach on the south side of the national park.
The first film-related site worth checking out is "Chez Bart", which was constructed explicitly for the film to replicate a French/Indochinese restaurant and gathering place. Further up the road, you can visit the timber structure that the fictional family called home, which is surrounded by trees, beach, sea and a tranquil atmosphere. To get here, you'll need to rent a motorbike for the day or arrange a car and driver. If the latter, your driver almost certainly won't know "Chez Bart" by name but should know how to get to Wat Ream, from where the shooting sights are a short drive away. From Sihanoukville, take Route 4 for some 20 kilometres to the turn off for Sihanoukville airport and Ream National Park. After that, head straight on the seaside road for another 10 kilometres before taking the turn-off for Wat Ream. Continue on the dirt road and you'll soon see the wooden facade of "Chez Bart" on the right. To get to the family home, just continue up the road and cross the timber bridge.
Text and/or map last updated on 5th December, 2014.
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