A worthwhile endeavour
Published/Last edited or updated: 12th September, 2016
The hills around Kirirom were the subject of rampant logging throughout the 1990s as the pine trees were felled by those seeking to profit from the valuable forests. The situation was described as “anarchy” by one official.
In response, and with support from NGO Mlop Baitong, a community-based ecotourism project was set up in 2002, with the aim of protecting the forests for future generations. Not just that, the forests and pine trees help to ensure that the lowlands are not flooded with runoff during rainy seasons.
The difficulty with arresting damaging behaviours is that alternative sources of income need to be found for people living at subsistence who may not often have a choice between destroying their environment and feeding their family. This means that people not only have to be educated, but new streams of revenue must be found to replace the ones lost.
In Chambok, that is done through a system of homestays, the community kitchen, local guides and the opportunity to partake in cultural experiences. This helps to ensure that the benefits of tourism are spread as widely as possible and creates an incentive within the community to preserve the forests and natural environment that attract the tourists.
On arrival at Chambok, your first port of call is the CBET centre. Here you will be assigned your accommodation, and given an introduction to the programme.
In brief, 51 homestays, 10 guides, five families with cultural activities, and 343 cooks with the community kitchen benefit from the programme. Out of a community that comprises 851 families, that is not an insignificant proportion of beneficiaries.
We joined them for a hike into the hills, where we found waterfalls, bat caves, and a beautiful journey back down alongside the river that provides water for six out of the nine villages in the commune. The journey up is pretty if disconcerting when you realise that all those lush, vivid green bamboo thickets are actually signs of areas that have been logged.
We were joined on our trip by the friendly dogs who live at the community kitchen — clever dogs. Someone — perhaps one of the long-ago owners of the plantations that line the route from Treng Trayeng — must have brought over a labrador at some point. He was clearly very popular in his day. If you play with them, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, we’d suggest taking worming tablets when you get back home.
You can also go on a sort of cultural tour of the village, taking in noodle making (which you will then eat for dinner that night with fish sauce and chillies — divine), a gardening project (whose produce you will pick and likely enjoy that night — had a delicious aubergine and pork dish thanks to our horticultural exertions), and palm and rice wine making (you can, we didn’t). We also made our very own bracelet from locally picked grasses and learned how to make rice with mung beans and coconut, baked in a fire. We were also lucky enough to catch an Apsara dance show that was being staged for a visiting group.
Other possibilities include a trip on the “iron buffalo” — a sort of long-armed tractor — ox cart rides, swimming in the river and underneath a waterfall, and bicycling.
You could easily fill two days of activities here, done at a leisurely pace. Because, after all, what’s the hurry.
The excursions have different prices depending on what you do, and how many of you want to do it. For us, the cultural experiences cost roughly $3 to $4 each, though we believe that we were charged extra for being there on our own, so groups may be able to secure a lower individual rate. The guide fee was $23 for one and a half days, plus the coordination he did for us on the last morning. We would recommend checking your bill before leaving. We had to ask repeatedly for ours to be itemised, but when we checked it — too late as it turns out — we believe we were overcharged. This may have been an error, it’s impossible to tell. Just check to be sure.
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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