With trails that run in virtually every direction into forested mountains, along cooling rivers and across open grassy plains, the opportunities for exploring Chi Phat by trekking or bicycle are virtually limitless. They offer an opportunity to explore this natural environment, discover mysterious cultural artefacts, and learn more about the important work carried out by Wildlife Alliance to rehabilitate and return Cambodia’s priceless wildlife to the world they belong in.
We did the Trick or Treat trek, which takes in bat caves and an ancient jar burial sites. It was 44 kilometres of easy to medium-hard going, but the conditions make it tougher than it might otherwise be. By the time we got to the camp only six hours after departure, we were ready for a nap. A big one. And our once comfortable hiking boots were beginning to pinch. Don’t even attempt these walks unless you’re sure of your shoes. The walk back the next day made us feel our age, which we weren’t too happy about.
But it’s worth it, every step of the way. Not just for the battalions of butterflies that guide you on your way, but the abundance of birdlife that we saw, from parakeets to eagles, kingfishers, wild chickens, magnificent hornbills whose huge wings beat a slow, deep rhythm in the air, and plenty more that we’re not switched on enough to identify. We also saw lizards and lots of nimble and pretty red squirrels flitting across branches and from tree to tree. Along the way, our guides spotted tracks for civet cats, as well as plenty of their excrement, porcupines and elephants.
At first we thought our guide was pulling our leg about the elephants, as he pointed out long trails of flattened grass on the verges of our path. But our skepticism was soon put to rest on discovery of the first enormous pile of grassy poop. Either that was an elephant or a horse with a serious problem.
Despite being a solo traveller, I had two for company: a guide and a cook, both of whom were excellent. We stopped en route to the camp for a delicious lunch of rice with pork and vegetables, and cook turned out another delicious meal for dinner, of rice with a dense vegetable soup.
Amazingly, we all drank all six litres of water that we were each carrying before the day’s end. For the next day we boiled river water to sustain us for the journey back. It doesn’t taste the greatest — it tasted like ashes — but it did stop us from keeling over. We finished all six litres on the way back too (and didn’t once stop to pee).
The same route that we took can be done by bicycle as well, for a quicker trip up to the burial and bat caves. The going is pretty sandy in places, so prepare to haul. We personally prefer walking because you see more. We are thrilled to report that we didn’t see a single spider (that may be down to wilful blindness). Because we were at the height of dry season, we also didn’t attract a single leech. They are abundant in these hills though, so you’ll need long socks to tuck your trousers.
The terrain, and aspect, varied from sandy, open tracks across grassy, exposed plains to thick, secondary jungle, and veered from flat and easy to some quite challenging climbs.
Our tour took in ancient burial jars — sadly looted of their remains and the jewellery that was likely in there when discovered by villagers — left by a people about whom little is known. The distinctive burial rite, which is so far unseen elsewhere in Cambodia than in the Cardamoms, indicate a culture that was quite distinct. They are still a fascinating relic, and set at the top of a very difficult climb. We can’t imagine how hard it must have been to get the coffins up here and in situ.
Treks range from $15 to $120, and can be undertaken at a level and duration that suits you; discuss with them the possibility of doing it by bike instead if you prefer. They even offer a 10-day hike into the forests for the really committed. Which we might yet do one day.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 11th September, 2016.