I had heard about Chi Phat from Larry, a French Canadian who had travelled from the Vietnamese border with us.
Chi Phat is a village in the Cardamom mountains run by CBET (Community Based Eco Tourism), set up by the Wildlife Alliance. The village used to rely on heavy logging and poaching. In order to save the rainforest and endangered animals, CBET have turned the village around. The community now makes money by offering treks, mountain biking, boat tours and home stays. The money is then divided between the villagers.
Getting to this remote village was a bit of a trek in itself. I boarded the bus from Sihanoukville heading to Koh Kong, making clear to the driver that I wanted to stop at Andong Teuk bridge. We stopped at the bridge and a girl got off. Only halfway across the bridge, I realised it was the bridge I needed too so jumped up, grabbed my possessions and stopped the bus. It was a bit of a panic! When I got to the right place, I met Talia, an Israeli girl also heading for Chi Phat. We found a ride there and headed off.
Having crossed the river, we found the CBET office and checked in. We opted to share a room at a home stay for a true rural Cambodian experience.
The family were very welcoming with 2 children under 5 and very little English against our complete lack of Khmer. The shower was a bucket and cold water, the toilet a drop hole and there were no plug sockets but it was very homely, especially with the chickens that followed me everywhere (even into the shower!).
We dumped our stuff and went to explore. Chi Phat is small so there wasn’t much to see but we did go and look at the market.
I was brave and tried a strange giant prawn cracker.
In the evening we ate at our home stay and went to meet Larry and Martin who had arrived the day before. We walked past.a house blaring karaoke and as I danced past they beckoned to us and invited us in. Although we didn’t understand each other, it was a fun time. They made us feel very welcome and gave us beer.
In the morning, Talia and I were up early for a 2 day trek in the jungle. We met the people we were trekking with; James and Becky, Brits who live in Malaysia and Veronique and Rufven, a Swiss couple. Our guides were ex-poachers.
If I was scared of the jungle, I should have been more scared of the cows that tried to attack us as we crossed a field before even entering the rainforest!
On our first day we trekked 20km, stopping for good cooked on a fire, to look at plants and to remove…leeches. I’d never experienced them before and they don’t hurt, they’re just gross. They sense carbon dioxide and head for your feet and legs. They can even get into your shoes! Leech stops definitely slowed us down.
To cross streams we had to take our shoes and socks off (which resulted in leeches between our toes!).
We encountered a few giant millipedes. I don’t look too happy to be holding this one (I wasn’t!).
We went for hours without seeing anyone then there would be a few random houses with children outside and women drying rice husks on trays.
We got to the camp just as it started to rain, luckily. The camp was by a waterfall so we all went in fully clothed to wash our clothes for the next day.
It was dark by 6pm and we ate food cooked by our guides in candlelight. One of the guides came rushing up -he’d been fishing and caught a freshwater prawn!
When we went to bed it was completely pitch black. I left my hammock and looked up at the best night sky I have ever seen.
On our second day of the trek covered 14km, passing water buffalo and some small villages where the children all rushed up to us.
We made it to the last waterfall 3km from CBET where we swam and had lunch. There was a strong current so I didn’t stay in long but it was good to cool down. There were lots of beautiful dragonflies there.
At the end of the treks were tired, aching blistered and covered in mosquito and leech bites but it was a great experience (one of my best in Asia) and a fantastic sense of achievement.
Unfortunately I didn’t sleep too well in the jungle or the night I got back so getting up at 6 was painful. I took the boat back to Andong Teuk and the bus from there on to Battambang.
If anyone is interested in staying at Chi Phat, it’s totally worth it if you’re OK with back to basics to the extreme – Lonely Planet says it’s for “Hardy travellers” but it’s not that tough!