After arriving in Cambodia and spending a couple of days in Koh Krong dusting ourselves down from our traumatic border crossing, we wanted to capture that oft-wished for travel experience – the “authentic slice of local life”. So we jumped on a bus and headed down the coast to Chi Phat eco village.
Chi Phat eco village is set in the lush green Cardamom Mountains of southern Cambodia. In a previous life, this rural village was a renowned hub of illegal poaching and logging. With the help of the Wildlife Alliance, Chi Phat village has transformed into an eco tourism centre which is managed by a committee of villagers and operates as a collective – creating and distributing the income it makes from tourists visiting the village. The forest and surrounding habitat is now an asset to be preserved, rather than a resource to be plundered.
We jumped off the bus and boarded a very rickety boat for our journey up the river. The river is large, flat and wide and we spent a peaceful two hours puttering up the river and admiring the scenery. Upon arrival in the village, we walked up the dusty red road to the visitor centre, where we checked in and were assigned our homestay for the next two nights.
Chi Phat has a number of accommodation options – you can stay in bungalows or guest houses or you can opt to stay with a local family in a homestay, which we did. The family hosting us was very sweet, although they didn’t speak much English (much more than our Khmer though!) so interactions were friendly but somewhat limited. The little girl of the family was very bright and bubbly and entertaining, and enjoyed making her way through the clementines we had brought as a small gift and teaching us how to say “cow” in Khmer. It is a great way to get a glimpse of “real” Khmer life, although this does mean forgoing luxuries we take for granted, such as a flushing toilet.
There isn’t a huge amount to do in the village itself, so the next day we signed up for a bike ride into the countryside to see the waterfalls. As we headed away from the village we arrived at a large river, where families were washing their clothes and children were playing. There was only one way through – by getting wet feet!
Cycling through the countryside was great fun, although the terrain was a bit tougher than I expected. The route was billed as “easy” but we cycled through another three streams and along uneven sandy roads. I took a few tumbles off the bike, although I am a bit special on any form of wheels (see also: roller blading) so that shouldn’t put any functioning adult off.
The route took us past a “bat cave” waterfall (although I didn’t spot any bats or a batmobile), and then along to a freshwater bathing pool which we both leapt in for a quick cool off. Cambodia is very hot, especially when you are cycling and carrying about six litres of water!
By evening we hung out at the village visitor centre, which served decent food and beers. It was a great place to meet fellow travellers, and we met a few people staying in the village for several weeks and others heading out for overnight jungle treks. Thanks to a reduction in poaching, the forest sounded in good health; there were purportedly elephants in the area which was an exciting thought, even if it did mean some routes were changed to avoid meeting them!
There are elements of Chi Phat that could be improved; the visitor centre is a great focus point but I think they could be more “hands on” with greeting people and helping them to get the most out of their stay by suggesting activities and offering a tour around the village when you first arrive. We were kind of left to our own devices once we’d been allocated our accommodation.
That said, I’m really pleased we visited Chi Phat and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone seeking to get a bit off the beaten track in Cambodia. We only stayed for two nights, but the longer-term guests and volunteers we met made me think that this would be a place that would reward a longer stay as you would get to know the village and see even more of the stunning surrounding areas.
If you want to visit Chi Phat…
Chi Phat can be reached on buses running between Koh Khrong and Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. The bus stop is about 45 minutes away from Koh Khrong; the bus stop is called Andoung Teuk.
Book your accommodation ahead at Chi Phat – you can contact them here. We found they were quick to reply to emails, so just drop them a line a couple of days before you plan to go. You can also pre-book a pick up from the bus stop, and some activities if you know what kind of tours and trekking you want to do.
The facilities at Chi Phat are fine, but the most basic we experienced in Cambodia (particularly if you stay in a homestay). This is all part of the experience, but do bear in mind this is a developing project in a developing country; there isn’t a Tesco Metro and jacuzzi baths!