The weekend is tomorrow and you want to enjoy it to the fullest to compensate for the back-breaking long days of work. Yearning to leave the noisy city behind, you want to go to a sanctuary to relax peacefully in nature. One option is Kandal, the closest province to Phnom Penh, but an enthusiastic traveller like you may have already seen most of it. So why not try Kampong Speu, the second nearest province? Like Kandal, Kampong Speu has numerous tourist attractions. One of the most popular among them is Am Pe Phnom. Taing Rinith takes you to an excellent getaway, a gift of Mother Nature, to unwind.
It is a one hour and-a-half drive from Phnom Penh to Am Pe Phnom Resort, which is located Kampong Speu’s Chhbar Mon District, roughly 48km from the sleepless capital. Cycling there could take more than three hours but the tiring ride could be very good exercise as well as enjoyable, especially if you start your trip very early in the morning. Travelling southwest on National Highway 4, drive slowly and cautiously because the road was built particularly for the transport of merchandise between the capital and the port and is usually crowded with heavy trucks and containers.
When you cross the border into the territory of Kampong Speu, you will run into a variety of picturesque sceneries, the ones which urge a landscape photographer to take out the camera. We recommend taking a short break at a food station on the way to enjoy it and probably a serving of locally-made sausages with a glass of sweet palm juice.
The entrance of into Am Pe Phnom is on the left side of the highway, across from the Department of Education, Youth and Sport in the capital of the province. You have to go further down a dirt path for about 10 minutes before reaching the destination.
On arrival, you will be greeted by a soothing symphony of chirping birds and cicada, which tend to make you forget your noisy neighbours in the city. Tropical trees and flowers cover most of the area, giving out fresh air and pleasant smells. Firstly, you should see a mini zoo near the gate, featuring animals such as long-tailed macaques, snakes, hares and a pair of ostriches. You can buy food from the caretaker to give to those animals, although it is not advisable to do so.
Local folk who run the eateries there will come to greet and persuade you to eat and rest at their cottages built along the bank of a natural stream. Some even boast about serving wild game such as wild boar, hedgehog and antelope, yet you must refuse their offer because you are here to be part of nature, not to violate the precepts – not to mention that it is illegal to buy wild game meat. Dishes containing chicken, beef, fish and wild vegetables, each costing around $10, should be enough to whet your appetite.
After a good meal and a short rest, it is time to trigger your adventurous alter ego by exploring the area, starting with trekking the nearby forest. If you happen to be a fervent birdwatcher or an ornithologist, this could be the place for you since it is home to many species of wild birds only found in Southeast Asia. Am Pe Phnom is also ornamented with beautiful statues, walking paths and playgrounds.
For years, Am Pe Phnom had been well-known for its wood-and-cable suspension bridge, spanning across the stream and connecting Tang Tonle and Ampe Phnom Villages. Unfortunately, the bridge was destroyed last year by rising waters, but according to the villagers, a new bridge will be built in the future.
“It is too bad we no longer have the bridge,” says Sok Moran, an office worker in Phnom Penh and a regular visitor to Am Pe Phnom. “But, my family still enjoys picnicking here whenever we can.”
For the time being, thrill-seekers can test their courage by crossing the stream on a rickety wooden bridge. It is only in the country’s dry season that you can cool yourself down with a dip in the stream.
On the other side, you can visit a beautiful ancient pagoda where villagers come to worship especially on Buddhist holidays. The temple, decorated with beautiful murals narrating the life of Buddha, offers a quiet place for meditation. Located on a small hillock, it is also an ideal place to admire the spectacular, orange sunset.
Am Pe Phnom, to sum up, is the place for all kinds of people: a great getaway for busy Phnom Penhers, a haven for nature-lovers and an adventure playground for Indiana Jones wannabes.