A fan of Robinsonade masterpieces like Lord of the Flies or Castaway might fancy being marooned on an island, devouring fruit and the fish they catch and of course, trekking through jungle. Cambodia, where many islands are barely inhabited, is safe haven for such passion. While busy city folk of Phnom Penh have little time to spare on their weekends, here is an alternative close by. Taing Rinith brings you to Anlong Chen Island – a getaway only an hour away.
ON a satellite map, Anlong Chen can be seen as a crescent isle on Bassac River, a distributary of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong River. It has no man-made resort, mountain or sacred temple. Yet, for nature-lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers, the island has everything to offer – in simplicity.
To go there from the heart of Phnom Penh, head south on National Highway 2 for about 40 minutes and then turn to Road 21A in Kandal province (Road 21A is usually occupied by big trucks and also very dusty, so drive with mask and goggles. Once you reach Svay Rolum commune, after 20 minutes, watch out for the ferry pier on the left, to board one of six boats to Anlong Chen.
Unlike the ferries that ply on Tonle Sap or Meking River, the ferries to Anlong Chen are smaller but romantic, with enough width for a car plus a few motorcycles. The scenery, of the river view and fishing boats, is great inspiration for photographing and painting. You can also see the two different sides of life in Cambodia: the intrusion of urban areas in the mainland due to rapid development, and the peaceful, unspoilt way of living on the tip of the long island.
For keen anglers, the bank of the river near the pier is a bountiful. On a good day, land big catfish, climbing perches or even eels. So a small stove will come in handy to cook lunch – nothing tastier than catching a meal in the wild, with fish sauce, chilli and beer. The friendly local fishermen are always happy to join and share with you their way of life. This very spot is also ideal to view the sunset over the river.
If you do not prefer killing for food, there are a few eating houses, serving dishes of local meat and vegetables before you carry on with your journey.
Although Anlong Chen is practically unfamiliar among foreign bloggers or travel writers, probably because there are few things remarkable about it, many come here for hiking or idyllic cycling, or just for fresh air from the river and the greenery that covers most of the island.
Notice that the local folk enjoy their quiet country life, free from all pollution and traffic noise. There is no market. Once in a while you will run into a vendor on bicycle or motorbike, selling clothes to cookware. Many households prepare their meals with the fish they catch from the river and homegrown vegetable.
In fact, Anlong Chen is more well-known for its crops and fruit rather than being a tourist attraction. From its fertile soil, springs succulent vegetable and fruit — without chemical fertilisers, but the isle is particularly famous for its longan, a tropical members of the soapberry family. Longan trees, with its fruit of a musky, sweet taste, can be found everywhere: in plantations, along the road and in front of the houses.
Longans from the farmers cost around $2 per kg, but there are many who are kind and let travellers eat the fruit for free. Among those is 43-year-old Pouk Vanny.
“Buddha teaches us to be kind, and giving away a few kgs of longans do not make me poor,” Vanny says. “I love seeing the happy faces of travellers. Plus, I am only growing them as a hobby.”
Heading to the southern part of the island, you will reach Anlong Chen Primary School, the only school here. A huge Bodhi tree, planted some two decades ago, provides shade for almost the entire school compound and offers travellers with a place to rest. A few vendors ply food and drinks, and nearby is a merry-go-round and a trampoline, which will please the children to no end.
Reminisce your childhood if you wish. Sometimes, simplicity is the best, as with nature, serenity and of course, friendly people.