It will not be an exaggeration to say that living in a crowded, busy city is a pain in the neck, literally and metaphorically. Even dedicated workers like you cannot wait until the weekend to leave behind home and noisy neighbours with cheap karaoke sets, for a trip to de-stress. Thank goodness it’s Friday, but you don’t have the luxury of time to take a ride to faraway tourist centre Siem Reap, Battambang or Sihanoukville while the appeal of destinations around the capital has somewhat lost its sheen. Fret not, Taing Rinith comes up with yet another unique recommendation.
THE choice pick is Prey Kabas district in Takeo, some 60 km from Phnom Penh. In rarity, you may not find it yet on any travelling website or blog, so a trip there holds the fascination of an unforgettable adventure.
Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963), the famous English writer and philosopher, once said, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” And anyone who says that Cambodia is about nothing but Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and several other attractive provinces, is definitely barmy. The Kingdom, with 24 provinces and cities, has hundreds of less renowned places that can satisfy the desire for adventure and exploration. Prey Kabas district of Takeo province is one of those.
Driving to Prey Kabas (translates as Cotton Forest) can take up to two hours and twice as long if cycling. Since it is going to be quite a long journey, prepare well for it to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Wear helmet and body protection gear if you are cycling or go astride your trustee motorbike. You will not need to bring much money because the trip will not be costly. A day before the adventure, sleep early not only because you will not need lots of energy but also since you can begin your journey early in the morning to enjoy the cooler weather and avoid the crowds.
You can reach the rural district by heading south on National Highway 2 and when reaching Takmao roundabout, located in the capital of Kandal province, turn into National Road Number 21, running through S’ang district and lined with Bassac River. After about 30 minutes, head off Road 203 and go on until you see a sign telling the border between Kandal and Takeo. Cross the border and presto, you find yourself in Prey Kabbas.
The fun trip shall begin at a site known as Chamkar L’mot (Sapodilla Plantation), which is not very far from the provincial border. Between the roads are plots of fertile land on which local folk planted thousands of sapodilla trees, turning the area into a beautiful artificial forest. The sight, along with fresh air and pleasant fragrance of the tropical fruits and flowers, make Chamkar L’mot a popular oasis for travellers. The Sapodilla fruit can be traced to the Yucatan peninsula and Mexico.
During the day, you can see picnickers turning photography-hounds in the plantations or lazing in camping cots under trees or a hammock hung between them while napping or reading in peace and quiet. Of course, you are welcome to join them. After a meal, you can taste the natural sweetness of sapodilla fruits, being sold in small roadside stalls run by villagers.
“The best sapodilla fruits can only be found here,” says Srey Keo, a 15-year-old girl manning a stall with her mother. “If you don’t believe me, come and try some of them first. I won’t take anything for the sample.”
After a rest, it is time for you to continue your journey. Go back on Road 203 and keep driving until you reach a part of the road isolated from people’s residence known as Kampong Chok. It is another remarkable destination that will make your trip memorable, especially for outdoor enthusiasts.
During the dry season, it is a landmark where you can admire the relaxing view of golden rice fields, which seem to reach the horizon. Farmers are working in their fields, eating their meals or climbing palm trees to tap their juice. During the rainy season, on the other hand, the road seems to be lying between two rivers, with the same farmers preferring their boats and fishing with nets. Yet, whenever you are visiting, it doesn’t change the fact that the area’s landscape is always stunning — one that tempts a landscape photographer to take out the camera or slake an artist’s inspiration for the next exhibition.
Fishing is the most common activity seen in Kampong Chok. On a bountiful day, a lucky angler can gaff butter catfish or twisted-jaw sheatfish and grill the catch immediately over a fire. Yet, you can also fly a kite or pay 4,000 riels ($1) for a rare and wonderful cruise on a fishing boat in the area. However, enjoying the surrounding view while sipping a drink and eating grilled meat, ordered from one of the many foodstalls on the side of the road, under a parasol can also be a relaxing way to spend your time here.
The sunset at Kampong Chok is spectacular but still not as stunning as the next place you will visit, if you are still perky enough. About 23 km from Kampong Chok are Phnom Borey and Phnom Da, two hills which used to be isolated from the people 40 years ago. Today, both hill are more than enough to wake up your inner Indiana Jones.
Reaching a small steel bridge spanning a canal means you are halfway there. It is the chance to take a good look at the fishing boats on the beautiful canal. A 15-minute drive from the steel bridge will take you to the site of a mammoth statue of a Hindu goddess at the foot of the 50-metre high Phnom Da. The hill is surrounded by dense forest with an ancient temple atop. Phnom Da temple, 12 metres square and 18 metres high, was constructed of laterite, brick and sandstone. On its flank are five man-made caves, each of which contains the Shiva Lingam and Uma Yoni, worshipped by Hindus.
Meanwhile, Phnom Borey is an ideal hiking spot among nature. At its foot, a part which is located near a river bank, lies a few resorts with grass huts, where you can lounge in one of the many hammocks to enjoy the river scenery.
Before going to Phnom Penh, take in a good view of the sunset from either peak of the two hills. Indeed, it has been a long, tiring day, but you will find it satisfying as your trip to Prey Kabas took you another step closer to becoming an ultimate adventurer of Cambodia.