In months like this – when the sun gives us just enough warmth in the morning and the cold winds make us shiver in the evening – mountains are the perfect places to be. That’s what I did days after I welcomed 2019.
I drove my motorbike for three hours from Phnom Penh through National Road 4 to Kirirom National Park in Kampong Speu province. I only intended to have a day of pure relaxation, but that was until I saw a group of women making beautiful flower crowns inside the national park.
The eldest, I have known, was 68-year-old Neang Chhrorn. With her were a middle-aged woman and three other youths. They sat together as they sew fresh flowers into crowns that were to be sold to local and foreign tourists visiting Kirirom National Park.
“These children come to help me after school to earn some money for their studies,” Chhrorn said.
She sells flower crowns from 7 am until 2 pm. Some days she can sell several flower crowns; some days she gets no profit. Her small business depends on the number of tourists coming up the mountains and on the weather.
“I sell the flower crown for 5000 riels each. Sometimes, people ask me to lower the price. If nobody else buys my product, I sell it for a cheaper price.”
Chhrorn shared that she gets her flower supply from the forest. But since there are only limited species of flower-bearing plants in the forest, she has to buy from the shop in downtown area.
“I bought other kinds of flowers from the shop to make the crowns more beautiful. The flowers were priced at 15,000 riels per kilo. And if I cannot sell all that, I lose the money.”
No sales also means no food for Chhrorn. “But my neighbours also give me food to eat.”
Chhrorn decided to make flower crowns as her business when her husband died four years ago. Her children now have their own families and left her alone in the mountain. She has to make flower crowns every day to survive. And an accident that left her leg injured didn’t help.
But even with the unstable business and a left leg that becomes swollen and painful on cold days, Chhrorn said she will not leave Kirirom National Park – the place that has become her home for many years.
And I, a resident of Phnom Penh, cannot blame Chhrorn for loving the place.
Kirirom is a magical place. With its tall pine trees, beautiful waterfalls, abundant orchids and unique bird life, the national park gives one the chance to truly connect with nature. The park is also good for campings with families and friends as tents can easily be rented in the place.
With the noise and pollution in the city, a couple of days at Kirirom National Park certainly feels like heaven on earth. And yes, don’t forget to buy Chhorn’s crown flowers for a perfect selfie.