Cambodia’s dry season is technically over now, but the weather is still hot and humid due to the effect from the ongoing El Niño in the region. If you are living in a crowded city like Phnom Penh, you’re most likely to suffer from the miserable heat – not to mention the existing pollution and long hours of stressful work. But don’t fret. You can always escape to better places during your weekends or holidays. Taing Rinith recommends Koh Dach, a picturesque island located on the banks of Mekong River.
Koh Dach (translates as Isolated Island) is located on National Road 6A. To reach this small island on the upstream of Phnom Penh, travellers have to head to Chroy Chongvar peninsular and then board a ferry at the pier about five km from the Chroy Chongvar bridge.
Being on a ferry itself is quite an enjoyable experience since it gives you the chance to see the simple but beautiful view of the Mekong River, especially from the top of the ferry, although it takes only about 10 minutes. The best time to catch the ride is early morning, when the air is cooler and the ferry is less crowded.
If you are travelling on a motorbike or bicycle, you will also find driving along the concrete road, lined with tropical trees and flowers, plantations and country houses. It is usually quiet, even during rush hour, but you have to go slowly as there are local children driving their bicycles in the area.
You can begin your journey by visiting Chomka Sne (Love Farm), a privately owned plantation resort about 700 meters south of the island’s pier. The entrance fee is only 2,000 riels ($0.50) for locals and 4,000 riels ($1) for foreigners.
As the name implies, the resort, created about seven years ago, is mainly designed to attract couples. It has elements that give a romantic atmosphere, including a heart-shaped sculpture at the entrance and flower gardens. It also has hundreds of thatched huts, which resemble the traditional houses of the Pnong people, an aboriginal Cambodian minority ethnic group who live in Mondulkiri, where the lovey-dovey can spend time being close to one another or eat a romantic lunch.
However, Chomka Sne is also popular among cyclists, who come to Koh Dach to explore, the natural environment or who long for an exciting adventure. Apart from beautiful trees and flowers, there are a lot of things that make the place worth visiting, including a mini zoo, a swimming pool and a souvenir shop where visitors can buy different silk products made by the local women in the Silk Island Community.
“Here, I can also see Khmer women weaving their silk kroma and the farmhouses where the silkworms are bred, which is something you cannot see every day,” says Ernest Martin, a German retiree who cycles to Koh Dach almost every Sunday.
“They are expensive, but I could see that these women are working so hard to make them.”
Yet, you should not spend the rest of the day at Chomkar Sne, especially if you have just had a fight or broken up with your now ex. If you have time to spare, head back to the pier and then go south. After about 30 minutes, you will reach Koh Dach Beach Resort, the most popular tourist site on the island.
Koh Dach Beach Resort offers the same features as coastal beaches, of course except for the saltwater. The white sand of the natural beach on the tip of the island, just off the big parking lot near the entrance, is utterly beautiful, even superior to some crowded and spoiled beaches within the country’s coastal region.
There are small huts on the beach or stilts in the water. They are usually free on non-holiday weekdays. But during weekends or holidays, you are likely to pay five dollars for each of them while some owners will let you stay in their hut for free if you buy their food.
For 15 dollars, you can order steamed white rice and a whole chicken, which can be prepared however you want into three dishes. You can also buy other foods such as jackfruit, boiled peanut, mangoes and many others from the vendors in the water, trying to gain your attention.
“Buying from us means you are helping us,” says Oung Sreya, a 15-year-old food vendor and also an eighth grader.
“I use the money I earn to buy stationery and to help my mother when she is in need.”
But, of course, the best part is swimming in the Mekong River. The water is clean enough, and the first 20 meters are about 1.3 meters deep, quite shallow for an adult but not suitable for young children. The closeness of the huts allows friendly visitors to communicate with one another. Thus, it is not unusual when someone there gives you a can of beer so that you can have a toast with him or her and invite you to a small “pool party” in the river. Who knows? It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
When you head back to Phnom Penh in the evening, you should stop on a steel bridge that spans across a canal on the island to enjoy the beautiful sunset. On the bridge, you can see from a distance the skyscrapers situated at the heart of Phnom Penh. Turning to the other side, you see the hardly unspoiled physical environment, including forests, plantation and the river.
Koh Dach may be a short way from Phnom Penh, but poetically, it is in a different world – a great escape from the capital’s hustle and bustle.