Sunday, December 28, 2008

Final Chi Phat photos #2

A veil of mist covered the surface of the Preak Piphot river as we began the day
Here are my final pictures from last weekend's Chi Phat adventures. All of these photos were taken on our two-day trek which began on the misty Preak Piphot river and carried on through the dense forest and finally across open grasslands as we made our way back to the village on the 2nd day.
Three of the traditional rowing boats that hitched a lift with our motorized boat
All is calm just before the sun rises over the Preak Piphot river
The warm glow of the rising early morning sun
We leave the main river and take a tributary for the next three hours
Two of the rowing boats round a corner; they enabled us to listen to the myriad of bird calls and to see monkeys and squirrels in the trees
Our guides cooking lunch in the middle of the forest
The stream at Chunlea Pran where we stopped for a rest and to watch a butterfly bonanza
Getting our feet wet on the latter part of the trek
These open rolling grasslands near the village came as a surprise to me

Labels: ,

Final Chi Phat photos #1

The riverside scene as we approach Chi Phat
This is one of two final posts on my Chi Phat adventures from last week. These photos were taken on the river trips to and from the village and whilst on dry land too. The last posting, which will follow, will concentrate on the trek.
Some of the river traffic near Andoung Toeuk
This is the boat jetty at Chi Phat
A hand-drawn map on the wall of the CBET office shows our trek: The village is bottom right, the start of our trek on the far left and Veal Ta Prak, our overnight stop is at the top of the map.
The scenic rapids at Chai Oskut, just outside the village
A pair of water buffalo gingerly negotiate the rapids of Chai Oskut
The friendly Ka and some of her children
The early morning sun spreads its warmth across the Preak Piphot river

Labels: ,

In the Cardamoms

As it's been a week since my Chi Phat adventures, it's about time I gave you the low-down on my trip to this virtual wilderness located in the southern foothills of the Cardamom Mountains of South-west Cambodia. It took us 3.5 hours to get from Phnom Penh to the second of the new bridges on Route 48 to Koh Kong, and at Andoung Toeuk we caught a boat that took another two hours to reach Chi Phat village. The river trip, along the Preak Piphot, was scenic with mangroves and primary forest encroaching on both riverbanks. Our welcome was ultra friendly as we walked from the jetty to the CBET office where the community members and Wildlife Alliance officials gave us a run-down on the community-based ecotourism project we'd come to see. Our group was a mix of tour company reps and the media, seven of us in total, and after checking into a couple of guesthouses - mine was Nget Chhy - we cycled to the Chai Oskut rapids just outside of the village for a dip. It was pretty similar to the Tek Chhou rapids in Kampot but with less water, no crowds and no foodstalls. I returned to the village to view the sunset across the Preak Piphot river and met the friendly Ka and her large family. Dinner was put on by the CBET cooking team and was delicious. I was in bed by 9pm.

An early start to our second day saw us take to the atmospheric misty river at 6am and a combination of motorized and traditional rowing boats for 3.5 hours and about twenty kilometres before we left the boats at Domnak Kom to begin our trek through the forest. Needing to keep our wits about us to avoid the overhanging branches and foot-tripping vines on the ground as well as the leeches that were lying in wait with every footstep. As it turned out I think I was the only one not to suffer a bite from one of these blood-suckers. Accompanied by five guides including Mee, the project co-ordinator, they cooked us lunch before we took a rest at a small riverbed at Chunlea Pran, which was scheduled to be our overnight stop. However the pace of our hike was so quick - I'd liken it to a forced march - we decided to carry onto stay overnight at Veal Ta Prak, a clearing with a nearby stream, which is where camp was set up by the guides, with everyone assigned a hammock and blanket. I was knackered and whilst a hammock isn't my preferred choice of bedding, it would have to do.

Both dinner and breakfast the next morning was cooked by Engly, a fomer soldier and kick-boxer turned guide and was pretty darn good. Our other guides included a twenty-year old female guide Manet. Some of the group went hornbill-spotting before bedtime and first thing in the morning in the nearby grassy clearing. We left camp just before 9am for the final three-hours of trekking back to Chi Phat, along a much-easier path through the forest and finally across rolling open grasslands, arriving back at the guesthouse at noon. My feet were in agony - trekking certainly does not rank amongst my most pleasurable pursuits. Whilst the others took mountainbikes to a cave and waterfall after lunch, I had forty winks before catching up with Ka and her family again for my final sunset across the river. I was in bed by 9.30pm after another delicious dinner at the CBET office.

Another early departure the following morning at 6.30am, meant we were back in Phnom Penh a little after 11am. The community project is designed to provide an alternative livelihood for the former hunters and loggers in the four villages of the Chi Phat commune and though its still in its infancy, it seems to be doing just that. On our 1st night in the village, there were twenty visitors, which is the maximum occupancy they can cope with at the moment. Coverage in the latest Lonely Planet guide has alerted the backpacker crowd and they are already making their way to Chi Phat to enjoy the trekking, cycling and natural resources that the area has to offer in abundance. Don't expect herds of elephants and the like, though there are a group of 10 in the area, and you'll do well to spot monkeys, wild pigs, deer and a variety of birds, though remember the area was heavily logged by the Khmer Rouge and the wildlife is only just beginning to recover. The hospitality and food we received was excellent, on the trek and in the village, and as long as you don't expect 5-star facilities, you'll see a very different side to Cambodia compared to Angkor and the beaches of Sihanoukville.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Preak Piphot sunsets

Not a cloud in the sky at sunset on day 1 in Chi Phat
I watched a couple of sunsets across the Preak Piphot River in Chi Phat in the southern Cardamoms at the weekend and whilst they weren't stunning, they were peaceful and tranquil and lovely, and reminded me that living in the city I miss my sunsets. Often I see red sky above me around 5.30-6pm but my view is obscurred by buildings and I must make more of an effort to find the best vantage point for sunsets across the city skyline. There was river traffic for my two sunsets in Chi Phat to add to the scenery and the view and of course the friendly villagers keen to find out why I was sitting there looking out across the river for no apparent reason. They see the sunset every day of their lives and for them its nothing out of the ordinary, but I live in the city and so its important I remind myself how beautiful this country is as often as I can.
Peaceful and tranquil on the Preak Piphot River
Day 3 brings a different sunset perspective across the river and an array of colours
The girl on the boat is waiting to take passengers across the river
The sky turns blue from orange and yellow as it grows darker

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Village view

The jetty at Chi Phat village, at the time of our arrival
The Chi Phat commune - located in Koh Kong province - is made up of four villages and totals around 500+ families. The villages are Chi Phat itself, Chaom Sla, Kam Lort and Teuk Laork. We arrived by boat at the Chi Phat village jetty, walked along the dusty main street to the CBET (community-based ecotourism) office - lots of hello's and goodbye's from the friendly neighbours - and were assigned sleeping quarters in one of the five guesthouses that rotate visitors. Mine was called Nget Cchy guesthouse and whilst basic, it was certainly comfortable and the owners very accommodating. By basic I mean asian squat loo, ladle-shower and mozzie-net without fan. All of our food was provided by the CBET cooking team, and it was delicious, especially the curry, and we also stopped at one of the local cafe's for coffee on a couple of occasions. There was a volleyball court near the river which attracted a crowd of onlookers every afternoon and a pagoda over on the other riverbank. The Preak Piphot river was the place for sunset and where I met a family headed by Ka and her seemingly inexhaustible supply of children. I counted at least seven. She didn't speak any English, I didn't speak any Khmer but I felt we had a fruitful conversation on a couple of occasions when I went to watch the setting sun and river activity outside her riverbank home.
The quiet and dusty Chi Phat main street, devoid of cars but home to bicycles, motos, cows, water buffalo and the odd tractor
The only two storey shop-houses on the main street
The offices of the Chi Phat CBET team
My comfortable and basic guesthouse at Nget Chhy
Ka and her husband with two of her children on the riverbank at Chi Phat
Five lively children outside Ka's house on the riverbank
These two loved having their picture taken and never stopped playing
This is Ka's house on the riverbank at Chi Phat

Labels: ,

Chi Phat exposed

This is our trekking group (guests & guides) at the end of the 2-day hike through the Chi Phat forests. I'm 3rd from left.
Looking at my pictures from the Chi Phat trip, many of them have water in the frame. The rivers around Chi Phat are gorgeous and stretch for miles with pristine primary forest untouched by loggers and home to a variety of birds and wildlife, all of which are nigh on impossible to spot from the boat. However we did see some monkeys, squirrels and quite a few different bird types, and of course the rivers look very different at different times of the day. More waterborne photos to follow.
Boats at the Chi Phat jetty on arrival at mid-day
A very different Chi Phat jetty at 6am in the morning with the mist hovering above the river
If it wasn't for the boat, you could turn this photo upside down and not know the difference
The Preak Piphot River at Chi Phat just as the sun is setting

Labels: ,

Frogs legs

The Samkos bush frog - photo Jeremy Holden
I kept my eyes open for this little blighter during my recent two-day trek in the forests of the Cardamom Mountains but failed miserably to spot him, in fact I saw very little wildlife aside from a horde of blood-sucking leeches and flocks of hornbills. I was keen to spot a frog after reading about the discovery in the Cardamoms of at least four new frog species - the Samkos bush frog, the Cardamom bush frog, Smith's frog and the Aural horned frog - amongst 40 new-to-science amphibian species announced recently. The incredibly-rare Samkos frog has generated a bit of press as it has green blood and turquoise bones - it's a show-off in the frog world - and is part of a new field guide to amphibians in Cambodia, authored by Jeremy Holden and Neang Thy, which resulted from eight years of research with Fauna & Flora International. A Field Guide to the Amphibians of Cambodia is available from FFI for $40 and has also been published in Khmer.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Fun, fun, fun

Sunset approaching on the Preak Piphot River at Chi Phat
I've just made it through the office door after an early start back from Chi Phat at 6am today. Please remind me never to accept another invitation to go trekking again, or mountain-biking, as they are definitely off my 'wish-list' for future FAM trips. I'm completely knackered, as I was after the Mondulkiri cycling experience a few months ago. I'm patently unfit of course, which doesn't help, but trekking through dense forest, dodging overhanging tree branches and underfoot vines, and keeping an eye open for blood-sucking leeches, which were everywhere, isn't my idea of fun, fun fun. However, my whingeing aside, its a beautiful area in the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, the villagers and project staff are fantastic and looked after us really well and in time, I'm sure they'll have a successful ecotourism product on their hands. It's early days still, they know their limitations but they're already under pressure after the project was given full coverage in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet, which has only been out for a month or so and up to twenty tourists are already making their way to Chi Phat on some days (which is the limit of their overnight accommodation at present). I'll write some more over the next week, with pictures of course, but I'm so tired I can hardly type!
On our 2-day trek, with Mee (project co-ordinator) and Manet (female guide) in front

Labels: ,

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chi Phat here we come

My blog postings will be quiet for the next four days as I venture into the Cardamom Mountains for the first time with a visit to Chi Phat in the southern foothills of the area. Chi Phat is the location for a community-based tourism initiative by Wildlife Alliance, Live & Learn and the local community. They're putting on a FAM trip for a handful of local tour companies and the press so that we can see what they are offering. They are pretty well organized and though trekking will be the main feature of this trip, it'll also give us a good view of the homestay and community facilities that they have installed in Chi Phat commune. Hiking, mountainbike tours, river cruises and bird-watching are the main areas where this ecotourism project hopes to make their killing (in terms of providing sustainable livelihoods for the locals), in an area that is still rich in animal and plant life and where few people have really ventured. We're not breaking new ground as such but this project is in its infancy so our feedback and promotion is designed to help the community and ourselves. I leave on Friday morning at first light (that's 8am for me!).
As a reminder, I still have some photos to post from my visit to the south coast a few week ago, this is one taken from Independence Beach in Sihanoukville, more to follow upon my return

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chi Phat fun

I'm off on Friday for a few days of ecotourism fun (is that the right word?) courtesy of the folks at Wildlife Alliance, who are establishing a long-term community-based ecotourism venture in Chi Phat, in the southern foothills of the Cardamom Mountains. Providing a sustainable alternative livelihood and helping to protect the biodiversity of the area is the goal of the project which will also aim to improve the commune's infrastructure, education, elder support and health care services as well. Its 140kms from Phnom Penh, only reachable by boat and our three nights will be split between a community guesthouse, home-stay and jungle camping. I'm expecting to enjoy beautiful rivers, waterfalls, traditional boating, hiking, wildlife hotspots, tropical rainforest trails, maybe some mountain-biking, caves and more besides. I'll report back as long as I'm in one piece after the adventure. If it's anything like my trip to Mondulkiri with WWF, then you'll have to give me a few days to recover my strength!
Find out all you need to know about Chi Phat here.

Labels: ,