Cambodia’s roads are notoriously crowded, generally poorly maintained and dangerous. That is why I have started to avoid riding on them for trips of any distance.
However, when I saw on my Facebook page an invitation to join an excursion to Chhreav Mountain Waterfall that was supposed to involve only two hours on a bus, the temptation to enjoy the hike, swim and companionship of some 30 other folks proved to be compelling.
Mai Channeang — who runs a transportation service that schedules Sunday tours every two weeks from Phnom Penh to outlying attractions — wrote that the site is in Kampong Speu Province, on the border between Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces 150 kilometers (93 miles) away. It is in Thpong district.
I had been on another one of his tours, and I was impressed with how well organized and diverting it was. Including a typical Cambodian lunch, transportation and Mai’s assistance, the $20 fee was a good deal. The hike to the waterfall sounded like particular fun. When I mentioned the waterfall to several Cambodian friends, none had heard of it, making the modest adventure all the more appealing.
(Mai has scheduled another excursion there at the end of this month.)
Unfortunately, we got off to a bad start not long after we departed a few minutes after 8:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, we ran into a traffic jam fairly close to the center of Phnom Penh, and we were pretty much at a standstill for something like an hour.
That would have been okay except that the bus sensibly detoured around the doomed route. The downside was that doing so extended what should have been a relatively brief ride into a relatively long one because many treacherous potholes and ruts on those roads frequently slowed us to a crawl.
Another drawback was how hungry I was, having discovered that the big beautiful apple I had thought to bring with me contained a thoroughly rotten interior. And I was not the only one who was thrilled to have a bathroom break after well more than three and a half hours on the bus.
Our two-hour journey ultimately turned into one that stretched to one of four and a half hours following our relief stop.
For all of us, it seemed, the lunch that awaited us at our destination was welcome, indeed. It included chicken, fish, vegetables, watermelon and, of course, rice. We tore into the dishes with gusto.
Then began our hike, probably the most strenuous of those that Mai offers, some being mere rambles. This one was not only strenuous. It also was potentially hazardous.
We had to haul ourselves for maybe an hour up a steep slope, navigating boulders, fallen trees, thorny bushes, a couple of watery pathways and, worst of all, a terrain that resembled slippery clay. Careful as I was, I fell on my backside three times on the way down, despite my attempt to make it safely along the forbiddingly precipitous wet patches.
Although I received a few scrapes, punctures, insect bites and minor bruises as a result of the day’s modest adventure, I have to confess that the injuries hardly worth noting hurt my pride much more than any resulting physical damage.
That said, the acceptable, even welcome, hardship of getting to the waterfall and back was nothing compared with the pleasure of the waterfall itself. I wasn’t prepared to see one so high and forceful; I’m guessing it must drop at least 40-50 meters (131-164 feet).
Making our way to the pool in the photo was an ordeal itself. To enjoy any depth at nearly the foot of the torrent meant first crossing to the other bank. We had to wade almost waist-deep into a stream across a bed of big and small rocks that were variously slippery, unseen or abrasive. Falling there would not have been without consequence.
At first bracing, the water proved to be wonderfully refreshing. Some of us frolicked like children, while others settled for a quick dip. I was in the latter group.
Since my t-shirt was totally sodden with perspiration by the time we reached the water after our climb, I hadn’t bothered to remove it. But I did doff my shorts to take advantage of the bathing suit that I wore underneath them.
On the way down, I hid behind a tree to switch back into those shorts minus the bathing suit. My mistake was forgetting to stick another shirt into my backpack. No matter: I took off the wet one in the bus, where I had two seats to myself, and no one seemed to mind or even notice. That the air conditioning was at a low level proved to be a bonus.
When most tourists think of visiting Cambodia, they may limit themselves to Angkor Wat and less often Phnom Penh, where many also decide to see Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields. If beaches and scuba diving are of particular interest, increasingly seedy Sihanoukville could be on the list.
Because tourists usually are eager to check out neighboring nations in Southeast Asia, they almost invariably overlook travel to the countryside. I suppose that is understandable, though they miss natural spectacles such as Chreav Mountain Waterfall and remarkable sites outside of Angkor Wat that also have survived for hundreds of years.
(Based on what I have read and seen in photos, I do not, incidentally, count the popular bamboo train in Battambang, several hours from Phnom Penh and couple of hours beyond Angkor Wat, as an attraction that cannot be skipped.)
We were scheduled to return around 3:30 p.m. following our hike. Alas, we didn’t get back to our origin across from Independence Monument until 7:30 p.m.
If I hadn’t made plans for dinner at 8:30 p.m., our delayed return would not have been so trying for me. Growing increasingly anxious, I strode home hurriedly, arriving in 15 minutes, then quickly showered, dressed and actually walked another 35 minutes to the restaurant just in time. I also walked back after dinner.
Call me crazy. I wouldn’t blame you.
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