Checking out the Normal Cambodia Destinations
I lay back in my hammock, wearily gazing out through a patchy mosquito net over the hills and misty farmland around me. On the banks of a river, the sounds of rushing, gushing water mingled with those of the rainforest beyond, which seemed to awaken just as the sun was dying.
The rain that had fallen throughout the day gave the air an intoxicating freshness that countered the stale smell of sweaty clothing and the slow, smoky aroma of burning embers that hung in the air from the campfire behind me.
The soft breathing of my new friends slowed and grew heavier, before settling into the rhythmic whistle of deep sleep. Colours changed and blurred from vibrant greens to sullen greys as the light slowly faded.
It was strange to think that my adventure had only started 12 hours or so previously. In the heavy confines of thick forest, time had slowed as we’d traversed hillsides, navigated river crossings and tackled tangled bushes of exotic fauna and flora.
As tired as I was, I felt intensely alive as a reflected back on the day that had just passed.
We were in Cambodia, my girlfriend and I, travelling around the country for a month.
However, having started with the main attractions of the country, like the incredible temples of Angkor, we’d become tired of tourism and had made our way to the wilds of the East.
Trekking Through Cambodia
It was in Sen Monorom, the capital of Mondulkiri Province, that we decided to escape civilisation entirely and do a multi day jungle trek.
Through word of mouth and a friendly hostel owner we met the man who would be our guide: a local who went by the name of Wing. Born and raised in Eastern Cambodia, Wing was brought up in the forests of the area and knew them intimately. He’d be the perfect person to help us hike through Cambodia.
We set out early the next day and after a short drive over rough terrain we got to our starting point. With backpacks full of food, water and sleeping equipment, we set out, following Wing, who walked on with the confident stride of a man in his element.
And that’s when the adventure really began.
What followed was an immense experience that I will never forget. It wasn’t that any one thing marked it out as so inherently special, but it was a whole host of unique encounters and experiences that made it the adventure it became.
In that first day’s walking we passed and swam in multiple waterfalls, crossed fallen trees precariously balanced over white water rivers, fished for dinner with a bamboo fishing rod fashioned by hand by Wing; foraged for food as we went, finding fungi, flowers and plants of all manner of shapes and smells.
We were taught traditional hunting and tracking techniques and tricks, all the while following the remarkable navigation of Wing who, with no compass or map, somehow found his way through thick bush and never once seemed lost or phased by his surroundings.
The adventure wasn’t limited to the walking itself though. Indeed, midway through the first day’s walking it had started to rain. And the rain didn’t stop.
After hours of walking in it, we were soaked through to the core and our plan to sleep out under the stars was washed away with it. Altering course, Wing led us through the forest and eventually across a fast running river to a tiny, ramshackle cabin on its banks.
It wasn’t much of a cabin.
Planks of wood held together with rope and nails were covered by a tin roof patched up with varying shapes, sizes and colours of tarpaulin. Rain water poured in rivulets through the camp at our feet, creating a quagmire of mud and dirty water.
It was basic. But it was shelter. And there was fire.
Not only fire, but Wing’s family- his wife and two young children- were there too. This was his farm; the cabin essentially his holiday home. With the rain still pouring we stripped off, changed clothes and got warm; resting after the day’s exertions on the raised wood platform that served as bed and seating area.
On the fire, Wing’s wife cooked up the food we’d fished and foraged, making for us the most amazing meal we’d eaten in Cambodia: a ‘bamboo soup’, so named as it was literally cooked in the hollow of a thick bamboo shoot. How she made such a delicious meal I will never know.
We washed the food down with shots of strong, potent rice wine. Huddled together in their little cabin, the rain died down and Wing told us, in broken English, stories of his life and Cambodia’s past.
After hours of walking in the pouring rain and a delicious meal, topped off with a few shots of rice wine, we were all ready for sleep. So, with sun still up, we set up our hammocks and got ready for bed.
And that’s where I found myself at the end of the day, lying in my hammock, reflecting contentedly on all that had happened, drinking in the beautiful environment that lay all around me.
It was so utterly disparate from my typical life- so alien, so far out of my comfort zone. It was fundamentally fun, exciting and challenging.
The hike was a lesson in so many things: from living off the land, to what’s truly important in life, to how to live in the present and make the most of what you have.
It was an education as much as an adventure.
Danny Newman is a travel enthusiast with a passion for writing and inspiring others to live fully. He runs a travel blog called What’s Danny Doing?, which is dedicated to helping aspiring travellers travel for the first time. For Danny, the essence of travel is found in the feeling it elicits. He wants to inspire and support as many people as possible to experience this ‘travel feeling’. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.