Areng Valley lies in the center of Cardamon Mountain National Park in the Southwest of Cambodia. The Cardamom is the largest mainland rain forest in Southeast Asia and home to one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining elephant corridors, and many other unknown species . With the richness of its biodiversity, the Cardamom is undoubtedly a beauty of the Southwest of Cambodia you should not miss.
I had always wanted to visit the Areng valley when I first learned about the area in 2013. Back then, Areng Valley was the center of a controversial dam construction project. Many groups of youth were fighting for Areng, so many exhilarating photos of the foresty alley and the serene Areng river flared up.
However, I hadn’t got a chance to visit Areng until I decided to go with an organized tour by Der Prey.
TREKKING IN ARENG
The trip from Phnom Penh to Areng Valley was scheduled to begin at 5:30 early in the morning to avoid the traffic jam during rush hour, and to arrive at the destination during the daytime.
Journey on the road was pleasant until we reached the crossroad to Koh Kong when it became very bumpy. The road was under construction at that time because of the damages caused by flood during the preceding rainy season. Because of that, we reached the Visitor Center of the Areng Community Ecotourism site, Thmor Bang district, a bit late at around 15:00.
By the time we were ready to set off into the forest, it was already around 16:00. After one hour of trekking, it was becoming dark as we were getting deeper in the rainforest and the sun was gradually setting. To me, it was my first ever experience trekking in the late afternoon. I found it a bit scary as our team had only 13 people (though with a local guide), and surrounded by unfamiliar jungle. However, it is traditionally believed that one should never mention anything bad or useless while in the jungle, on a mountain or in a sacred place, as the words may bring unfortunate events to the group. We kept to that for the rest of our trekking.
After 9 km of trekking and a bit of climbing at the end, we finally reached our destination– Mrech Kangkep promontory, Areng Valley.
BATHING AT THE WATERFALL
We reached Mrech Kangkep at around 18:00. Exhausted, we just dropped everything and lied down, enjoying the moment and the excitement of making it to our dream place.
After resting, and setting up our tents and hammocks, all together we went for a bath at a nearby waterfall. The knee-deep section waterfall was freezing, indeed a magic medicine that cleanses away all of our exhaustion. Bathing and laughing around with my tripmates was unforgettable. Shower in a 5-star hotel can’t beat that!
FOOD & SLEEPING IN THE FOREST
The food was prepared by the organizer, and given that we were in the middle of a forest, I considered grilled fish and sausage with steamed rice to be as a good meal to expect. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, we were served Beef Lok Lak (with fresh salad, cucumber, and tomato) and banana flower sour soup, on top of grilled fish and steamed rice for dinner. The food was prepared by community cooks, who had come in advance, carrying rice, meat, vegetables from the village to feed our body and our soul. I truly appreciated that!
After dinner, we enjoyed sipping hot tea and sharing our life stories and how nature plays a big part in healing our personal problems. That night, we stayed up until 11pm. I slept on a hammock, hanging under a plastic tent. It was really cold (around 18 Degree Celcius), especially when the dawn was breaking through.
BREATHTAKING VIEW FROM MRECH KANGKEP
5:30AM. I got up, witnessing clouds that were slowing looming in and spreading all over the valley, and sunshine illuminating the beauty of this stunning valley.
It was absolutely breathtaking!
TREKKING BACK TO THE VISITOR CENTER
We had bay sroub (steamed rice with fried pork and egg) for breakfast before returning to the community and Phnom Penh. On our way back, now with the daylight, we got to appreciate the beauty and smell of the forest more, but the idea that we may fall prey to craving leeks made us think twice whether to spend our way back for viewing or for watching out for leeks.
We finally reached the community at around 10:30, went for another bath at Chhay Tapang waterfall and had a really good Khmer food before heading back to Phnom Penh.
ABOUT STEUNG ARENG COMMUNITY-BASED ECOTOURISM
Mrech Kangkep is one of the attractions that is maintained by Steung Areng Community-Based Ecotourism (CBET). The community was established in 2016 by the local people, with financial and technical support from Wildlife Alliance in order to protect and preserve the forest in a sustainable way.
This ecotourism site is 315 km from Phnom Penh. Around 22 homestays are currently available for visitors who come to visit Steung Areng Community. There are 60 attraction sites to choose from, which include waterfalls, caves, a jar burial site, rapids, hills, rivers, and mountains. With such varieties, you can enjoy many activities including cycling, trekking, kayaking, swimming, rock climbing, camping, and bird watching.
HOW TO GET TO ARENG COMMUNITY-BASED ECOTOURISM SITE
Currently, there is no direct bus service to Areng Community-Based Ecotourism site, so the best way to get to Areng is through a tour package like Der Prey. Besides, you can also contact Areng community directly to arrange for your whole trip including food, lodging and things to do.
If you are coming on your own by bus, do take an early morning bus to Koh Kong, and tell the driver to drop you at Veal Pi or Tmor Bang junction (on the map here). From there, it takes around 60 km to reach the community. Do arrange with the community in advance for the pick up.