Bordering the southern edge of the Cardamoms is a remote commune unfamiliar to the general public, but well-known to nature-lovers. Chi Phat is home to the Chi Phat Ecotourism Community, one of the first such communities in the country. It can be challenging for the general visitors to get there, but this doesn’t stop people from visiting because once you reach the Chi Phat, the door is open to a plenitude of natural scenery and nature-based recreations.
GETTING TO CHI PAT
To get to Chi Phat from Phnom Penh, we took a bus headed to Koh Kong along National Road No. 4 and got off at the Andong Teuk area some 30 km after crossing the Srae Ambil bridge. From there, we each took a motor taxi up the bumpy, half-paved commune road for a good 30 minutes before getting off at a small dock to cross the Piphot stream. We departed from Phnom Penh at 7:00 AM, and it was around 4:00 PM by the time we boarded a mini-ferry to reach the village.
Pleasantly, we were greeted by a bloom of puffy white jellyfish swimming downstream. It’s quite exciting as this was the first time we saw jellyfish this close (at least outside an aquarium). Funny enough, the locals aboard the mini-ferry seemed indifferent, and instead found our excitement amusing. The locals call the jellies “por-pous teuk” (literally “water bubbles”). The kids loved them; and the adults told us they can only be seen from around November to January each year, when the weather is cool. As far as we could tell, the ones we saw don’t pose any threats.
Before long, we bid the jellies a temporary good-bye, got off the mini-ferry, and continued on the motorbikes for two more minutes before we reached the Ecotourism Community’s visitor center. There we gathered information about attraction sites and recommended activities. After checking in, we got a lift to our guesthouse in the village, which was a walking distance away, and cooled down before reaping the benefit of our long journey.
PIPHOT STREAM, CHI PAT’S ARTERY
We spent the evening on one of the blessings upon Chi Phat, the Piphot stream. The stream originates from deep in the forest at the foot of the southern Cardamoms and has meandered around 50 km long at the Chi Phat village. The section from the village to Andong Teuk bridge adds about 25 km more to the stream before it empties into the bay of Kampong Som. This kind of streams is a common geographical feature in this part of the country, and as far as Chi Phat’s people are concerned, Piphot is one they want to make full use of.
Besides fishing in and using Piphot stream as an alternative route of transport, the community made many activities available on the stream. In the early morning, you can go on a bird-watching boat trip and see the sunrise. Simply book the services at the community center, and get ready to relax. If sitting back is not exactly your thing, you can get active and go kayaking on your own or with a partner. Both bird-watching and kayaking are just as pleasant in the evening, especially if a beautiful sunset behind the mountains is your go-to scene. Interestingly, activities don’t stop after sundown. At night, you can go catching prawns near the village.
We chose kayaking as it’s more private and allows us to set our own pace. It was around 4:30PM and the sun was about ready to clock out. We slowly headed west while savoring the setting sun’s gleaming reflections off the stream. Of course one of the goals was to see the jellies again, this time more closely, and we did! It was dark by the time we got back to the village. And although half of the time was physically demanding (‘cause we went opposite the flow!), it was no doubt a rewarding evening after a long journey.
DINNER AT CHI PAT
Then came the most comforting part of the day. After hours on the road and a couple of hours kayaking, we were really looking forward to a great dinner; and the community center didn’t disappoint! We had good ‘ol steamed rice, with tasty stir-fried vegetables and a light soup with carrot, potato and ribs. The meal was completed with a fruit plate for dessert. The dishes were definitely on point, especially considering how remote the village was!
We dined in the community center’s dining space, which could host up to around 30 people at a time. That night we were joined by a group of 20+ visitors from France. We were served on one in a long line of extended tables, and next to us was the guide of the tour group, a Cambodian man in his 50s. So we exchanged pleasantries over dessert, and were glad to learn that it’s his third time bringing a foreign tour group to Chi Phat. We shared about our plan for the next day, and got some helpful recommendation from him as well.
We decided we’d come to the community center again the next day. Given the village’s size and location, there aren’t many businesses going on, and the best choice is to eat at the community center. For lunch and dinner, they usually serve three dishes with a mix of Asian and Western tastes, completed with dessert.
From Chi Phat village, there are many sites to explore near the foot of the southern Cardamoms. From bat caves to trekking terrains and more, you can pick your preferred destinations and activities. For the morning of the second day, we chose to visit one of the waterfalls, called O’Mlu, located about 5 km from the village. First we planned to rent a motorbike and go on the adventure ourselves, but thankfully, the villagers timely advised us to hire two drivers to get us there. O’Mlu can be reached by motorbikes, but it requires serious skills. In addition to navigating undulating hilly terrains with scarce and unfamiliar landmarks, we had to cross small wooden bridges and drove through patches of forest at times. In hindsight, we clearly wouldn’t have made it there had we gone by ourselves. For this fact, we appreciate the villagers’ skills!
After a good 40 minutes, we reached our destination – a multi-tiered waterfall, hidden behind tree covers that stand on basaltic rock columns of a unique charcoal-like pattern! We were quite pleased, to say the least. Without delay, we channeled our excitement into capturing some photos of the pristine scenes before us, before plunging into the ice-cold water.
We returned to the village at 11:30 AM, but couldn’t help thinking how amazing other sites would be. We would definitely come to Chi Phat again should the opportunity arise.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR VISITING CHI PAT
There’s no direct bus from Phnom Penh to Chi Pat. As said above, to reach Chi Pat from Phnom Penh, you need to take a bus from Phnom Penh to Koh Kong and tell the driver to drop you at Andong Teuk (see the map for the exact location to stop) and take an pre-arranged motor taxi from Andong Teuk to Chi Pat ($7/pax). This should take around 40 minutes.
Alternatively, you can double your commute as sightseeing, by taking pre-arranged boat up the Piphot Stream ($30/boat, also run by the community). It’s less of a hassle and more relaxing as well. 😀
There are 3 types of accommodations in Chi Pat run by the Community: homestay, guesthouse, and bungalow. For homestay, you share the home with a Khmer host, usually in a separate room, with shared bathroom. At a guesthouse, you have your own room and bathroom, whereby the rooms are usually built next to the owner’s. Community-run bungalows are a bit far from the village, so you’ll get more privacy.
We stayed at a guesthouse just 5 minutes’ walk away from the visitor center.