Editor Marissa Carruthers trades in urban living for country life during a weekend of camping in Kirirom.
As 250,000 Glastonbury festivalgoers were gearing up for a stint of slumming it in a tent in the English countryside, I was also busy cramming the camping essentials into my rucksack. The only hoodie I own in Cambodia: tick. The socks I’d rendered useless when opening my Christmas presents last year: tick. Make-up and toiletries: tick. An outfit for every occasion bar camping: tick. Wine: tick, tick, tick.
The list is evidence that I’m a city girl through and through. Minus a few camping trips as a kid and a weekend of glamping with the girls back at home – definitely my kind of camping – I try my best to steer clear of tents, preferring to sleep within something solid instead. But when a friend wants to celebrate her birthday in a tent who am I to argue? Throw into the mix the fact that the monsoons still hadn’t landed, the city remained a sweatfest and that Kirirom is the place Cambodians go to escape the heat. Suddenly the idea of spending the weekend camping out under canvas sounded appealing.
The other beauty of Kirirom is its proximity to Phnom Penh, and a little more than two hours after our minibus left the capital we were pulling up at our destination in Kampong Speu province. Having left after work on Friday, the forest was shrouded in a blanket of dark when we arrived at vKirirom Pine Resort in the heart of the national park. The only signs of life were the odd flicker of a torch piercing through the night and the occasional burst of laughter coming from nearby tents.
After checking in, we were taken to the resort’s restaurant – a domineering white building set up to house hundreds. Baffled at its preposterous size considering we were seeking solace in the middle of nowhere, we blindly followed our guide into the night to locate our tents.
A short walk later and we were unpacking our belongings into a scattering of two-man tents that circled a barbecue and sheltered seating area. Thankfully, hot showers – more tepid than hot – and Western toilets are housed in a clean but insect-riddled wooden block that neighbours the campsite.
The tents, which come complete with a duvet and pillow, are pretty cramped for two, but a surprisingly good night’s sleep was enjoyed. Surrounded by nature, our wake-up call came at the crack of dawn in the form of wildlife being startled into life by the daylight, and the majority of our group had risen by 7am.
Unzipping the entrance was like opening the curtains on another world. Surrounded by towering pine trees, lush green shrubs and thick grass, with a cool pinch in the air, it’s easy to forget you’re in Cambodia. A summer’s day in England, maybe, but Cambodia in June, certainly not.
As Cambodia’s first officially designated national park, kirirom means happy mountain in Khmer – a name given to the area by King Monivong in the 1930s. Today, it continues to offer the perfect rural getaway with winding trails cutting through pine forests, cascading waterfalls, gushing rivers and streams, and cliff tops offering stunning views across to the Cardamom Mountains. Sitting at 2,215 feet above sea level accounts for the comforting breeze and pleasant microclimate.
Lapping up the fresh air that replaced Phnom Penh’s smog-congested fumes, and the sound of birdsong rather than the roar of traffic and construction, we enjoyed our breakfast of eggs and bacon on the barbecue. However, it was as we strolled to the restaurant I had earlier mocked for our morning coffee, that the solitude we were enjoying was promptly cut short.
Forget Glastonbury, it appeared we’d stumbled upon a festival of our own, in the form of 700 Cambodian school kids who had descended on the camp for a morning of blaring music and team games led by an over-excited MC. Desperate to escape the raucous teens, we skipped hiring mountain bikes ($5 a day) choosing to explore our surroundings on foot instead.
Opting to head up into the hills, we followed the orange clay road that twisted up the gentle slopes until we reached the peak, looking down onto an ocean of green and not much else – a refreshing change in Cambodia. Informed of a nearby waterfall, we set off in search, stopping en route at a lone wooden house in the middle of an overgrown field for a much needed drink.
After more than three hours of ambling through the woods, exhausted we stared at the seemingly-endless straight clay road that stretched ahead, and sighed as we gave up on our search and made our way back to camp, where all signs of the screaming kids had vanished. Having worked up an appetite, we fired up the barbecue in preparation for the feast of food we had brought with us.
In true camping spirit, and after a bit of foraging for dry wood, a few of us self-acclaimed fire starters set about trying to start a blaze in the dedicated pit. Of course, the testosterone-fuelled boys jumped at the chance to prove their manliness – a failed attempt that was salvaged by some local workers watching on in amusement. After eating and entertaining ourselves with a few card games accompanied by a few wines and beers, we retired to our tents at the ungodly hour of 10pm – rock and roll, Campers.
Despite being woken by the moans and groans of thunder and a torrential storm at 5am that sounded like it was about to tear through the flimsy canvas, the tents held out and, most of us, remained dry bar one duo who emerged soggy after forgetting to zip their tent all the way.
After grabbing breakfast at the restaurant, where the food is just adequate, we jumped on board the minibus and headed back to the chaos of the capital, reinvigorated and actually looking forward to our next weekend in the woods.
For more information about vKirirom Pine Resort, visit vkirirom.com/en.