A hiking group is proving a hit since first setting out to explore hidden pockets of outer Phnom Penh. Writer Marissa Carruthers and photographer Rudi Towiro put on their hiking boots to see what all the fuss is about.
The one thing that can’t be controlled in Cambodia is the weather, as Inge Kremer discovered during Phnom Penh Hike’s debut instalment.
Having launched the group in part due to pangs of homesickness for the green landscape in her homeland that provides the perfect setting for hiking, the Dutch woman recalls wading thigh-deep through water during the first adventure to Mekong Island.
“We’d been to carry out a final check of the route the day before and everything was fine,” the 34-year-old says. But an isolated pocket of overnight rainfall on the island caught them out on the day, as a stretch of the paddy fields their hike took them through flooded.The impromptu deluge failed to dampen spirits and the group has grown with each session since. “It was an adventure; so much fun,” Kremer says with a smile.
During our visit – the group’s third outing, which saw numbers swell from 18 to 28 despite the mass expat exodus for Pchum Benh – it wasn’t the rain that was proving to be a problem but the sun. And as the group stood, beads of sweat dripping from foreheads, at our Independence Monument pick-up point, I questioned how I was expected to survive.
As our two minibus-strong convoy headed south, the oppressive heat and drone of the capital was quickly replaced with fresh air and rolling countryside. And just half an hour later, we landed at our final destination, Koh Krobey – a world away from the hustle and bustle of nearby city life.
“Each time we try and do something different,” Kremer explains as we meander past emerald green paddy fields, mirror-like lakes, and woodland littered with the odd pristine temple and traditional wooden house. Children, scream cries of “hello” as they race by on their bikes.
“There’s a lot of craziness when you live somewhere as vibrant as Phnom Penh,” the expat-of-six-months says. “It’s a lot of fun but it’s also nice to get away from the city a bit and explore more.” Kremer’s aim is also to provide people with an opportunity to socialise, with each hike ending with a few beers or soft drinks before heading home.
“I’ve been amazed by the response,” she states, noting that to date a mix of tourists, expats and a few locals are signing up. “It’s especially nice to see Cambodians taking an interest.”
The idea first came to her during a cycling tour given as a departure gift from friends back home. Kremer immediately formed a bond with her guide, Mai Channeang, and shared her thoughts about establishing Phnom Penh Hike.
“He was enthusiastic straight away and cruising the city surroundings for cool places to hike, we have become good friends,” she says. Now, ahead of each trek, they jump on a motorbike and scour the city and its outskirts for routes that are interesting, safe and have families along the hike willing to host the group during the half-way refreshment and fruit break.
As our hike draws to a close, three-hours in, I sit amazed as I crack open a cool beer. Despite having lived in the capital for almost two years, I was oblivious to this tranquil side of the country that sits right on my doorstep, and what a fun way to discover it.
With plans to head further afield as well as city tours and the offer to investigate places of intrigue that people might not want to explore alone, I think I’ll definitely be investing in some hardier hiking boots, and perhaps a parasol.
Hikes cost $4, including transport, refreshments and fruit, and take place every three weeks. For more information visit Phnom Penh Hike on Facebook.
Explore the city
There are other ways to explore the city and beyond in similar style.
Every Sunday at 2pm, Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers take to different locations across the city and beyond for a social run of between 8km and 10km.
The cost is $3 for Cambodians, $5 for foreigners and 2,000 riel for children. For more information, visit www.p2h3.com.
Phnom Penh Bike Hash also hosts a mountain bike ride in Phnom Penh’s outlying countryside, followed by beer and food on the first Saturday of the month at 2pm.
Tickets are $10 and $6 for children. Bikes can be rented at an additional cost. For more information, visit the Phnom Penh Bike Hash Facebook page.