Writer Pidor Ham escapes the Cambodian capital for the cooler, calmer climes of Preah Vihear. Photography by Keo Rattanak.
If Phnom Penh becomes too much, with its seemingly endless noise, air pollution, traffic jams and blistering heat, an escape from it all is definitely in need. That’s exactly what I did a few weeks ago.
My journey began with an invitation from a friend asking me to be first assistant director for his short film, Ranger. I left home with a group of friends to the shooting site in Preah Vihear. It was my first time visiting the far-flung province and I had no idea what to expect from our destination. The only clue I had was we were going somewhere called BeTreed Adventures deep in the forest, where I was to be cut off from the outside world with no internet or phone access.
Our Land Cruiser passed the border of Kampong Thom to Preah Vihear at about 4pm, before we arrived at Sangkom Thmei district. From this point, the path became quite hazardous and we paused at the start of a dilapidated bridge to weigh up our options. Did we chance the questionable sturdiness and continue over the rickety wooden crossing or tackle the ground route, a narrow, rocky, water-logged path about seven metres below the bridge? There had been no rain ahead of our arrival so we decided to skip the bridge.
By the time, we reached the forest that is home to off-the-beaten-track, eco-tourism site BeTreed, the sun had already waved goodbye, turning everything surrounding us gloomy and eerie. Spooked, we started to question our timing; it was one of the most insane decisions we made. However, we calmed down and focused on following the wooden signs that hung from trees that led the way.
Thankfully, we arrived safely but I was ready to wave goodbye to everyone there rather than say hello. However, exhaustion was kicking in and I couldn’t think of anything else other than a place to sleep after spending eight hours in the backseat of a car.
Fed up, with my patience and passion for the trip wiped out, I fell asleep, unaware what the next day would bring.
I opened my eyes as the sunshine was completing its slow invasion through the windows. The birds were singing and the wind was gently blowing fresh air tinged with the scent of wet soil, making the previous evening’s troubles fade away.
As I slowly took in my surroundings, I couldn’t believe this was where I had slept. A beautifully-decorated stilted, wooden house in the middle of the forest, kitted out and comfortable pillows, a bed, mosquito net and blanket.
To my surprise, electricity was supplied and a half-outdoor bathroom boasted clean water and organic toiletries.
I spent the early morning soaking up my surroundings and treasuring the moment, sitting on the stairs doing nothing but absorbing the odour of nature and watching monkeys scurrying around.
Then it was time to start our first day of shooting at a spot a one-hour hike away in the heart of the forest.
We passed footprints of the array of wildlife that live there, strange plants and unusual trees. I will never forget the breeze touching my sweaty skin and the quietness of the forest; so quiet I could hear my own heartbeat as my legs kept on going.
We were all knackered after a long day of filming but were oddly satisfied when we returned to tuck into a hearty homemade dinner at a separate cottage near our house, known as the outdoor kitchen and dining room. As we enjoyed our evening without even touching our phones, I truly understood the phrase, “Sometimes we have to disconnect to connect”. We managed to enjoy time together without even touching our phones.
Before our departure, we discovered the meaning behind BeTreed. It turns out that the place is named after a towering 30-metre tall treehouse, and we made sure we got in on a slice of the adventure action in the form of zip-lining that is offered.
Forgetting how parched and exhausted we were after the previous day’s shooting, armed with our filming equipment, we shuffled to the top of the mountain to reach the 300-metre high zipline.
As hoped, everything was well prepared by the expert crew. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well and watched from the sidelines as my friends whooshed down the lined from one mountain to the other, screaming at the top of their lungs in response to the adrenaline hit.
Suddenly, drizzle paid a visit. Not wanting the expensive equipment to be destroyed, I decided to head home alone with the gear. After everyone had caught up, on our way down the mountain, I tripped over a rock and fell to the muddy ground. I thought my leg had broken but, thankfully, I only twisted my ankle and pushed on through the pain.
Despite the throbbing of my injury, sadness washed over me the next morning when I opened my eyes and realised this was our last day and soon we would return to the hustle and bustle of city life. This adventure was the best trip of mine so far. I don’t regret going there or taking the risk along the way.
I suggest you pack a bag and check it out for yourself.