A Resilient Family Trip From Northwest to Northeast of Cambodia

Due to our current lockdown, our family trip for important holidays such as Pchum Ben turned inbound! This year, we roamed Northwest to Northeast of Cambodia, covering Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri. Although this itinerary felt personally familiar with me, revisiting these four charming provinces with family felt like a total package!

1- Preah Vihear

The province is named after its temple complex, known for its bordering disputes. The ruins sit on a steep hill overviewing inland Cambodia. Before getting there, we dropped by Koh Ker, marked with its own historic uniqueness and architectural style. On a professional level, the two last times I visited this latter temple complex were dedicated to producing our documentary called “Koh Ker the Lost Wonder” in 2014. Recently, Ahkara was lucky enough to have translated the book on the same complex. Between these two sites, we stopped by a new site called Poeung Preah Koh, thanks to its outstanding huge rock on land!

Full House in Preah Vihear Temple

2- Stung Treng

We would rather consider this province our transit if it was not for Sopheakmith waterfall or Lbak Khaon. This natural site boasts its ceaseless water flow, especially in the rainy season. In contrast, the dry reason will reveal more rocks blocking this waterway. I still felt mixed on the way from Preah Vihear to Stung Treng. On one hand, I doubted the unusual silence for over 100 kilometers of a road paved with jungles on either side. On the other, we could spot some wild animals like monkeys or birds from time to time.

Squeezed Shot at Sopheak Mitt Waterfall, Stung Treng

3- Rattanakiri

I didn’t expect us to stay in such a delicate place as Ratankiri Boutique Hotel. Yet, our swimming experience at night was all the fun we could make out of our stay there. Of course, the following day, we followed a familiar itinerary like Kachanh waterfall and Yak Loam lake. The lengthy rains of our late monsoon didn’t keep us, though, all sane from breakfast till we left this indigenous province.

3/4 Family Shot at Yak Loam Lake, Rattankiri

4- Mondulkiri

There was where I found the lodging contrast of a guesthouse labelled as a (three-starred?) hotel! Anyway, all the landscapes we visited in this cool land memorized us all along. Once there, keep in mind: Dos Kramom hill, Bou Sra waterfall, Coffee Plantation Resort. This time, I got to see a second Sea Forest less eye-catchy, yet more organized, on Bai Chhao hill. Also, the zig-zag to a grassland hill, named Anlong Snae, felt fresh to me/us.

Anlong Snae, from a Hill Top, Mondulkiri

To wrap up this journey, despite its intensity, we all learned to love each other’s company better. Although this may be our first time to travel with a local agency for an indoor tour, we were pleased to support this threatened industry, once reliant on international tourists. Come what may, life goes on, with more heart-warming trips ahead!

Koh Ach Seh – Cambodian Worthy Aquatic Paradise

As part of a joint project about environment conservation, I didn’t plan to visit Koh Ach Seh (កោះអាចម៍សេះ) at all. But GEM needed at least a SFA member to complete this first mission of our Green Tale about seahorses, funded by Korea SHE Foundation. So I offered to go on this journey of 3 nights and 4 days on that remote island in Kep province. The timing fell nicely as we, at Ahkara, wrote about Koh Ach Seh before for ZillionHome. After our discovery, below were my takeaways, probably for your additional insight about this isle and tips about aquatic challenges.

1- No Plan is Sometimes the Best Plan!

This is the best part of this unexpected trip. I was asked to replace our absent member a few days ahead of the departure. As I had only heard about that isle, I offered to come along, counting it as another “fun” journey. To get there, you need to leave Kep pier for Rabbit Island. But past that famous island, head straight further for another half an hour. We were then driven by Cambodian staff of Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC). Yet, little did I expect an expat to welcome me ashore! That man is named “Amick Haissoune”, Project Coordinator of MCC, coaching us virtually about everything on and around Koh Ach Seh.

Approaching Koh Ach Seh for the first time ever!

2- Global Problems Need Holistic Solutions.

We all may be aware of environmental issues at one point of our lives. But only when I learned about MCC’s “invention” did I realize this could be the best solutions for all stakeholders of this global issue. The block is called “CANTS” as overfishing “can’t” happen, due to that protective gear! It looks so simple yet effective to stop fisherman from exploiting young sea lives. Eventually, the surrounding bay has become home to their growth, especially around those blocks. MCC has strategically installed and expanded these blocks around the isle for several years. Once those creatures grow up, they will swim away, as the catches by our (regular) fishermen. This way, all lives could sustain themselves around that conversation zone.

Hearing out Amick sharing his conservation efforts and experience in our Cambodian sea

3- You Can Tame Fear with Practices.

After browsing Thary’s agenda, I asked him if we were to dive, even we cannot swim. His usual response was, “Let’s see how first, bro!”. So on Day 2, we were taught how to snorkel, especially breathing from our mouths! Then, after some practices and a little courage, I made it anyway. Then, came another tougher challenge on Day 3, when we had to dive in the shallow. Well, imagine yourself wearing a 50-kg oxygen tube and mouthwatering just to stay afloat without sinking! After all, both experiences was so much fun for me. Basically, I just “floated” (not yet swam), in the shallow water back and forth. Yet, the biggest event was for me to deep-dive under the base of our engine boat! I was immediately aware that I was not ready for this depth. So I went up hastily, to Amick’s shock!

Diving – again – for the first time with my coach, Amick!

4- Conservation Contributes to Growth.

As mentioned earlier in my takeaway number 2, once a tool is invented for holistic solutions, conservation makes more sense to our living. From MCC’s work, I learned healthy preservation develops stakeholders, instead of polarizing them with different agenda. I’m not sure what larger organizations approach such global issues. Yet, I feel smaller entities tend to know what is the best for their communities. Rather than being told what to do, conservation should integrate both victims and perpetrators for common, yet balanced interests. As Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for human needs, but not enough for human greed.”

5- Passion Keeps You Tireless about Your Cause.

The first expat eco-warriors I know of before this trip, was the Belgian couple who co-founded “Osmose“. This organization was founded to protect Tonle Sap Great Lake, likewise from overfishing and preserve water bird species. British Paul Fauber co-founded MCC, with Amick simply for his passion to save our ocean. By “our”, I could feel the sense of belonging in them, as “global citizens”, not just Cambodians. Thus, only if we appropriate these matters in some way, we could be surely part of the solutions. Hence, we hope our Green Tale on seahorses could raise or promote awareness of the importance of sea lives (including animals and plants).

Leaving the isle behind those blocks to build our CANTS against overfishing!

In short, Koh Ach Seh is worth visiting with care and causes. You would find the isle basic in infrastructure, yet high in hope for the future of Cambodian marine lives. Surprisingly, seagrass and corals produce up to 90% of CO2 on our Planet. I’ll leave this data to your ecological, yet corporate minds to figure out some trade-off!

PS: As usual, below is a bonus clip of the Sunset in time lapses, from Koh Ach Seh, facing Koh Angkrong.

Battambang – an endlessly artistic and historic town

I have been to Battambang many times more than for professional missions than personal or family trips. Although less touristic than its neighbor Siem Reap, the provincial town itself counts probably more colonial and traditional buildings than any other provinces. In this post, you are going to explore some of these legacies through my personal discovery and research.

Buddhist Pagodas

Of all the provinces in Cambodia, Battambang counts the most long-standing pagodas such as: Wat Samrong Knong (1707), Wat Keo (1772), Wat Sangker, Wat Kandal, Wat Pothiveal, Wat Piphi Thearam, Wat Kampheng, Wat Kor, What Chheu Khmao, Wat Dramrei Sar, Wat Balas, Wat Sophy. And I have been lucky enough to visit these latter monasteries on my last trip there. Once inside, you’ll find their motifs different or even more refined than others you have been to. Needless to say, most famous Cambodian oldies relate to those pagodas, as souvenir spots!

Front of Wat Balas

Traditional Houses

Battambang is also known to host some of the oldest Cambodian houses to date, as pointed out by True Cambodia. The main attraction there in Wat Kor village refers to the traditional one used formerly by NOUN Chea, Brother Number 2 in Khmer Rouge regime. You can locate them mostly North of this small town. On the bright side, even then-famous female singers like Pen Ran and Ros Sereysothea, were born in that traditional province. By “traditional” here, I meant a Cambodian housing style for a then-and-now upper-class families, with the walls mostly made of wood and roofs decorated with regular geometric tiles.

Ancient House, Battambang, Angkor Tourism Cambodia
Traditional house formerly owned by NOUN Chea in Battambang

Colonial Buildings

Once considered an important administrative town by the French Protectorate, Battambang still boasts colonial architecture across its urban landscape. The most iconic one is the Provincial Municipality, maintaining virtually its authentic state from the foundation date. For such discovery, I encourage to explore administrative offices of this town on your half-day tour. Do not forget to drop by the provincial railway station or hop in a lorry!

Main hall of Battambang Municipality

Movies Shot in Battambang

Thanks to these historic sites, a great number of movies have been shot in Battambang. The most outstanding one was “First They Killed My Father“, directed by Angelina Jolie for Netflix, with most scenes taking place over there. The latest local one, in which I have been personally involved in, is “Karma“, a horror movie set in the 1960s. I believe such classic settings will bring about some nostalgia among our Cambodian audience. The sets not only look convincible to the eyes, but also draw us into the stories to uncover another dimension of our lives.

On set, as an extra role in “Karma” movie!

So you are feeling hooked already? If not yet, I encourage you to study this province further because even some expats decide to settle down there instead of Siem Reap. If you have already been there, come again and explore other sites than you already knew. Be then prepared to expand your perception of what Battambang has to offer you!