Last stop Sihanoukville
I’d woken at who knows what time in the middle of the night to hear what sounded like thunder outside. A flash of lightning confirmed the storm outside so it was no surprise that, on opening the door this morning, there was a wet world outside. But in these tropical parts, it doesn’t last long and by the time we’d had breakfast and got out act together, the day was looking altogether brighter.
For this, our last port of call, we’d chosen to explore the Ream National Park. We hadn’t much idea of what to expect, having chosen it mainly because we didn’t fancy the beach based options and didn’t think the place offered enough to go it alone. So, off we went at 8 this morning, driving half an hour or so to our destination.
We’ve travelled in Cambodia before, en route to Angkor Wat and overnighting in Phnom Penh, too. So we ought to have been prepared for the simpler lifestyle compared with that in Vietnam. After all, PolPot left quite a deficit to make up for with the brutality of the 1970s.
But nevertheless, having just spent time in various parts of this region, we found it surprising that life here appeared to be quite so marginal.
In particular, that what is basically an agricultural economy appeared to have so little life left. Perhaps it’s the time of the year, or maybe it’s this particular place – all I can say is that things here did not look at all rosy.
When we stopped at the National Park boat jetty, the scene which greeted us was similarly bleak. Rubbish everywhere, poorly maintained buildings and a distinct lack of amenities. In fact, the rubbish was one thing which concerned many of our group, because whereever we looked, there were plastic bags, bottles and general rubbish of all kinds just left to rot. Or not.
Anyway, moving right along. Here we were, at the jetty, about to board boats to ride along another river – we knew not what or where to. Our programme had been sketchy and some said the boat would take an hour, others said longer. And my hero observed upon learning that it would likely be at least an hour and a half, “that’s flying to Vienna then”.
But anything less like flying to Vienna is difficult to imagine. We sat eight or ten to a boat, accompanied by a guide and a Park Ranger, plus the boatman of course. Actually, the boats weren’t too uncomfortable, though the lack of a back rest for such a lengthy ride was tricky towards the end.
The River Prek Teuk Sap was fairly quiet with just the occasional fisherman to prompt the camera clicks. Both sides were dense jungle – either palms or mangroves and though we’d been told there was a high likelihood of spotting wildlife here and there, once we were under way it was clear that this wasn’t going to be so.
The engine, which was just over my right shoulder, was as noisy as anything. OK, so it wasn’t the regular lorry/tractor engine they normally stick on the end of a pole to power these boats, but even so, it was loud. No chance of creeping up on anything, then!
So as we settled in for the ride, it was time for a Marks and Spencer butter mintoe! This bag is well travelled and we’ve been rationing ourselves to make our supplies last, but here we were, nearly at the end of our adventure and thinking we could afford to be carefree with them.
Now and again, we’d pass a fisherman’s shelter by the side of the water. Whether or not they live here full time, I don’t know. No sign of life today, though.
Oh, just a minute! The sound of another boat engine coming towards us got those cameras clicking again, especially when the little faces appeared.
A family outing maybe, or more likely, all hands on deck to set the fishing traps. The women were all bundled up against the sun in the same way as the Vietnamese motor cycle riders, but all were cheerful and offered friendly waves and greetings as we passed by.
From time to time we’d pass a fisherman or two, prompting a reaction from here and there. Fortunately, we were going slowly enough to have plenty of time to compose a shot and I imagine there were some great photographs being taken in front of me.
Once we’d realised that the poles in the water were fixings for fishing nets, it became a little clearer what was going on. This fisherman was setting some new nets we think.
Others had a different modus operandi. This chap is catching crabs, collecting them in a bucket and sorting through them in the water
This one is doing the same, cigarette in mouth, looking for all the world as comfortable as someone standing behind a counter or sitting at a desk. The fact that he’s standing in chest deep water is no matter. Not exactly great working conditions, is it?
Another small fishing base, the picture taken to remind me that though the cobalt blue and malachite green remain on my SE Asian palette, I also need to add orange.
At this point, my hero looked ahead and commented that we appeared to be sailing in an infinity pool.
Sure enough, the river appeared to come to an end just a little further up and what’s more there was someone standing in the water ahead. This could be interesting!
The water was incredibly shallow which might have been the reason why the National Park speedboat buzzed past us, doing a bit of a recce and tracing a route to our destination – more of a circle than a straight line from this point.
Sok, our guide and the National Park Ranger got themselves on alert and before long, the ranger found himself with the long pole, easing the boat off a sandbank and into deeper water.
Thankfully, we made it to the jetty and all climbed out onto dry land. For a while we feared another river walk!
From the jetty, it was over the rickety bridge to a small community of houses.
But thankfully, the bridge wasn’t quite as rickety as it first appeared!
It led to a small beach and as my hero had noted earlier, we were at the mouth of the estuary.
There was a cluster of houses here which turned out to be the Rangers’ homes and hopefully, their families were used to having complete strangers walking through their lives.
Because a bunch of camera-toting tourists knows no bounds, sorry to say.
Having said that, the people themselves didn’t appear to mind being the centre of attention at all. Maybe it was part of the deal? I don’t know.
This bunch of children had almost finished sweeping an area of earth and collected the leaves in a basket. It was only when we stepped inside the building that we recognised why.
It was their school playground. It being Saturday, perhaps they were there for our benefit? But anyway, the teacher greeted us warmly to his classroom where he had 65 pupils aged between 6 and 15 to teach.
It’s a Christian school and it’s funded by an organisation whose name I can’t recall, I’m sorry.
Time to walk a little further then, spotting things of interest. Do you know what this fruit is? (None of us did….I’ll post the answer at the bottom)
Sok pointed out that the fisherman had caught his family’s lunch for today, at least.
On we went then, along the river bank. Smiling “hello”, “how are you?” and “oh, so cute!” as we did.
We had to run the gauntlet of one last posse of locals, though! Do they look friendly?!
From there, it was into the jungle. The rain last night had washed the path clean, thank goodness. It’s sandy earth here and I think that had it been dry and dusty, it would have been all the more tricky. We did our best to avoid the huge ants and other wildlife which was here before us and hoped that the insect repellent would work!
In a couple of places, there were steps of a kind to walk on.
Care was needed though – this was great ankle-turning territory.
Further on, though, it was a clear, well used pathway and would have been really easy walking had it not been for the heat.
Did I mention how hot/humid it was in there?
When we arrived in Manila, you may recall we were given small gifts, one of which was a clever, foldable disc which could be used as a fan. It’s proved to be really useful throughout the trip and whenever the temperature rises, we all reach into our bags for them. The clever – if slightly cruel – thing about the fan is the logo.
“It’s more fun in the Philippines”.
Hopefully we keep the thing moving quick enough so as not to offend our hosts!
At this point there was a shout as someone spotted something leaping about in the treetops. Was it a monkey? A squirrel? I don’t know. Play Where’s Wally in the picture if you like and see if you can spot it – I’m sorry to say, I didn’t!
Suddenly, without any notice, our jungle path opened up into a building site. What? We’d reached the beach once again and a new apartment complex was being built here.
It was a wide stretch of clean, unspoiled beach and I found myself wondering if this beach was going to go the same way as White Beach on Boracay Island? Hopefully not. Hopefully, the National Park status of the area would ensure that the environment is given full consideration.
But Sok kept mentioning investment from Russia and China and who knows where else?
And sadly, wherever we looked, there was already a problem.
The promise of a bottle of cold water and an ice cold flannel resolved more immediate worries however and after a short break in a beachside bar, we were off again to the last and final stop of the trip.
on 2015-04-12 02:44 by Gill Thomas
Sorry, I forgot to say that the tree is a cashew nut tree. The red fruit grows and the nuts grow in a kind of sac beneath it - or so Sok told us! Who knew?