adieu choum reap lear to the bicycles and the world-famous wats, we spent the last two touring days of our trip in hiking mode. Unlike our hike in Laos, in which we were always either climbing or descending, this 9½-mile trek was largely a walk through pancake-flat fields and paddies. Keeping mostly off the dusty red roads we had cycled on the previous two days meant we stayed quite a bit cleaner.
By “cleaner” I mean “free of red dirt.” I do not mean “clean.” It was something on the order of 90º F (32º C), so we were covered in a slick of sweat from the moment we took our first steps.
Perhaps not quite as scenic as R.E.I.’s promotional materials had made it out to be, this hike at least gave our butt bones a break after all the cycling.
We passed through villages and by remote country houses, interacting briefly with the local bovines and homo sapiens.
Eventually we reached the base of Kulen Mountain, the top of which was our destination. Getting there involved climbing many, many stairs and traversing a few hiking trails.
Unlike, say, a Colorado 14er, this mountain had cultural, religious, artistic, and recreational experiences halfway up…
… the most impressive of which was a 16th century reclining Buddha statue.
Once at the top, we were introduced to our first taste of glamping. We were still in tents (this is R.E.I. after all), but they were on raised, sheltered platforms and lined with mattresses.
After an impromptu deslicking dip in the river behind our tents, we relaxed on our “porch” with our “next door neighbors” and shared a bottle of wine until it was time for glamp dinner, which was food brought up from the mountainside restaurant that had served us lunch earlier in the day.
This was our New Year’s Eve dinner. Ever the party animal, I socialized until the crazy hour of 9:00 pm before crashing, only to be rudely awakened at 11:00 by partying campers across the river. I lay there a while, stewing a about how I’d never get back to sleep, and then fell back asleep. The next thing I knew, it was daybreak on New Year’s Day.
That morning a unique feeling settled over our camp – the feeling that surfaces when you know your time together with the strangers who’ve become friends is coming to an end; when you sense that “real life” is about to come crashing back; when you realize that in a few days the trip will feel like a faraway dream. Pushing the strange sensation to the back of my mind, we enjoyed glamp breakfast, which included a welcome surprise: espresso machine!
Hitting the trail for the last time, we descended, passing natural and human-made beauty along the way.
Picked up by the minibus at the base of the mountain, we were spared a repeat of the previous day’s field trek, and instead were driven to the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia. Lake Tonlé Sap is known for its floating villages, unless it’s the dry season, in which case it’s known for its houses on stilts.
First we walked down the street that exists only seasonally and
witnessed smelled the fishing trade that was in full swing.
Before we knew it we were on a boat cruising across the water. I won’t romanticize it – the water was filthy, the motors of the passing boats were deafening, and diesel fumes hung in the air. Once we got past the homes on stilts, there wasn’t much in the way of scenery. Our hearts went out to the people who rely on the polluted water for their sustenance, livelihood, transportation, and recreation.
Eventually, as we got further away from our starting point and out into open water, we began to see floating homes in the middle of the lake. We were told that these belonged to seasonal Vietnamese migrants who, because they aren’t Cambodian citizens, are not allowed to own land, which translates into “floating house or bust.”
The journey ended back at the original village where we ascended steep stairs to a restaurant overlooking the lake. Shoes removed, we sat down to lunch.
That night, our group had one last meal together…
… and the next day we said our final goodbyes before flying off into the sunset, full of memories, wonder, gratitude, and a will to return.
Read more about our Dust-Farm-Pail List SE Asia adventures:
- Things We Learned from the Travel Medicine Doctor: Laos/Cambodia Edition
- And We’re Off…
- Southeast Asia to Midwest America Jet Lag: What Fresh Hell is This?
- Blog Buddy Meet-up #1: Luang Prabang, Laos
- Laos, Days 1-2: Cycling & Sightseeing
- Laos, Day 3: The Journey to Nong Khiaw
- Laos, Day 4+: Hiking, Remote Villages, and One Really Bad Indian Meal
- Laos, Day 5: Queasy Kayaking
- Day 6: The Journey to Cambodia and a Meal for Adventurous Carnivores
- Cambodia, Days 7-8: Wat a Fabulous Couple of Days!
- Cambodia Days 9-10: New Year’s Eve & Day on a Sacred Buddhist Mountain
- Blog Buddy Meet-Up #2: Bangkok, Thailand