Bidding 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…

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… 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.

Cambodia Mt Kulen camping
No burnt hotdogs for these refined travelers

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!

Cambodia Mt Kulen camping (1)

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.

Cambodia Tonle Sap Floating Villages (58)
Can you guess which season it was?

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.

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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.”

Cambodia Tonle Sap Floating Villages (38)

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…

Cambodia Siem Reap farewell meal (1)

… 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:

41 thoughts

  1. Wow, sounds like you had a fantastic trip, your photos are absolutely stunning! When someone mentions Cambodia, I immediately think of culture, flavour and adventure and looks like you had a chance to experience a bit of everything. Only recently I’ve learned that the Cambodian flag has an image of Angor Watt, never knew that! Thanks for sharing and taking me along; the reclining Buddha statue is huge is size, isn’t! I hope all is well with you 😊 Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a fantastic (and timely) trip indeed. Thanks for the compliment. It was hard to put the camera down that whole trip. So, so different from western culture in terms of architecture, design, colors, food… everything! It’s what I’d been longing to see for forever!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your first five words totally look like Lorem Ipsum text. 🙂

    It’s always humbling to me to see how other people live in different parts of the world. Also kind of ironic that in the U.S., a floating home is often seen as a desirable status symbol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having never heard of Lorem Ipsum text, I just did some research. Interesting. I don’t see what all the fuss is about, but then again, I’m not in the biz. You are. On which side do you come down in the Lorem Ipsum debate? Lorem Lover or Lorem Loather?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I thought the whole point of Lorem Ipsum was to be non-distracting (is that a word?) for the client. These are totally distracting, especially the cat one! Love the cheese one, too.


    1. Thanks so much and yes to everything you said – it feels like ages ago (as all travel seems to once you get home) and we are just so, SO grateful we did this trip when we did. In the end, I’ll probably end up with two ruined trips due to coronavirus (Sedona, where I’m supposed to be right now, and more and more it’s looking like our summer trip to Spain/France is going down the tubes), and I’m so glad Asia wasn’t a third one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Incredibly fascinating look into Cambodia and how you travelled through it. It’s easy to forget how differently other people live and how much effort it takes to get to unique travel destinations. What a cool way to start 2020, a most unforgettable year.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You know, I was really sickened by the last part of this trip. The smell, the food, the living conditions of the Vietnamese. This was one part of the trip I did not rate very well. I hated that we drove around in a boat staring at these poor people. I also think I got a little GI thing from the packed lunch we had. On a lighter note, the pics of your legs and socks made me laugh!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This looks AMAZING!!!! Sounds like it was a chore to hike that far in that heat, but the experience looks like it was definitely worth it. The more I hear about your trip the higher Cambodia and Laos climb on my list 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, then I think it’s as high as I can make it go, because that was the last post. I never expected that trip would get me posts into April and beyond, though I have thrown in some unrelated posts from time to time. We need to get back to traveling so all of us travel bloggers can have something to write about! Ha ha!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed reading about that trip. And I totally agree. The world needs to open back up so that we can continue exploring and sharing 😄

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, what an awesome experience. I now work for REI (which I love), but didn’t realize that they offered a Laos/Cambodia trip. One thing I truly appreciate about the Co-op is that they don’t try to gloss-over the grittiness and “real”ness of a place with shiny purified tourist experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It looks like you had a fantastic time, I hope the trip lived up to expectations! It’s lovely to have these trips to look back on at the moment isn’t it. I hope it won’t be too long before we can get out exploring again (although I fear it might be!). Anyway, thank you for sharing your experiences and your fantastic photos have brought back great memories 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. It was a wonderful trip – we just loved it. I’m so happy I finally got to Asia!!

      I know what you mean. I heard a couple people say they think we won’t get back to travel until 2022! They’re colleagues of mine, not experts, but I hated to hear that prediction just the same… 😒


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