Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wondering in the Kingdom

Flowers in the hair, waterfall in the background, another pic for the album.

Cambodia likes to see itself as a nation of natural beauty as exemplified by it’s waterfalls. And there is ample evidence of beautiful waterfalls in outstanding areas. However what they often neglect to inform visitors of, is the fact that the management of these waterfall areas and other areas of outstanding natural beauty contradicts the very reason why visitors may come. Or am I missing something?

K’bal Chhay (Kbal Chhay), Kompong Som province (yes you may refer to it as Sihanoukville) ranks high on Cambodia’s must see waterfalls. With the possible Bou Sra waterfalls in Mondulkiri having the edge, these falls are seen as something not to miss. Even though they aren’t the highest nor have any other qualities which would seek to attract visitors. But being close to the coastal resort of Sihanoukville seems to be the premier reason to visit here. And the reason why I have avoided visiting them.

Until this morning.
Located 8 km up a dirt road from a turn off on the main road out of Sihanoukville, access is good. Entrance fees are $1 per vehicle (up 100% with 3 years ago). Along the way one passes the municipal water reservoir as well as some clear cut forest just above the reservoir. Only in Cambodia is one allowed to denude the hills surrounding it’s number 1 drinking water source. Another wonder.

There is a wikipedia page on Kbal Chhay. It mentions that the fact of the upper part of the stream being the fresh water source of Sihanoukville. That the road was constructed by a company which somehow is not responsible for the fee collection anymore, the government has moved back. None of this though I believe is transparent.

Car park galore.

At the end of the road is a gigantic car park, which I imagine can spare enough space for upwards of 1,000 cars. Luckily today there are only a dozen. Along the edges are a number of stalls, selling drinks, foods and tourist nick nacks.
Access to mid way the falls is from a small corner of the car park, but most visitors opt to cross the river and seek out a nice shaded hut on the opposite bank above the falls. There are quite a few of these stalls, fanning out above the falls. Oddly though there seems no access to below the 15-25m high falls, where one can easily see a nice pool to swim in.

Overall it all seems pretty dangerous, I for one would not be surprised at children being swept off the waterfalls or just falling. On the other side is another smaller stream which joins the falls but with it’s own set of beautiful falls.

Not the main falls.
Again it certainly is a beautiful place, but the obscenity of all the stalls above the falls takes a major part of the enjoyment away. At least for ourselves. Naturally on holidays business will be roaring so no doubt I am one of the few who resent this development. Beyond the stalls huge piles over rubbish exist and closer to the falls much rubbish has been allowed to accumulate, but that seems to concern no one. It’s a pity how a beautiful area can be destroyed in humanities never ending search to make a quick buck.

The thing to do I believe, is to see if one can extend the visit by finding a path below to the lower stream and seek out a waterhole there.

We opted to follow the brook which enters the falls site. After some 10 minutes of scrambling through the forest we come to a very small waterfall, jungle enclosed and up to half a meter deep. No crowds. No noise. No rubbish. No need for clothes. Just pure nature.

Nearby is Iball, another delitefully peaceful area where one can zorb from a slope (apparently if you’re drunk naked zorbing is allowed …), swim or simply relax. A good idea to combine the two?

Halfway down the falls. The water drops here another 15m.

Elsewhere Andy B has as always a good blog entry. He attributes Kbal Chhay's popularity to it featuring in a 2000 local movie. More photo's too and from the rainy season, a fact which also the province guide mentions as well as more of the development history.

Monday, April 12, 2010

End of paradise

The waterfalls and rapids of Thmor Roong, Koh Kong province, Cambodia were revisited for a third time this month. Located at nearly the half way point between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh the area was a great place for a complete getaway. Three years ago there was just 1 lady with an eski and possibly 2 or 3 shelter huts depending on what exactly you would describe as those.

Since though things have taken off: roughly ten shops now supply about 100 huts. These huts are lined two rows thick and seem solely intent in damaging the very environment that is the main attraction. Despite it not being Khmer New Year, rubbish was already easily to be found.

Worst of all a development 100m upstream seems to be excluding use for those wishing to get away from it all. A huge two meter high wall has been erected and signs through the riverbed seem to be there to deter visitors from straying upstream.
Beyond the wall, a guard hut and building have been built and the once verdant jungle undergrowth was still smoldering after some slash and burn. This stood in stark contrast to the opposing river side where the forest was still prime and once away from the main area birds were singing. Though I can’t say for sure that this side will not see the same fate.

Three years ago a visit was free to get away from the crowds, now a dollar the person to join the crowd! Thanks again folks for ruining what was once a beautiful place to visit. Long may you party (one set of visitors had a speaker box along, 1.5 m tall).

Another recent blog entry on Thmar Roung. There's apparently now a signboard with a JICA logo on it ....
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