Kirirom National Park, a Natural Treasure in Cambodia
Mountain of Joy
Just two hours from Cambodia's hot, humid and frenetic capital city of Phnom Penh lies a little visited mountain retreat named Kirirom National Park. The park lies in Kompong Speu province, and is best known for it's thickly wooded slopes, crystal clear mountain lakes, cool temperatures and peace and solitude. In fact it was such an ideal place to escape from the heat and dust of the lowlands that King Sihanouk himself had a summer mansion at the summit of the mountain, and it is he who named the area Kirirom, which means 'mountain of joy'. Today only remnants of King Sihanouk's mansion remain, but visitors can still explore the natural wonders of this protected area.
What to See
Many visitors make the trip to Kirirom to explore the myriad of hiking trails that criss-cross the mountain. Typically, visitors start at the top of the mountain next to the visitor's center and make their way down the mountain, passing through fragrant pine trees, leafy green foliage, brightly singing birds and on rare occasions, wild deer or porcupines. Many of the paths culminate at a small mountain lake, surrounded by lush, green vegetation and small thatch picnic huts. A further stroll around the lake and down a short path leads to an ornately decorated Buddhist temple named Wat Jaa, where for a small donation, guests can buy some incense and make offerings or pray. The most popular attraction on Kirirom mountain for both locals and tourists alike is the Tea Farm Waterfall. The small but scenic waterfall is the perfect spot for a picnic or an afternoon swim, and for those who are interested to see how Asia's favorite hot beverage is produced, there is a tea farm on site which guests are welcome to visit.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of a visit to Kirirom is stopping to chat with the locals who sell snacks, cold drinks and pure natural remedies along the clearings on the mountain. A quick stop at one of the local stalls will reveal a myriad of fresh and dried wild mushrooms, indigenous herbs and roots and even porcupine quills amongst the more mundane bottled water and soft drinks. As the vendors will explain, these natural remedies are sought after by local Khmer visitors, Chinese tourists, and even the odd Westerner. The remedies are said to alleviate ailments such as arthritis, headaches and fatigue. One of the most commonly sought after treatments is for pregnant women who suffer morning sickness. The cure involves heating and crumbling porcupine quills and then adding the powder to locally brewed rice wine.
There are a number of Non-Governmental Organizations that work tirelessly to protect and promote the natural beauty of Kirirom National Park. Mlup Baitong is a Cambodian environmental NGO that aims to promote and teach environmental protection and natural resource management in Cambodia. Mlup Baitong works closely with WildAid, a wildlife conservation agency, and the local government to run the Visitor's Center at the top of Kirirom mountain. Their aim is to educate visitors about the importance of conserving the unique ecosystem of the area. Mlup Baitong also runs the Chambok Community Based Ecotourism Site project in Kirirom National Park, where guests can stay in a local Khmer family home in a village within the Park for a nominal fee. Fees include all meals, trips to sites in the park, such as a forty-foot waterfall and a bat cave and authentic Khmer dance performances. All proceeds go into the local community and towards preserving the natural resources in the area as well as sustainable tourism.
Read more about the Chambok Community Based Tourism Site here
Read mor about ecotourism in Cambodia here
Where to Stay
Although Kirirom is easily accessible as a day trip from Phnom Penh, many people opt to spend the night in the national park. Fortunately there are a range of options available for those looking for a solitary and serene night amongst nature. The most lofty option is Kirirom Guesthouse and Restaurant, located in a pleasant garden on a ledge at the top of the mountain. Here, mountain breezes cool the air and grand views of the surrounding Elephant mountains can be seen from the restaurant veranda. For those that like a bit of kitsch with their nature, the Kirirom Hillside Resort near the entrance to the park has manicured grounds that feature quirky lawn ornaments such as a life size UFO and a plastic dinosaur garden. Accommodation here ranges from a simple tent on the resort grounds to a luxurious executive suite fit for a king. And of course, for those that want an authentic Khmer village experience that gives back to the community and the Park, there is the above-mentioned Chambok Community Ecotourism Site.
A link to the Kirirom Hillside Resort website
How to Get There
From Phnom Penh, follow National Road 4 west until you arrive at Treng Trayeung town. From there, follow the signs pointing the way to Kirirom National Park. The trip should take just over two hours.