A landscape view of the Cardamom Mountains while containing water for the electricity dam

My Digital Detox in Nature in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains

Last month in June 2019, I was completely exhausted, stressed out and had sleep difficulty, sore eyes and body pains especially back pain because I had been working non-stop sitting in front of screens all day long for more than 10 hours a day since early in the year. I could hardly concentrate during the day. Regarding work productivity, it was terribly poor. Eventually, my body and brain triggered me to have a break from work and to disconnect from technology including my laptop and smartphone.

I love being connected with the nature of its tranquility, trees, mountains, streams, waterfalls, wind, wild sound, and species—but not savage species—so that I can feel relaxed and invigorated. Thus, my digital break was on the Cardamom mountains. I stayed up there for 3 nights with some friends traveling from Phnom Penh and I traveled from Siem Reap.

I’ve been there a few times and I am in love with its stunning natural beauty. After my always-wonderful trips, I can’t just hide this hidden nature paradise on earth so I’m writing to share my experiences and encourage you to explore the truly magnificent view of unbroken forest left in the Kingdom of Cambodia at the Cardamom mountains.

An overview of the Cardamom Mountains

Of the large wide range of tropical rainforest with over 4.4 million hectares located in the southwestern of Cambodia, the Cardamom Mountains are widely recognized as the largest rainforest left in Southeast Asia.

As the extremely rich biological diversity with dense forest, mountains, plains, lowland swamps, marshes, waterfalls, and rivers, the Cardamom Mountains are home to an incredibly large array of mammal species, birds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as including endangered and threatened species like elephants, tigers, sun bears, gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles, and clouded leopards.

A secret waterfall in the jugle of the Cardamom Mountains
A secret waterfall in the jungle of the Cardamom Mountains

The Cardamom Mountains are also known as the place where the Por and Chong ethnic minorities inhabit. But, today Khmer people from different provinces such as Koh Kong, Pursat, and Battambang province move to live there as well. This sums up the number of total people living up there more than 25 000 people.

However, our destination is Osoam village—an ongoing eco-tourism site—that is nestled between a crocodile sanctuary and Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary at the heart of the Cardamom Mountains, where it is the most attractive part of the mountain range.

Travel from Siem Reap to the Cardamom Mountains

To simply reach the Cardamom Mountains from Siem Reap, I left in the early morning at 8:30 am on Capitol Bus leading directly to Pursat. But, the bus stopped at Battambang province’s station to drop off some passengers whose destination in Battambang.

It was about 3:30 pm that the bus arrived in Pursat province. It was around 6 hours. It usually takes less but the road from Banteay Meanchey province to Battambang province has been under construction in recent years. Hopefully, it will be complete in the near future and it will be much faster.

Later in the day, I drove a motorbike in the city and visited a few yet interesting attractions including Pursat riverside, countryside, and a famous historic site Neak Ta Khleang Moeang. And I stayed one night at a friend’s home. However, if you happen to stay here before heading off to the Cardamoms you can have a good sleep at KM Hotel offering a nice and comfortable room, breakfast and a relaxing pool.

I would recommend even though you arrive in Pursat earlier you should not rush in a taxi and go straight to the mountains, yet you should re-energize and spend some time and explore interesting spots Pursat province offers.

Travel from Phnom Penh to the Cardamom Mountains

My friends living in Phnom Penh started their journey in their own pickup car. And we met for a short time in Pursat before leaving for Osoam. I had to wait for my taxi driver, Mr. Den who was coming down the mountains in the meantime.

If you depart from Phnom Penh, you can either cross Pursat or even spend a night there or go through Koh Kong province to reach the mountains.

Electricity dam in Koh Kong on the way up to Osoam village
Electricity dam in Koh Kong shot while traveling from Phnom Penh through Koh Kong to Osoam

Regarding transportation, the bus route from Phnom Penh to Pursat and Koh Kong is available. You can decide which one is your favorite option. But, be aware that the bus usually stops in the city and later you have to take a taxi.

The great news is that getting a taxi to Osoam is available in both Koh Kong and Pursat city and you have to make sure you have reserved your seat in advance to avoid any frustration at the taxi station.

Stay at eco-tourism community based homestay in the Cardamom Mountains

A couple of friends have land and relatives who left their home in Kravanh district, Pursat province to live in the mountains. Then we went camping and slept in tents on their land near the bank of the stream. But, we all stayed at their relatives’ home on the last night of the trip.

As it’s a remote location you can’t find many ways for accommodations. The choice is a few for you. On the other hand, I could recommend a reliable homestay managed by Osoam Cardamom Community Center. Mr. Lim wants to promote eco-tourism in the Osoam area that’s why he set up this community center after serving as a park ranger for the Ministry of Environment in Koh Kong province for eleven years.

A homestay in Osoam Based Eco-tourism Community Center
A homestay in Osoam Based Eco-tourism Community Center

The homestay provides basic settings in Khmer traditional wooden houses with double or twin beds, pillows, blankets, and mosquito nets. And food and beverages are also available that you can find convenient while on the mountains. 

Things to do and to explore in the Cardamom Mountains

I arrived in Osoam village around 3 pm. After that it was a good time to hunt a beautiful sunset. Due to warm weather and clear sky full of clouds with interesting shapes, golden shine at twilight was like a realm of golden mountains. If I could, I would not let it disappear. It was absolutely so beautiful that I couldn’t describe at all.

Osoam village offers attractive spots such as local farms (pepper, avocado, and durian farms) and majestic view and landscape. Of course, motorbiking around the local village allows me to get to know the location, enjoy the fresh air and beauty of nature, and learn how local people live. It gives me a chance to absorb natural surroundings rather than my Facebook feeds and annoying notifications. Surely, I turned off them all.

A stunning view round Osoam village in the Cardamom Mountains
A stunning view round Osoam village in the Cardamom Mountains

Excitingly, everyone who comes here is to expect to discover the untouched beauty of jungle in the mountains. Trekking is, as such, one of the most popular activities around these areas. There are lots of trails through which you will pass different highlights of the jungle, each with their own merits and place offering various options in front of you. Another activity is mountain biking through the trails for the adventures exploring secret forest, cascading waterfalls and calming rock pools, bat caves, wild animals, and bird species. 

My friends and I explored Chhay Broy waterfall, located about 30 km from Osoam and took a motorbiking adventure under the sprinkle to discover an anonymously isolated waterfall nestled quite deep in the jungle guided by a local ranger (Remember you can’t go inside the jungle without a local ranger. It’s dangerous.). The views of the forest with very small raindrops over the treetops was amazing. And the waterfall we discovered was also beautiful and pure—untouched by people.

Motorbiking adventure with a ranger to a secret waterfall in the deep jungle in the Cardamom Mountains
Motorbiking adventure with a ranger to a secret waterfall in the deep jungle in the Cardamom Mountains

The fact is that during the wet season in Cambodia’s jungles, there are tons of terrifying blood sucker worms but the one type that is commonly known is Teak, very tiny and similar to a leech. 

Inevitably, some of us got several bites by them. After we returned back to the local village we had to check and clean our bodies to ensure they were not fixed on sensitive parts of the body. It would be scary if there were any. Yet, it was a great experience.

Best time to visit the Cardamom Mountains

Cambodia’s weather is tropical, hot and humid; and the country has two distinct seasons: dry and rainy seasons (traditionally monsoon season). The dry season usually runs from November to April whereas rainy season begins from May to October.

The Cardamom Mountains get the heaviest rainfall in the entire rainy season that makes the roads difficult to be accessed to the mountains (It’s Ok from Koh Kong town as the road is in concrete all the way down to the peak of the mountains but just some parts nearby electricity dam are very steep.) and even more adventurous from Pramouy village in Pursat (A breakpoint from Pursat city before heading off on the mountain road to Osoam) because the road is terribly bumpy, and turns muddy and slippery after the rain.

Pramouy village in Pursat province
Pramouy village in Pursat province

Despite in the mountains, when you are able to hear thundering, and see lightning in the gloomy clouds rolling in over the treetops and the mountain peaks it’s not the best time to go motorbiking and trekking in the jungle.  

To get the best experience ever, and to see the wonderful view of nature paradise, and to enjoy the water of waterfalls hidden in deep untouched jungle, start your journey between the months of November and April.

Fortunately, it just sprinkled some time while I was in the mountains and I could manage to explore the areas with friends. Most excitingly, at night the cool breeze, the rain sound, the thunder, and flash lightning all combined gave me a spectacular feeling and soothing relaxation. I felt I was in paradise.

Things to pack

I never have much to carry along, just a few clothes in my backpack. However, you have to make sure you bring a boot, long-sleeve shirts and pants for hiking and trekking in the forest. If you are quite concerned about insects, you need to have some mosquito or insect sprays. First aid medicines against flu and fever are to be packed along as well.

Usually, it falls very cool after midnight maybe from 2 or 3 am so it’s better to bring a sweater or ask your homestay staff for thick blankets to wrap yourself warmly to have a better sleep to recharge your energy for the next morning adventure.

Last most important thing is your camera. Don’t forget this. You can’t miss taking pictures of fantastic such rare natural beauty.

Return Home from the Cardamom Mountains

Three nights seemed like a blink of an eye. Final night finally arrived. My friends, their relatives and I and other villagers gathered around the dinner table together with fun talks. We had great local food and home-made white wine—Khmer traditional white wine made from rice. But, we didn’t drink much; just tried a taste of it because we would have to go down the mountains in the next morning.

Because it had rained my friends coming in the pickup car decided to return to Phnom Penh through Koh Kong city instead of Pursat city (We all came to Osoam from Pursat city through mountain road because there was no rain on that day). I, of course, had to come with my taxi driver, Mr. Den, to Pursat as I had to return to Siem Reap.

As being said, the road in the mountains from Osoam down to Pursat city normally becomes so much dangerous when the rains fall down. It’s completely so slippery and muddy that cars may get stuck or go off the cliffs. If you love an adventurous road, you can try.

One thing I learned while coming down the Cardamom Mountains is that the taxi drivers are experts and they collaborate and work as a team to ensure all everyone can reach the bottom of the mountains safely. They departed in a parade of five or six taxi cars as I remembered. This means any taxi car may have a problem, others can help. This is a very good collaboration when the road difficulty is considered pretty dangerous.

Young and talented, Mr. Den who is my taxi driver always lead the parade and helped pull out one car that slid down the road about half of its body. He technically responded to the situation and alerted to the others when the road ahead was too horrible. He’s very kind and helpful.

A taxi car slid off the road due to slippery and muddy condition in the Cardamom Mountains
A taxi car slid off the road due to slippery and muddy condition in the Cardamom Mountains

Thanks Bhuddha! Finally we all got Pramouy and had lunch break there after driving around 5 hours from the mountains. Usually it takes less than 4 hours according to Mr. Den if road is in good condition. Thumb up to him!

It was quite a long journey for me though. After Pursat city I had to get in a taxi from the station around 3 pm to Battambang, and then when arriving there at about 6 pm and I hurried to get another taxi to Siem Reap.

It was a shared taxi. When we reached the town the driver needed to drop off passengers at different locations. Meanwhile, a group of four passengers would have to get off quite far from the Siem Reap town somewhere in Angkor Thom district and the driver had to drop them off first. One by one until it was almost 11 pm that it could reach my drop-off point.

Unbelievably, I was sitting in cars since 8:30 am till 11 pm on that day.

All in all, going forth and back totally gave me a different taste of the trip. It was absolutely tiring but amazing and exciting. It is a long-lasting memorable nature retreat and digital detox I have ever had in recent months.  

Conclusion

The trip has marked my best digital detox in nature within the year. Being in nature amazingly allows me a space to relax and retreat from my daily routine that usually I sit long hours on screens and social media.

Osoam village in the Cardamom Mountains offers magnificent views of beauty of nature, local cultures, attractive hotspots and exciting activities so that I can immerse myself into this new world of nature as much as possible.

Telling you is not enough, you have to visit and explore it on your own. You will understand how I feel about it. It’s a priceless experience that can’t be described at all.

When planning a journey to the Cardamom Mountains, be prepared a taxi ahead if you travel on bus. A shared taxi costs $10 per person from Pursat and Koh Kong city. In case, you need a private taxi it costs $60 from Koh Kong city, and $70 from Pursat city.

Phnom Somkos Homestay in Osoam Cardamom Community Center in the mountains provides various accommodation options from tent to bungalow between $5 and $10.

Connect with Mr. Lim via phone number telephone +855 89 899 895 / +855 16 309 075 and email [email protected] / [email protected] for your trip planning. And you can also contact Mr. Den via +855 16 565 199

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