Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ream National Park, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Although I am a total beach bum, I was down in Sihanoukville with some people who aren’t particularly fond of spending complete days basking in the sun and floating in the water. So after about 5 days of surf and sand, we decided to check out the nearby Ream National Park.

The day before we were to take the trip, the four of us spent some time researching it – trying to find out the cheapest and best way to explore the park. What we found, though, was that there wasn’t much information available. The Lonely Planet doesn’t have much to go on and the Internet chatter is pretty quiet as well.

Nonetheless, we decided to skip on the full-day package tour touted by all the local travel agents (costing about $20 each). Instead, we rented motorbikes ($4/day) and headed out ourselves. It was a short and uneventful ride out to the park.
Once we got there, though, we realized that it wasn’t going to be too easy to explore on our own. For one thing, the park is mostly made up of mangrove forests. Mangroves are like big bushes that grow only in places where there is both salt water and fresh water. They basically grow in rivers or swamps and don’t really make for good hiking areas. In addition to that fact, the only person in our group who was really keen on hiking was Nick – the rest of us were feeling a bit hot and lazy. So we opted for a ½ day boat ride around the park ($35 total – we split the cost 4 ways).
Normally the full day boat tour ($45) will take you through the mangrove forest and out to a deserted beach. Unfortunately, we arrived too late and weren’t able to do the full tour. No worries, we paid up our fee and hopped into a little long-boat.
For about 45 minutes we floated down the river. Unfortunately, they didn't have any boats left with shades over them, so we spent the time baking in the mid-day sun. 

There were no river banks to speak of, but thick mangrove forests sprouted up out of the water to mark the edge of the river. After an enjoyable (but monotonous) 45 minute boat ride, we arrived at the “Mangrove Viewing Tower.”

We docked our boat at the mouth of a small tributary and headed into the mangrove forest, walking along a small raised walkway.
After a couple minute “trek” we arrived at the viewing platform, which was a small tower rising just above the top of the mangroves.
Unfortunately, it didn’t offer much of a view. We were basically high enough to see the surrounding tree-tops but not high enough to see the whole forest (what's the metaphor here?). We stayed up there for a couple of minutes, enjoying the shade, and then headed back to our boat.
At this point, we were informed that our tour was basically over and it was time to head back to the ranger station the same way we came. BUT, our guide offered, if we were really interested in the mangroves, he could take us back down an alternate route via this little tributary.

Of course we were very interested, not only because it would make for a more interesting ride but it would also give us some shade from the mid-day sun. But there was a catch – we would have to pay $5 extra per-couple for the “extra petrol” that would be needed for the trip.

Well, of course we knew that this was complete BS and we certainly weren’t going to pay any more for this already way over-priced trip. And definitely not $5 / couple… for “petrol”! Not a chance in hell, considering gas to fill the boat would cost less than 2 bucks. We discussed the rangers' proposition for a couple of minutes and then grudgingly got back on our boat and proceeded to nap for the rest of the trip.

At least now we know why it’s difficult to find any information on this national park… because there isn’t much to it. It is definitely important for the Cambodian government to be saving the rapidly vanishing mangrove forests from illegal poaching and logging, but as far as tourism goes, there’s really not much to see here. All in all we had an enjoyable afternoon – albeit soured by the petty extortion attempt – but would I recommend others to visit the park? Definitely not.

1 comment:

  1. very informative. thanks for taking the time to post.