I know I promised you off the beaten path, but right away I have to admit that Chi Phat is a tourist destination. Having said that, no more than about 3,500 visitors make it to Chi Phat each year, which is nothing really.
Besides, something extraordinary is happening in Chi Phat village.
For centuries the inaccessibility of the Cardamom mountains ensured the preservation of the rainforest around Chi Phat. As a result, it remains one of the largest and for the most part unexplored forests in South East Asia until today. However, new roads unlocked the area and now the biodiversity is severely threatened by illegal logging, extensive wildlife poaching and slash-and-burn agriculture.
Community based eco tourism
The former logging and hunting community in the village of Chi Phat nowadays runs a Community-Based-Eco-Tourism project (CBET). In 2007 NGO “Wildlife Alliance” started a program to educate and help the community make their living from tourism instead of illegal poaching and logging. Villagers now make sustainable income through homestays, guided treks and a wide array of tours. Guides that were once poachers, now lead you on jungle treks to waterfalls, grasslands and mountains.
Chi Phat is also dubbed “the gateway to the Cardamom mountains”. This unique area in the South West of Cambodia is home to many endangered animals. Threatened species include amongst others the Asian elephant, Indochinese tiger, clouded leopard, Asiatic wild dog, Indian bison, wild banteng and the Malayan sun bear. Furthermore, the rivers are home to Irrawaddy dolphins and the very rare Siamese crocodile.
How to get to Chi Phat
Getting to Chi Phat is an adventure in itself. The village is on the way from either Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville to Koh Kong, but you’ll have to alight at Andoung Teuk. Regular minivans and Virak Buntham buses leave from Phnom Penh (4h) and Sihanoukville (4h) with destination Koh Kong, but make sure to let the driver know to let you off at Andoung Teuk.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within Cambodia I always use the transport planning tool below from BookmeBus.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). Book instantly.
Arrange your onward transport from Andoung Teuk to Chi Phat at the restaurant 50 meters east from the bridge at Andoung Teuk. This could be either moto taxi (45min, $7) or by scenic boat ride (2 h, $10 per pax with at least 3 pax). The boat leaves at 12:30pm-1pm and might wait until 2pm if the bus is late.
When you arrive at Chi Phat village the first thing to do is register at the visitors center a good 300 meters into the village. They can also assist you with booking activities and transport arrangements for leaving Chi Phat.
One important reminder is to bring sufficient cash money. There are no ATM’s in Chi Phat and credit card acceptance is rare.
Things to see/do in Chi Phat
The star of the show at Chi Phat is of course good old mother nature herself. And what a beautiful sights she offers. Besides the forest there are many waterfalls and rapids to visit. You can have a refreshing swim while you’re at it. What about the bat caves and the ancient burial site where they keep the deceased ancestors in jars?
Next to seeing the wonderful nature there is so much to do. Let’s get active! Kayak, crab fishing, bird watching, mountain biking and multiple days of trekking are just a few of the adventurous things to do here. Visit the wild life release station, do some volunteer gardening or join a traditional cooking class. Above all, with all these activities it’s guaranteed that you will have a lot of interactions with the local community.
The CBET visitors center can assist you with maps of the area and/or booking activities.
If you like to indulge in adventurous activities, then always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. Remember, you’re a million miles from anywhere. I use World Nomads, because they cover a range of adventure sports and activities and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already in the middle of traveling.
Where to stay in Chi Phat
At the visitor center it’s possible to arrange your accommodation. There are many guesthouses, but most are just small operations and the best ones tend to sell out months in advance. Therefore it’s smart to book your accommodation ahead of your arrival. Don’t expect any real luxury like aircon or wifi and there’s no 24/7 electricity. Chi Phat is after all an eco destination.
The Chi Phat CBET can also arrange a homestay for you with one of the local families. It’s all very basic, some accommodations without any electricity and hot water at all. Your hosts will most probably not speak English, so all communication is likely to go through the visitor center. On the other hand, if you’re up for a real authentic experience, you can’t get any closer than this.
Typically, the CBET will use a rotating system assigning you to an accommodation. This is of course to make sure that all local participants have an equal chance to rent out their property and make a buck. You can of course, voice a preference.
I have some accommodation recommendations for you, tried and tested by yours truly. You can request the CBET to stay there. It doesn’t mean that the other accommodation are any less though. I just haven’t tried any of the other ones, so I wouldn’t know.
The Bear Cat Guesthouse: For real budget travelers Chi Phat has plenty of options. The Bear Cat has clean rooms with a fan and mosquito net. The bathroom is shared and the owner family is welcoming and friendly.
Fireflies Lodge. Pay a little more to stay in a sturdy wooden bungalow. The bungalows here are set directly at the river and spread out over the resort terrain.
Where to eat in Chi Phat
There are a few restaurants and street food stalls in Chi Phat, which are incredibly cheap, but unfortunately the food and service are far from spectacular. Your best bet is the community restaurant at the visitor center. Next to breakfast they serve three different dishes for lunch and three more for dinner. The menu changes everyday. When we were there in 2016 breakfast was $2.50 and meals were $5. They also accommodate vegetarians and vegans.
If you are staying at one of the many homestays it might be possible to join the family in a home cooked meal, which makes for a unique experience. Try to organize this with the visitor center as they will be able to mediate between you and your host.