In the know destinations – Cambodia
You have seen the highlights of Cambodia and you are ready for more. Kirirom as a destination might not be as popular as Angkor Wat. It does however, still receive its share of domestic and foreign tourists in the know. Kirirom will take you to the real Cambodia. Not completely off the beaten path, but interesting and exciting yet less crowded and with an adequate tourism infrastructure in place.
Let’s say, you really want to experience some jungle and/or mountain time in Cambodia. Chi Phat or Mondulkiri are not an option, because they are too far out to fit your itinerary. Why not head to Kirirom? It’s only 2 hours from Phnom Penh and can easily be done as a day trip. However, I do recommend to stay for at least one night, because there’s something magical to mornings in the jungle. Bring long sleeves for the chilly evenings, you’re in the mountains.
Kirirom in the Northeast of the Cardamom mountains has a national park status. In fact it’s the oldest protected park in Cambodia. Despite the protected status there’s still illegal logging and poaching in the area and wildlife has a hard time to survive. For this reason the Chambok Community Eco Tourism (CET) project was started. Chambok is a community of 9 villages and the project aims to provide locals with an income from tourism rather than from logging and poaching.
How to get to Kirirom
From Phnom Penh any bus leaving for Sihanoukville or Koh Kong (National road 4) is good to hop on. You will have to alight te bus at Treng Trayerng village, which is about halfway. Sadly, bus companies will charge you the price of the full route. Tickets to Sihanoukville are cheapest starting at $7 and normally the trip to Treng Trayerng from Phnom Penh should take about 2 hours. In Treng Trayerng at the intersection of road 4 and 46, charter a moto taxi ($7) for the last bit of your trip. You can choose to either go up the mountain or to the Chambok Eco Tourism center.
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). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Things to see/do in Kirirom
Explore nature and spot wildlife on a mountain trek. Visit the bat cave and the Chambok waterfall. Get your directions from the CET center. Admission to the national park is $5.
The CET center has a wealth of knowledge about the area and they can set you up for hikes and many other activities. I especially recommend using them for activities within the Chambok community, such as cooking classes and handicraft making. Above all, you are sure to have some wonderful interactions with the local community.
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. I use World Nomads, because they are the true specialist in travel insurance and their price for the service is unbeatable. They cover a range of adventure sports and activities like scuba diving 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.
Knowing they had my back has always given me great piece of mind. Fortunately I never had to claim anything, but fellow travelers I met on the road told me that the online claims process went very smooth.
Where to stay in Kirirom
There are three resorts on the mountain to choose from and all three of them are unique in their own way.
On the mountain
Kirirom Hill Station
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
If this accommodation is free, do not hesitate! Two former villas turned into a small boutique resort. This is such a beautiful place in a peaceful and tranquil setting with wonderful views. Book ahead, the limited number of rooms fill up very fast. What a gem!
If the Kirirom Hill Station is sold out you have a choice between vKirirom Pine Resort and Kirirom Hillside Resort. Both resorts are fine I guess, and about the same price range. However, they are not up to par with the Kirirom Hill Station
Alternatively, you can opt for a homestay with the Chambok Eco Tourism Center, which I also highly recommend. You do need to understand though that this is a very basic accommodation with minimal amenities. The good thing is of course that you are right in the middle of the local community with loads of opportunities to interact with the locals.
Chambok Community Homestay The CET has 42 homestays spread over 9 community villages. If you register at the CET they will assign you to a homestay from the rotating system. It’s an incredible experience to see community life up close and to truly interact with the locals. Beware though, prepare yourself for minimum electricity, outhouse squat toilets and very refreshing cold water showers.
Where to eat in Kirirom
The resorts are the only restaurants on the mountain. So, if you’re staying there it’s best to also have your meals there. That is, unless you’re ok covering some distance and you really want to try the Kirirom Hill Station restaurant (and you should, because it’s fantastic).
The CET restaurant is also a very good option. The restaurant is run by a rotating roster of 300 community women. Just imagine, 300 Cambodian mamas cooking up the best and most authentic Khmer food you will ever have in your life.