On our second day in Kampong Som (Monday, November 28th), we decided to take a tour of Ream National Park. I think that we were drawn in by the chance of seeing the wildlife – especially dolphins. The long-story-made-short is that we didn’t get to see any dolphins, but it was still a great day. But perhaps I’ll start at the beginning.
We made arrangements at our hotel on Sunday for the tour. Soon after breakfast on Monday, the tour van pulled up and the family hopped in. On our way out-of-town, the driver stopped at a bakery to get some bread (part of lunch), and then we made the short drive to the Prek Toek Sap ranger’s station located on National Road #4. (We had passed it when we arrived from Phnom Penh.) Once there, we were given an orientation to the day’s activities: a river boat ride through the park to a secluded beach on the Gulf of Thailand; time at the beach for swimming, exploration, etc; a short hike through the forest; lunch at a fishing village within the park; boat ride back to our starting place. Because we had at least one park ranger along on the trip, I assumed that the tour was something that the park employees were able to do to supplement their income.
The route of our park tour. We started at the northern (upper) end of the red line at the ranger station on National Road #4. The beach is at the southern end where the loop intersects the peninsula on the west side. We ate lunch after a trek across the peninsula to the east side.
The first portion of the trip was an enjoyable boat ride, but it was fairly uneventful…
Ordinary Spouse appears to be having a good time
As we cruised along, the guides shared some information about the park. It is one of seven national parks in Cambodia and was established by the former king, Norodom Sihanouk (namesake of Sihanoukville) in 1993. Cambodians who lived in the park when it was established have been allowed to remain and continue their lifestyle – primarily fishing. The guides pointed out their work as we went. Poles planted in the river bed marked spots where fishing nets had been lowered or where oyster beds could be found…
The houses of the fishing community dotted the river banks (mixed with the rustic cabins of the park rangers)…
Here are some of the houses of the fishing families
A cottage of one of the park rangers
This is one of my favorite pictures of our entire trip: beautiful sky, green forest, fishing village, and our rustic tourist boat
And the guides shared some stories about native plant and animal life…
This riverside plant (that the ranger called “Jack”) is good for thatching roofs
Despite these highlights, however, I was becoming a little disappointed with the trip. We hadn’t really seen much in terms of wildlife, and the river was becoming a bit too routine. It didn’t help that I was sitting in the sun. But that changed as we approached the gulf. First, we started seeing small crabs swimming nearby. They’d be at the surface, and then dive when they spotted the boat. Next, the water got choppy as we left the river for more open sea and the wind exerted a greater influence (not that we ever got too far from land). And finally, we landed on the beach.
In my last post, I described my idea of a great time at the beach: lots of walking and few people. Well, that’s exactly what I got…
Beach, beach, and more beach!
After about an hour at the beach (I would’ve loved a lot more!), everyone on the tour was gathered together for our hike through the forest. It wasn’t a long walk – only about 1.5 km – although I was a little concerned about how the girls would do. However, they really did fine, especially once we were into the forest and out of the sun. The only real challenge was encouraging Youngest Daughter after she tripped on a tree root. We didn’t see any large animals, but the air was full of the sound of cicadas.
Here is our family. I’m in the back (taking the picture). In front of me: my mother-in-law, Ordinary Spouse with Youngest Daughter, Oldest and Middle Daughters with my father-in-law.
A stream through the forest
Ordinary Spouse and Youngest Daughter trekking through the forest, accompanied by cicadas
This is one of my favorite pictures, looking back at the forest as we emerge on the other side.
We approach the water again on the other side of the peninsula
We emerged from the forest into a fishing village, with the guide providing an education on some local food options: cashews, lemon grass, hot pepper plants, and a species of ant that could be used to make sour soup. And once we got to the far side of the village, it was time for lunch. It wasn’t completely clear who was providing the lunch: park employees? villagers? some combination of both? I’m guessing that all of these lines were blurred. We ate at this simple place at the end of the dock…
Poor Youngest Daughter – she picked up a splinter in the hand rail. I guess everyone was tired as we waited…
Waiting for lunch. Note how Youngest Daughter is holding her finger to protect it.
However, lunch revived us. The cold drinks were very welcome, and the barracuda was tasty. (Later, I would wonder why I didn’t order seafood at Happy Herb Pizza, considering how good the barracuda was here.)
Barracuda, cabbage salad, and bread. We also had cold Cokes and fresh fruit. My father-in-law used these ingredients to make a sandwich. Brilliant!
After lunch, we hopped into our tour boat again to begin the trip back to the ranger station where we started.
Our waiting tour boats
There were a few highlights from our return trip. One was a stop at a ranger lookout tower. We walked a narrow wooden walkway through mangrove forest to get to the tower. It was a nice view, but for some reason, heights started to bother me more once I became a father. In this case, there weren’t a whole lot of places to hold on…
Another high point of the return trip (especially for Middle Daughter) was seeing two majestic eagles and two colorful kingfishers. Our tour guides identified them for us. (I wasn’t able to get good pictures of any of them, so these are from Wikipedia.)
From left to right (follow links for image credits):
- Gray-headed fish eagle – This bird looked a bit like a Bald Eagle to us. It was the smaller of the two eagles.
- White-bellied sea eagle – Even from a distance, we could tell that this bird was immense. Supposedly, the wingspan can reach seven feet. All I know is that it was huge.
- White-throated kingfisher and black-capped kingfisher – These birds were both gorgeous, but then I’m biased toward blue birds. The white-throated kingfisher is highlighted with bright teal, and the black-capped kingfisher was a rich royal blue (although it’s hard to see in the picture).
I took about a million pictures of the clouds. I’ll only bore you with three. (Pictures, that is. It may be all the same cloud.)
Between watching the clouds and the birds, the return trip went quickly. I snapped a picture of the sign advertising our trip as we loaded the van for the trip back to Kampong Som.
(Don’t blink. You might miss it!)
Once we got back to the hotel, we spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming in the pool and had supper at Happy Herb again. But the day had worn me out. I was back to the room and ready for bed by 8 p.m.
Up next: Return to Phnom Penh