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Cambodia Part One: Temples, Jungles and a Giant Stone Elephant

22nd March 2016

Wild Frontiers offers a number of Cambodia holidays. Founder Jonny Bealby is currently recceing in Cambodia.

In Siem Reap we hit the ground running.

With under a week in Cambodia to zip around the country making a promotional video, there was no time to lose and within two hours of touch down I was filming the famous Angkorian temples.

Starting with Ta Prohn, the cluster of temples made famous by the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movies, where many of the gnarled old edifices are covered by strangler fig trees, we made our way via the beautiful Bayon complex to Angkor Wat. Although at the first two – and a few other lesser known sites we passed by – I managed to film shots with virtually no other tourists, at Angkor Wat this was simply impossible. At four in the afternoon, despite being staggeringly hot, and coming to the end of the busy tourist season, there were large numbers of tourists in every nook and cranny.

Ohm, our charming and most informative guide, told me that if I really wanted to get the best shots of the regions most famous temple I’d have to return at dawn, and via the rarely visited east gate. This we did and besides a random tai chi group going through their early morning routine in the shade of a banyan tree, we were left undisturbed to get wonderful shots of the spectacular temples turn pink in the early morning light.

Of course these temples, particularly Angkor Wat, are among the greatest tourist attractions anywhere in the world, and for good reason – they are amazing – and so it’s hardly surprising in the modern world they attract many visitors. But it was nice to know that even here there was a way of doing something different and feeling relatively special.

But what I love is to get truly off the beaten track and to do that we headed northeast from Siem Reap up into Phnom Kulom, otherwise known as the Sacred Mountains. Our partners in Cambodia, with whom we have worked for over 10 years, have set up a very interesting private camping, or ‘glamping’, experience which I was keen to try, and also do some walking in the hills.

Having left the parched plains and climbed up in the lush green jungle, we first visited a river on whose bed had been carved 1,000 lignums, and had lunch at a remote waterfall. From there we drove on to a small village where we picked up a young lad to guide us on a 10k walk through the jungle to our camp.

Although hot, much too hot to see any wildlife, it was a magical trek through a forest of deep green vegetation. Sugar palms, mango, eucalyptus and fruiting cashew lined our path as we made our way along the trail. At one place, where the land dropped away into a dark glade in the forest, we came across life size images of two lions, an elephant and a giant frog carved from the surrounding rock. While gazing in awe at the surprising statues, two priests appeared and gave an offering before the elephant. At another location we entered a cave, which, at its end, some 50 meters undergrown, was another ancient temple. There were also a thousand bats!

But finally, having walked for some two and a half hours, we emerged from the jungle onto a high plateau and saw before us our camp. Set up in true Africa-style the huge main tent came equipped with a king-size double bed, a fan, bedside tables and lamps, a veranda with table and chairs, a dining table with pretty Chinese umbrella, and of course a loo tent and shower. Having washed and changed we enjoyed a fabulous sundowner, a delicious dinner before a campfire, and one of the best nights sleep I have had in years.

Away from the crowds of Siem Reap, the Sacred Mountain felt very special indeed.

Jonny Bealby

Rock singer, writer and travel entrepreneur, Jonny Bealby has streetwise savvy and miles of travel under his belt. His experiences have given him the …

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