The penultimate day of our REI Adventure was a hike with an overnight stay in the Phnom Kulen hills north of Siem Reap. We woke up early, tossed our gear in the van to meet us in the evening, and began to hike. We passed through rice paddies and taro fields, drawing ever closer to the hills.
Finally we reached the hills, and then it was up, up, up a long set of stairs past a spectacular (modern) Buddhist temple to the summit. There we found a gorgeous waterfall, along with another temple perched atop a huge sandstone boulder.
Then we found our campsite, at a beautiful spot along the river. We spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing, then the staff cooked us up a proper feast and we ate and drank late into the evening. Not quite a proper backpacking experience, but a tremendous amount of fun.
The next day (yesterday) we took a bus to Kompong Khleang, a village built on stilts on the shores of Tanle Sap, Cambodia’s great freshwater lake. They use the stilts because the water level changes dramatically between the rainy and dry seasons. The landscape reminds me of the Louisiana bayou, but the stilts made me think of a ski village with doors on the second floor so you can get out when there’s 12 feet of snow.We took a boat ride out to a little floating village. Apparently these are full of Vietnamese refugees who fled after the fall of Saigon – Cambodian law doesn’t allow them to own land, but says nothing about building a house on the water.Last night we returned to Siem Reap for our farewell dinner, took one last wander around the night market, and said our goodbyes. Everyone else is flying home today – some even have work on Friday! It’s an interesting feeling to know that our circles intersect for such a brief moment – a little sad, a little lonely, but also very glad for the experience and aware that we may well meet again.And like I said before, it’ll be nice to get back to my own cadence. Tonight I take a sleeper bus (boo!) to Sihanoukville in the south, where I catch a boat to the island of Koh Ta Kiev for a few days on the beach (yay!). It’ll be a nice change from biking through the jungle and hiking over the hills.