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South-East Asia : Cambodia

Ream National Park, Cambodia

by Andrew Kolasinski

From the peaceful mountaintop temple at Ream National Park in Cambodia the forest spreads out, becoming jungle towards the coast. Screeching birdcalls break the quiet. The Praek Tuek Sub River winds its way into the estuary at Proh Toek Sap edged by mangrove swamp. Outside the estuary white beaches line the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. I had joined my friends Susan and James on a daytrip from Sihanoukville. It was time for their yearly blessing by the temple monk. The annual karmic booster shot is a good excuse to visit the park.

The beaches as Sihanoukville can feel pretty crowded, especially on the weekends. Ream National Park is eighteen kilometers from town, a half hour tuk tuk ride. Travel agencies can arrange tours of the park, complete with guides and riverboat rides. Guides and boat tours are also available at the park headquarters, or you can explore the trail system by yourself.

Ream National Park begins near Sihanoukville Airport along Highway #4. It is worth the trip just for the beaches; Silver Beach, Ream Beach, Sampoch Island Beach and Thma Thom all have their own charms and distinct views.

There are a couple of islands within the park. Kho Thmie has fishing villages along its shores, and on the northeast coast there is a small beach resort. Passenger boats from Sihanoukville make regular trips.

Ream National Park is 210 square kilometers of land and water; preserved since 1993. Ream includes rivers, waterfalls, evergreen forests, jungles, mangrove swamps, beaches, and coral reefs, as well as a rich variety of wildlife: 155 species of birds, dozens of mammals like deer, rhesus monkeys wild pigs, wild cats, plus reptiles, and marine life. Dolphins are sometimes seen along the offshore reefs. Cranes, kingfishers, storks and fishing eagles are some of the feathered favorites.

Also within the park are the people who have lived here for generations. There are 13 villages with lands overlapping park boundaries encompassing a total of around five thousand people who live in Ream. Along the boundary at Ream Beach a community has sprung up to offer visitors dining and rustic accommodation. Lately developments are expanding beyond these small family-run operations and attracting big business. Foreign companies are clearing ground for large-scale resorts. As contentious as these intrusions into the park have become there is still lots of habitat for wildlife.

 

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Cultural attractions are part of Ream’s appeal. You can visit the fishing villages to get a taste of the traditional subsistence lifestyle. Two temples are inside the park. The Outer Wat is on Highway 4 and is a Buddhist monk school. Farther away from the highway is the spectacular Inner Wat. This temple on the top of a hilltop is centered on a huge reclining Buddha carved out of the living rock of the mountain. The figure is 10 meters from head to toe. The monks attending the Wat are happy to greet respectful visitors, and to perform a blessing ceremony for a small donation.

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While my friends Susan and James enjoyed their blessing I explored the big Buddha, finding vantages for photos. A bell tinkled faintly as I wandered away. Along the hillside are dozens of smaller statues representing the Khmer lunar zodiac and other creatures from proverbs. Stone dragons, nagas, monkeys, etc. are set into patios and the gardened terraces. All of this is only a short hike from the beaches of Ream and adds to the charmof the area as a daytrip that bears repeating.

Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and inthe off-season he travels the world looking for a story. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in tours to Cambodia and all over Southeast Asia.