Anth in Phnom Penh

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Part 5 (The Horror)

Voen Sai to Virashay National Park Outpost (Kalangchhouy)
Journey: 20 minutes by boat and 3 hours by foot

After several false starts and some problems with our boat’s engine we were on our way to Koklak, a Prehl minority village 20 minutes upstream of Voen Sai.

From Koklak our only option was to continue by foot due to lack of road access. We shouldered our packs and had a pleasant walk through largely deserted villages (most of the inhabitants are nomadic) and rice fields bursting with ripening stalks. We passed villagers making the trek, their woven bamboo backpacks filled with vegetables or grain to sell in town. I wondered how I would manage living in a village where I had to walk at least 3 hours before I reached a town.

Rangers Outpost

The outpost is located right on the border of the National Park and is a simple wooden stilted house, with one room and a balcony. Before we can enter the National Park we need to cross a river that runs between the outpost and the park. After a lunch break we leave our packs at the outpost and get ready for our walk. We assemble bottles of water and the “leach socks” (starchy-thick cotton socks that reach mid thigh with hospital-esqe ties at the top to stop nasty leaches from crawling onto ones legs). Krishni is keen to try out the socks, but Sovann says it is not necessary yet. We walk to a section of the river which Sovann thinks will be the most suitable for crossing. We get to the rivers edge and look on with dismay. What is a bubbly, ankle deep spring in the dry season is now a roaring, cavalcade of water with eddies and currents. Andrew constructs a long piece of rope with our hammock strings whilst singing ‘Whole Lotta Love’. I stare out at the water and have a bad feeling about our ability to make it to Virashay.

We discuss our options. If the strongest swimmer can get across then the rest could follow using the rope. Sovan jumps in and attempts to cross but the rope isn’t long enough. He clambers out a fair way downstream. We are not in the national park until we cross over the river. We stand on the bank and eye of the other side. So close, yet so very far. I am not a strong swimmer and after a test swim I am pretty sure it would not be a good idea for me to try make the crossing. The current is just too strong. Sovann is a bit perplexed and disappointed when we tell him we are not going to do it. Krish seems genuinely disappointed that she does not get to wear the leach socks. Sovann proposes a swim back to the outpost (with the current) and Krishni takes him up on his offer. They climb down the bank and are quickly swept out of view. Later on Krish tells us they hit a series of rapids. Slightly panicked, she asked Sovann what to do. He replied “just lift your legs”. Thankfully by the time Andrew and I made it back to the outpost Krish was there safe and sound.

Andrew ready for the challenges of Virashay Park

Virashay Output to Voen Sai
Journey: 4.5 hours by foot
Road Condition: bad (only passable on foot)

I was woken early in the morning to face a comprehensive incursion of our living space. Tiny, biting vicious black ants had conducted an extremely successful night raid on our hut and were now celebrating their conquest in every single personal item that I owned. I stamped about, pulling up pieces of clothing and shaking them free of ants. I was not in a good morning mood. After leaving the majority of the ants behind in the hut, we set off back to Voen Sai. I traipsed automaton-like through the green forest and rice fields. It was beautiful and interesting, but at that point I just wanted to be back in Ban Lung.

The 3 hour walk to Koklak went fairly quickly and uneventfully apart from having to stop twice to remove leaches from Krishni’s legs (we should have been wearing the leach socks!). We arrived in Koklak sweaty and exhausted. The ranger in Ban Long had told us that we could get a moto from the village, but as it was wet season many of the villagers had moved elsewhere or were busy fishing. We stopped at a meeting place to ascertain our options. I crawled onto a bamboo slat-bed, took off my sodden, muddy shoes, and was almost immediately asleep. I awoke from my nap to be told there were no motos, no boat and the only way to get back to Voen Sai was by foot. This was not welcome news. But what choice did we have?

I was overwhelmed by exhaustion. I mechanically put my sneakers back on my blistered feet, shouldered my pack and readied to set off. When I first began walking that morning I had consoled myself with dreams of reclining in Yaklom Lodge with a gin and tonic watching the sunset. Now, my fantasies were much more immediate. I imagined myself sitting back in the ‘hang bai’ in Voen Sai on a blue plastic chair on the dirt floor, a cup of cold over-brewed tea with ice in my hand and the sounds of noisy karaoke dvds filling the wooden shack…. Ohhhh Vern Sai hang bai…….

Oh so happy not to be walking! The ferry to Vern Sai after walk.

We made it to Voen Sai and I did wind down in the restaurant, but not with an ice tea. Things never seem to work out the way you envisage, especially on this trip.

Inevitably, sitting in the Voen Sai hang bai, our journey was far from over. We had to make it back to Ban Lung. It was 2pm and there were no moto drivers in town.


Ot mien.

It says a lot about your holiday when you are overjoyed at the prospect of catching a lift in the back of a big, rattly truck filled with sand.

We made a split second decision to take the only available transport out of town. We laughed and waved goodbye to Voen Sai, and nestled comfortably in the sand as the big diesel truck struggled and ploughed along the muddy, bumpy road.


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