At about three in the afternoon, Pich Longneth is ready to welcome the clients he has booked in for his guide service.
He has prepared the necessary materials for the trip – a water container, a rice pot, rice, vegetables, meat, fish and beverages, as well as tents and plastic mats to protect themselves from the rain.
“Tourists from one tour company travelling from Phnom Penh arrived in the afternoon. They then packed their luggage for trekking to the top of the mountain because they need to camp near there,” says Longneth, 40, a local guide for the Community-Based Eco-tourism Phnom Tobcheang with 10 years experience.
“Tour groups range from 10 or 20 people and sometimes from 50 to 60 people. They walk on the snake-like concrete road built for the transportation of Kirirom III Hydroelectricity’s construction materials for about one and a half hours to reach the camp site. For materials and food, we use motorbikes to take them there.”
Reaching the summit of Tob Cheang Mountain, visitors are treated to a spectacular view.
“At dusk, if we start hiking at 5:30pm there is a chance to see the mist cloud. When we walk up to the top of the mountain, we can see the cloud lowering down on top of roofs and farms,” says Longneth.
Walking another 30 minutes on the concrete road by the hydrodam, visitors reach an open space with jungle flowers where they spend the night. The flowers are called Chahouy and start to blossom in the rainy season, a sign to welcome the new season and attract campers.
Phnom Tobcheang Community is on the southwest side of the Cardamom Mountains, located in Srae Ambel district’s Dang Peng commune in Koh Kong province.
With the help of NGOs and the government, in 2001 the community was transformed into an eco-tourism destination for camping, waterfalls, trekking, fishing and bird watching.
The project promotes agriculture, healthcare and natural resource protection for the 300 locals living in Preah Angkeo and Bak Angrel villages.
Phnom Tobcheang Community was recognised and supported by the provincial authority in 2003, and in 2010 the community signed a 15-year contract to control 364ha of land.
“We charge on the basis of the number of local guides. If a tour needs only one guide, we charge $10 for a day and if they need a motordup, we charge them $30 or $35 per guide and motorbike,” says Longneth.
Nob Koy, Phnom Tobcheang Ecotourism chief, said the community was established to protect natural resources and provide work for local people in the tourism sector.
“Phnom Tobcheang Community was launched in 2001 to protect the forest for the younger generation,” says Koy, 66, adding that during the rainy season, as the jungle flowers blossom and the trees become green, the number of tourists starts to increase.
Koy says that most tourists visiting Phnom Tobcheang community are Cambodian.
“We rarely see expats coming here. We should also attract foreigners, but maybe we do not promote ourselves well enough to reach an international audience,” he says.
Seeing the potential of Phnom Tobcheang ecotourism, Seang Makara, founder of tour group Cambodia Camping, set up their first tour package to the area in 2016.
“I have organised tours many times since 2016. I wanted to help the community to create new tourism sites because I see that it has potential with its waterfalls, flowers, river and good geography,” Makara says.
“The biggest tour package I organised had more than 170 people. Now I am preparing to set up a resort up there. In fact, today Phnom Tobcheang Community has one completed resort and four other resorts in construction.”
The community also offers a homestay ($3 per room for two people), breakfast ($2.50 per person), lunch ($3 per person) and dinner ($3 per person).
According to their website, a local guide costs $10 per day, renting a tractor costs $25 per day, hiring a motorbike costs $10 per day, a bicycle $5 per day, a boat trip at $5 per person and a tent is $5 per night.
To reach the community, travel down National Road 48 until you are 50m from Srae Ambel Bridge, at which point you turn right at the sign saying Hydroelectricity Plant Kirirom III. After two kilometres you then reach Longneth’s home, from where you will start trekking.