A Day in Nature – Kep National Park

Most people come to Kep for the crab and the beach. I came to enjoy nature and the outdoors. Kep has it’s own National Park that circumnavigates the mountain top around the peninsula – about 50 square kilometers.  It was great to be out of the hectic and noisy Phnom Penh and being the hikers we are, we couldn’t wait to enjoy a day in the lush green landscape.

We met back up with Janna and Chris here in Kep. They were the ones who actually found and suggested Bacoma guest house. While staying at Bacoma we met two great young ladies from France, Lilly and Mel. They spent time in Cambodia teaching English. We all decided to enjoy each others company for our day in the wilderness.

Group shot at the beginning of our hike in Kep National Park

The Kep National Forest was a short walk uphill on a dirt road near Bacoma past a larger more luxurious resort called Veranda. We paid the one dollar entry fee and were off on our adventure.

We started in the shade of the morning so it was less hot than usual, at least before lunch. It was great to get out in nature after being in the loud and crowded Phnom Penh. To hear the sounds of bugs and birds and smell the slightly salty humid air as we breathed in, touching the earth with every step. Happiness and contentment sprung forth from within.

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We encountered a great overlook with panoramic views down the mountain side and out to the sea beyond.

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We even saw a couple of monkeys along the path.

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About half way around we ran into this sign:

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Then we took a spur trail down the mountain on the other side to Jasmine Valley where a butterfly farm was located.

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This was a fun distraction. We paid a small donation each – not required but also not a problem to do so. The farm is owned by an elderly American man, I am told. He was not there at the time. He is teaching Cambodians how to butterfly farm for income. We directed ourselves around the property and spent some time enjoying the butterflies.

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There are a lot of very pretty butterflies in Cambodia but it is really hard to get them to be still long enough to photograph. The aviary filled with butterflies only slightly improved our chances.

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Afterwards, lured by the possibility to hang out with a baby monkey, we headed up the road to the Gibbon Valley Retreat for some cold drinks and lunch.

Now being the animal advocate that I am…I’m leary of places that keep wild animals. It is important to me to not support captivity merely as a means to “bring in” the tourists. In Bali there are many of these establishments and the animals are not well cared for. So when I saw the sign to come have lunch with a baby monkey, my radar went up.  I was happy to see that they do not mention the monkeys on their website.

Captivity should be as a last resort and for conservation efforts and I’m not really sure that this place qualified completely in my book but…. I believe the owners intentions are good. One of the monkey’s was missing a foot so he could not be returned to the wild. The other monkey, the baby, had been orphaned by it’s mom and needed to be cared for. Monkeys have strong family bonds and tend not to be welcoming to “outsiders” making it difficult to just put a baby monkey with another group.

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The monkeys were not in cages but rather attached to long leads. They did not have sores on their necks or anywhere else. Their weights were good and they seemed to genuinely like their keepers. So, I had lunch with monkeys and enjoyed every bit of it.

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The baby was a bit excited to see us all at first and jumped on our heads, pulled out bobbie pens, chewed on cameras and ate hair but after she calmed down all she really wanted was a lap to sleep on and a hand caressing and looking through her fur for bugs (in which there were none). She fell asleep on several laps while we enjoyed a local lunch and the company of fellow travelers.

    

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The property owners are very nice and very welcoming and we had a great time. They have a killer view from the property and are working hard to promote their eco-resort.

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Lunch was wonderful and they have an excellent Khmer chef. Al and I had a veggie stir-fry and everyone else had beef lok lak that they said was wonderful.

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Heading back up to the National Park, full and moving a little slower, it was clear that the temperature had gone up and we were now hiking in the full sun of the afternoon.

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So that is where the photos end. Hiking in the heat zapped us of any energy we had left. The ladies and Jose turned off towards the beach for a dip and Al and I continued home to Bacoma guesthouse opting for a shower over the brown shallow water of the ocean.

I will tell you that at the end of this day we all unanimously agreed that we had never sweat so much in our entire lives. Buckets of sweat. I have never been so hot in all my days on earth and I am not exaggerating.

Bacoma was a welcome retreat from our hike and the shower washed away the sweat while the good food replenished our electrolytes and least I forget the rum and sprite that wiped away the heat and relaxed my body. It was a great day in nature and I feel much more balance for it.

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