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Happy campers: Nature lovers pitch tents on Valentine's Day

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Officials, NGO staff members, monks, students and citizens from all walks of life gather around an ordained tree in Prey Lang in Kratie province as part of a uniquely Cambodian take on the Valentine’s Day holiday. YOUSOS APDOULRASHIM

Happy campers: Nature lovers pitch tents on Valentine's Day

Instead of roses, chocolates, and romantic dinners in fancy restaurants, around 300 people spent their Valentine’s Day in tents dining under the stars in the wilds of Cambodia to celebrate their love for nature.

The “Fall In love with Prey Lang on Valentine’s Day” camping event that took place this past February 14 was the third annual outing of an event that was originally started as an initiative to raise awareness of environmental issues and inspire a greater love for nature back in 2019.

Neth Pheaktra, secretary of State and spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, led around 300 people from all walks of life out to Prey Lang in Kratie province to celebrate Valentine’s Day by organising a one-night camping trip for people who wanted to mark the holiday by showing their love for nature.

“We started doing this in 2019 and so this is our third camping trip. Scheduling it on Valentine’s Day is intentional of course – the idea being that everyone who attends is showing a true love of nature – which is something we’d like to see spread to the whole of Cambodia,” says Pheaktra.

At dawn on February 14, over twenty vehicles lined up and headed to Chhroy Banteay commune in Kratie’s Prek Prasap district.

The group spent the night there in Prey Lang celebrating the beauty of nature while also participating in a Buddhist ceremony meant to protect the trees, along with other activities.

The campers included Ministry of Environment officials, provincial authorities, staff members from civil society organisations and NGOs, environment ministry forest rangers, monks, students and citizens from a diverse array of backgrounds as well as reporters from various media outlets.

“We have all come from different parts of the country and different provinces but we have the same goal.

“The goal is for everyone to be united in their love of nature and their commitment to protect Cambodia’s natural resources like those we have here in Prey Lang,” Pheaktra tells The Post.

Pheaktra says that the idea is to preserve not just Prey Lang but the all of the natural resources of Cambodia which are primarily located in the 7.3 million hectares of protected areas under management by the Ministry of the Environment.

For the Valentine’s Day camping trip the main activity was a Buddhist ordination ceremony for the trees of the forest.

Typically, ordination ceremonies are conducted for people who are becoming monks. In this case the trees were ordained symbolically and some were given robes as though they were monks, thus making it taboo for any Buddhist to harm those trees by chopping them down.

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Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra (centre) at a tree plantation in Kratie. YOUSOS APDOULRASHIM

Of course, every tree in Prey Lang couldn’t be given robes because of the vast number of them there. Walking through the forest, one can see a wide variety of uniquely beautiful trees in every direction.

Some of the trees just stand straight and climb high into the sky while others bend down low trailing flowers everywhere. Each one seems to possess its own personality.

Sadly, each year some of the trees are lost to forest fires or are cut down by illegal loggers, but it doesn’t take long for new green foliage to cover up the dry and dead branches or patches of gray on the forest floor.

Venerable So Senath, a monk who participated in the trees’ ordination ceremony, expressed feelings of joy upon seeing so many people come together for the ritual.

“I am honored and delighted to be part of the event and to be one of the people joining hands with others to take care of nature.

“I am even more joyful to see so many people who are willing to attend this event on Valentine’s Day to demonstrate love for nature instead of less wholesome kinds of love,” Senath says.

After they had finished tying robes to the trees, some people took selfies with friends in front of them and with the uniformed forest rangers.

Everyone on the trip seemed to be having a wonderful adventure for Valentine’s Day.

After the ceremony some people made their way back to the campsite area, while Pheaktra marched off into the wilderness leading part of the group on a 10km nature hike.

The sun began to go down around dinner time at 6pm and everyone was busying themselves helping each other set up their tents for the night.

There were over 100 tents pitched, but some people used hammocks hung between trees – just like forest rangers that are used to roughing it in the outdoors.

The sun set over Prey Lang was a stunning sight and a feast for the eye that nearly everyone felt compelled to watch for at least a little while no matter what they were in the middle of doing.

In addition to the many Cambodians there, the chief advisor for the Japan International Cooperation Agency in Cambodia, Kazuhiro Goseki, had come along on the trip as well.

While he was setting up his tent he chatted with others about how Japan celebrates Valentine’s Day.

“In Japan the way we celebrate Valentine’s Day is quite different. Usually girls are the ones who send out the chocolates to their boyfriends. And wives also give them to their husbands.

“And, girls can also send chocolates out to family and friends too. But there are different types of chocolate. One is called ‘giri-choco’ and those are just quick ready-made chocolates that people give to each other as a sign of friendship in a non-romantic way.

“But then there are ‘honmei-chocos’ and those are the ones that a girl gives to someone who she is romantically interested in or truly in love with to let them know this,” he said.

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Around 300 people spend Valentine’s night in tents and hammocks. Sous Chanthy

Goseki laughs and continues, saying: “You might think Valentine’s Day is very one-sided in Japan but we also have this holiday called ‘White Day’ on March 14 where boys will then buy gifts for the girls who bought them chocolate on February 14.

“But on March 14 the gifts can be anything, and it is customary for the boys to give gifts worth two or three times whatever the girls bought for them, so a box of chocolates could earn a girl something much fancier in return, you never know,” he says.

Goseki said that this was his first time visiting Prey Lang and certainly the first Valentine’s Day he had ever spent in the forest. He said he enjoyed the trip immensely despite some language barriers.

It was a long and tiring day but people were still having fun and enjoying themselves around the campfire that evening. Some of the campers danced to traditional Khmer music while others sat together just talking and drinking.

The next morning, February 15, the group went on a visit to the Think Biotic Co Ltd where people learned all about techniques for planting trees without using seeds so that it takes only around five years before they can be harvested.

During the visit to the company, Pheaktra said that the Royal Government supports the establishment of tree plantations because it benefits the environment and helps conserve natural resources.

“The government has been encouraging tree plantation investments to create renewable timber resources because this is a sustainable way for Cambodia to meet its needs in this area so that there is less pressure to cut down wild forests,” he says.

The director of Think Biotic, Run-Peng Wei, led the group on a tour of his eucalyptus fields and explained how the business works while Pheaktra explained what measures the government was taking to support these types of businesses.

“We’ve strongly encouraged [Wei] to keep his business going because it also provides work to around 2,000 Cambodians in addition to helping reduce deforestation,” Pheaktra said.

After visiting Think Biotic’s tree plantation everyone met for a big lunch and spent some more time socialising and enjoying their fellowship together as Valentine’s Day campers before going their separate ways and heading home.

The campers may not have found love of the sort traditionally associated with Valentine’s Day on this holiday outing – but all of them definitely went home with a greater love and appreciation for nature.

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