An agro-tourism site in Siem Reap city is aiming to take tourists back in history by allowing them to visit one of the dwindling traditional Cambodian domestic farms and experience how much of the Kingdom once lived.
Chreav community, sitting about 10km west of the Angkor Wat temple complex, harks back to the days of oxcarts, dirt roads and manual farming.
Krouch Ly – who promotes Chreav community as an agro-tourism destination – has arranged tours around the community, which began inviting visitors in March 2013.
“The oxcart tour is a unique experience. The oxcart is useful for serving many purposes, from family transportation to farming activities. Taking a trip on a cart drawn by two oxen is an affordable and safe adventure, allowing you to conveniently explore the countryside and the country’s ancient civilisation,” he says.
Visitors meet with local farmers growing vegetables and fruit using natural fertilisers, as well as learn how to cook local ingredients in Khmer food.
“We arrange many activities, including shopping at a local market, visiting local schools, riding an oxcart, seeing vegetable farms, watching birds, learning how to cook Khmer food and enjoying a meal together. We also take them to go fishing in a lake or visit a rice field,” says Ly.
Chreav is a long-established community of seven villages and is home to more than 2,500 families. Now, with several private tourism companies bringing guests to experience village life, many of the families now earn their living by offering homestays to visiting tourists.
“The local people earn income from tourism by providing a homestay service, as well as selling home-grown vegetables and fruit,” says Ly, who is founder of eco-tourism company Agro-tourism Cambodia. “We keep the environment clean and we maintain our homes to make them more attractive to visitors.”
The number of oxcarts in the community has increased from eight to 12 over the past two years, as the number of tourists wishing to take tours has increased, while the number of homestays in the community is also rising each year.
“Now, homestays and guesthouses are available from $8 to $18 per night, with some even equipped with air-conditioning and a swimming pool. We want visitors to stay longer and some elderly people need to relax and cool down after a long day walking in the heat,” he says.
Only 3km from the community is Pearaing Biodiversity Conservation Center, a popular spot with tourists, where 135 species of wild exotic birds flock to the lake to feed and drink.
“Many species of water birds live at Pearaing, including comb ducks, cormorants, darters, purple and grey herons, adjutants and black headed ibis. A guided boat tour is a great way to see the various water birds and help to preserve the area,” says Ly.
While many of the visitors are Cambodian, Ly says that he has been pleasantly surprised to see many foreign tourists who want to experience the rural Cambodian lifestyle too.
“During the wet season from May to October, the number of tourists in the village drops, with around 20 visitors brought by tour agents per day. In the high season, the number increases to one hundred people a day,” says Ly.
But as the community grows, the small village has become more urbanised, leading Agro-tourism Cambodia, along with some village members, to start a breakaway agro-tourism community nearby on Kulen mountain.
“We are shifting to Kulen mountain as a new eco-tourism site because the area is not developed like Chreav community is now. We are building an information station to provide tour information,” says Ly.
A tour in Chreav community can be booked as an individual or a group package. Prices start from $25 for one person, or $6 per person for a group of 11 to 25 people. The tours include an English speaking guide, admission fees, sightseeing and drinking water.
Visitors are strongly advised to dress modestly by covering their shoulders and knees, as well as bring sun cream and extra water.
Agro-tourism Cambodia can be contacted via Facebook (@AgrotourismCambodiakh) or telephone (095 334 460)