Romlech Dam sometimes reminds one of life – the good and the bad.
Located in Chhumkiri district, it is also known as M’lech Dam and was built by victims of the Khmer Rouge regime who were forced to dig the massive 1,000m by 100m reservoir. Some say thousands died of sickness, starvation or from simply being over-worked as they built it with just a little ration to sustain them.
Leaving its sad past behind, the dam is just 100km off-the-beaten-track from the capital. Visitors can soak in its majesty and take in its mountainous natural surroundings that have today brought new life to the place where so many died needlessly.
“After sunset, we start a campfire, play music and dance,” says Virak Chandara, the owner of a glamping spot called The Safari.
‘Glamping’ – which is coined from “glamorous” and “camping” – has grown to become an increasingly popular activity where people bring the luxury of the great indoors to the outside world. It has also come into vogue among younger people, thanks to its popularity on social media.
Chandara, who has arranged for eight massive tents to appear like lotus flowers when viewed from above, explains that the resort’s success can be traced back to a single Facebook post of a woman staying in the tent.
“We received a ton of attention. Some people thought that she was staying in Thailand, not Cambodia,” Chandara recalls.
While en route from Kampot province to his day-job as a designer in the capital, he says The Safari is still in its infancy and has not progressed to the level he had hoped.
Some of the tents, he says, are a little worn from exposure to storms, and sometimes the exterior does not match the interior decorations and the facilities only offer a standard-sized pillow and mattress.
“The first difficulty is road access because when we set-up the place, we could not afford anything better so we only could rebuild the last few kilometres of the path here. Providing electricity can also be a challenge, we use generators and solar panels for power,” he says.
However, Chandara says the facilities will be upgraded as more visitors flock to the site and urged social media users to help by spreading the word. The Safari, he says, is inspired by Singapore’s River Safari and Safari Tents South Africa. Its owner hopes to provide a similar experience with live animals some day.
Currently, the site is ideal for romantic weekend getaways, family holidays, corporate retreats and solemn meditative experiences.
Ly Heang, who was among 70 others on a corporate team-building exercise, tells The Post that he is happy with the facilities and quality to service to be found at The Safari.
“He [Chandara] has arranged the place well for guests to stay, particularly in regards to food, service and location. The view of the mountain range is nothing short of spectacular,” Heang says.
Nestled between the M’lech mountain range between Kampot and Takeo provinces, guests can frequently be seen snapping selfies, enjoying the fresh air, going on hikes and riding bicycles.
“During this season, many companies organise weekend staff parties here. We arrange for outdoor events and set up a nice, long table outside with pleasant lighting.
“I never considered a digital strategy when I launched The Safari on New Year’s Eve last year. The only thing on my mind was that if we can be unique and provide a pleasant experience, people will recognise our efforts,” Chandara says.
He says he can often be found relaxing at The Safari on weekends, but even that does not come without its share of responsibilities. In future, he hopes to make the tents waterproof and upgrade the furnishings inside of them.
But that might not be the first thing clients look for. The Post observed that guests were happy enjoying the 360-degree view of the mountains and basked in the fresh air before letting loose during the night.
At $45 per night for two people and $89 for a package that includes two meals, The Safari is more expensive than many well-rated hotels in Siem Reap town, but the experience is unlike any other.
“We aren’t just selling rooms to stay in. We are offering our guests a unique visitor experience. Our expenses are high because unlike concrete buildings, tents require lots of care and it can be quite difficult for staff to perform their tasks after the sun comes up,” Chandara says.
Currently, The Safari is the only place to stay near the M’lech Dam, although other options are available further away in southern M’lech. Chandara anticipates that this will change soon and investors will flock to the site soon to capitalise on its stunning natural surroundings.
“It will be great if someone buys land here for development, we have seen some interesting projects. We want other resorts to join us here.
“I have a big project in mind to develop the area but due to limited funds, I am trying to secure some financing from Phnom Penh. I plan to add more activities for guests and a hillside swimming pool overlooking the mountain range,” he says, beaming with enthusiasm.
The Safari is located near the M’lech Dam, Chres commune, Chhumkiri district in Kampot province about 109km from Phnom Penh via National Road 3.
For more information or to make a reservation, visit The Safari’s Facebook page (@thesafariglamping) or call 098 778 970.