Near the Cardamom Mountains of Koh Kong there is a wooden chalet with a few porches protruding out over the valley allowing people to view the mountainous jungle greenery descending into a valley where a river can be seen snaking through the landscape.
Remarkably, the chalet itself was built without harming any of the surrounding trees, leaving holes for plants to grow naturally. The overhanging porches are connected to a staircase that leads down to a creek and leaves you standing in the shade of the trees and facing the mountains.
The chalet is actually a restaurant opened by a newly established resort located between the Chi Phat and Areng eco-communities in Koh Kong.
“O’Key Camping begins with the restaurant on the river and people who enjoy coffee and local cuisine will really enjoy it,” says Tuy Vannak, the 31-year-old resort owner.
The restaurant overlooking the mountains and sitting on the O’Key River is where you start your camping adventure with the special meals they make using salt and freshwater lobsters, dungeness crabs and hybrid chickens.
“The restaurant is located at the edge of valley and is connected to the river by stairs and it all faces a mountain called O’Key – one of the Cardamom Mountains,” Vannak tells The Post.
The local people catch the lobsters and crabs that are the restaurant’s specialties from Chi Phat creek. The chickens are family-raised and free-range with colourful plumage.
“They are domestic chickens that are bred with wild chickens and that’s why they look so beautiful,” says Vannak.
Vannak is in the midst of developing a nine hectare resort with one hectare taken up by the lodge and seven ha used for a durian plantation and other fruit trees.
At the restaurant guests can buy freshwater crayfish and saltwater lobsters directly from the local market for 120,000 riel per kg ($30) and crab costs 80,000 riel ($20) per kg. A hybrid chicken weighing 1.2 kg costs 70,000 riel ($17.25) and a 1.5 kg chicken costs 80,000 riel ($20).
The chef at the O’Key restaurant charges 20,000 riel ($5) per kg to prepare the dishes for you whether you want them steamed, grilled or in a soup.
“My land is covered with wild bananas so one popular dish we do is grilled chicken with wild bananas,” says Vannak, adding that he is preparing to harvest his durian next year for the first time and it will also be on the menu.
Visitors can eat family-style or order single dishes depending on the number of people in their group. All orders have to be booked in advance, however, as the restaurant needs time to gather the necessary ingredients.
In addition to the specialty dishes, Vannak also has other more common Cambodian selections that people can pre-order depending on the products available at the market.
Neou Veasna stands on the upper-porch of the chalet with one hand holding a cup of coffee while he gazes at the mountain, fascinated by the atmosphere and natural beauty surrounding O’Key Restaurant.
Veasna – the famed Knong Psar night-time adventurer who documents his trips into the wilderness on his Facebook page Kindness Back – is a big fan of the O’Key camping experience, river and restaurant.
“If it’s the full moon, the night is bright with moonlight. If it’s dark then there are thousands of stars. You can’t lose. In the morning, we get up early for coffee and watch hornbills flying and swimming in the waters below,” Veasna says.
Vannak says the resort is about 12 km from the town of Chi Phat and is easily accessible by car. They are now offering camping tent rentals with one tent costing $15 and sheltering two people. It comes with an air mattress, pillow, fan and two bottles of water.
“I plan to build three vacation bungalows, each with two rooms. The front room will be equipped with a glass wall so the occupants have constant access to the wonderful mountain views. Vacationers will be blown away by it but actually even people who live here full time still stop and admire the scenery,” he says.
Vannak says he hopes to have the vacation homes ready in about six months. Each cabin will also have a kitchen, porch and even a small swimming pool. Rentals will likely run from $150-$200 per night for up to 10 guests.
Vannak outlined a proposed itinerary for those wishing to visit Chi Phat and Areng. Assuming someone arrives at Chi Phat about mid-day after travelling, they still have time to go and explore the Chi Phat waterfalls of Chay Jrey and Chay Khpos. Then in the evening they can relax while staying at O’Key Camping.
“On the second day, they can visit O’Mlou waterfall and the Areng eco-community and that will take them about an hour to reach as it’s 30 km from the O’Key Camping site. We have motorbikes for rent that cost 40,000 riel ($10) per day. If they need a local guide they will pay him 60,000 riel ($15) per day,” says Vannak.
Departing from the campsite at 7:30am, travelers will arrive at Areng about one hour later and can walk around the village and see the local sights. At 3:00pm or 4:00pm they can travel back to O’Key Camping and arrive at the lodge around 5:00pm. Then it’s time for dinner and relaxing in the evening.
“At night, we have a campfire with fire-roasted potatoes or sometimes we even go night fishing. There is a canyon where we do that,” he adds.
An alternative accommodation to O’Key Camping is the Sunbear Ecolodge Resort back in Chi Phat town, which Vannak says has been open for seven years.
Located on two hectares of land, Sunbear Ecolodge has 10 bungalows spaced suitably far away from each other for those looking for the solitude of the forest. They are built with thatched roofs and are located near the center of Chi Phat village in Chi Phat commune.
One-bed bungalows cost $20, two-beds cost $25 and three-beds for a family costs $40. They come equipped with fans and have indoor plumbing with bathrooms that have a water heater for the showers.
“Each bungalow is isolated from the others for privacy with a gap of between 10 to 15 meters and then the paths are connected by low wooden bridges. What’s kind of cool is that these bungalows are located on the Chan Krishna plantation and they are surrounded by durian trees so we have agro-tourism to go along with our eco-tourism,” Vannak says.
O’Key Camping is located in Chi Phat Village of Chi Phat Commune in Thmar Bang District of Koh Kong Province. For more information, please call 077 834 333 or visit their Facebook page: https://bit.ly/OKeyCamping