A BeTreed Adventure
Waived away by the staff, who’ve sort of got used to my bizarre behavior. Legs aside my trusted steed. In this case a new 125cc Honda Dream. Gloves, scarf, helmet, a hat in the front basket and most importantly an incredibly complicated set of directions to get there, I set off for ……. Yes you’ve guessed it, Little Red Fox.
On my way to – Little Red Fox
‘Head North’, said Buntha. I did and avoided the ever-increasing traffic around Siem Reap and the death defying kamikaze pilots on NR6 to Phnom Penh. I bypassed the ticket checks around Angkor Park, passed by Phnom Bok heading North through the cassava fields towards the Phnom Kulen hills that run for 40km West to East. Turned right and came to Svay Leu 10km early.
The slightly absurd Tela petrol court in the middle of a logged landscape that featured as a milestone in my weighty tomb of directions, couldn’t be missed. I passed the rubber plantation with the fence to the right as instructed and drove on until the fork to the left.
A red earth road through the DDF
Stretches of enchanting open dry deciduous forest (DDF) interspersed with green jungle lifted my spirits, which fell with a clang when they gave way to felled clearings.
I had the local village to thank. They burnt the rubber company HQ and filled its wells then overturned the earth moving equipment. ‘They could have waited until the company had finished the road,’ commented Ben.
My trusty little Dream made light work of the red earth roads but didn’t like the sand on the last 10km of oxcart trail. Ben had been laying gravel, which relieved much of the sandy slip sliding.
A river crossing where the floods rise 3m above the bridge and the open forest merges into green jungle. Ahead a hill could be seen rising proud of the trees. Monkeys shrieked, peacocks honked, a ferret badger ran across the path and I was there.
Ben and Sharyn’s house
Ben welcomed me to his family’s home. A 3 legged soppy dog to see off the monkeys. A love-sick gibbon who periodically eloped with her boyfriend. The previously mentioned ferret badger and Sharyn, Ben’s wife, their 2 daughters and visiting Burmese Australian family.
We said grace and tucked into a delicious vegetarian dinner. ‘It’s so good, especially the homemade chutney,’ I beamed. ‘We bought it in Siem Reap,’ said Sharyn.
I’m writing this perched on a platform 10m up in the fork in a tree.
Precarious you might think except my platform has a double bed that lets me gaze at the shining sickle of a moon and the stars casting a spotlight on my tree house. I looked for a chair but its not needed as I can lean back against a tree trunk.
GQT on Radio 4 as the moon disappeared into the forest.
Trees are alive. Trees bring life. Trees are ……. God? I thought.
Streaks of orange in the East. A golden glow bathed the vally as the sun rose. Too much beauty to be clocked. Quickly masked by a cloud that turned the gold to gray or so it seemed at the time.
Breakfast was a jolly affair as different members of the family appeared and Koy, who was greeted by the Long-tailed Macaque who’d fallen in love with him after he rescued her from the village.
….. 10m up a tree
Koy was our guide for the hike up Phnom Tnout. Tall trees, no chain saws. A canopy too thick for the light to penetrate so the way was clear while we stayed under the evergreen forest. Thick bamboo grass hid our path when we emerged into the DDF. Deliberately lit fires have started to sweep across the landscape now the rainy season has finished but there have been no fires here for 4 years thanks to Ben.
Climbing up the side of Phnom Tnaut we heard the whooping calls of 3 gibbons or so said Koy who saw them.
In between the buttresses of a Silk Cotton tree with Koy
Tall trees with buttressed roots towered above us. Strangler figs that having strangled their host continued to grow finding strength in their self gratifying entwinement.
Our first stop a dried out pool deep in the forest but still soft enough to catch the prints of Banteng and wild boar that routed there. We ate Sharyn’s carrot and chilly muffins (an acquired taste) beside a trapaeng and a flurry of butterflies attracted by it’s remaining muddy water.
At the next pool we spied 3 Wooly-necked Storks but they took off out of range of my little lense.
Phum Barang was a pile of rocks on a ridge amidst the open forest (lit. French Village). It was where a French flag had flown, Ben told me.
More important were the views across a plain of trees to a blue hill in the distance that not even the evil plume of a forest fire beyond Ben’s boundaries could spoil
The forested Kingdom of Betreed
I spied blue irrigation pipes beside a stream. ‘Its where we get our water from,’ said Sven my hiking buddy.
A fantastic walk but after 4 hours lunch and the lodge was becoming a more compelling prospect. Instead of following the pipes, counter-intuitively we went back up the hill to find another pile of stones. This time put together as Prasat Tnout (lit Tnout temple) in front of a reeking bat cave.
The family were home. Badger the ferret badger. Mikey the three legged dog and Little Mut (not his real name) his sad sidekick. The Green pea-Fowl honked, while the little punk macaques sporting their mohecan hair cuts chased each other after Ben’s bananas.
Molly the love sick Pileated Gibbon
Lunch over we were graced with a visit from Molly who swung arm by arm from the trees onto the balcony. She peeled the 12 bananas offered then inspected worktops and shelves for anything edible. We’d finished lunch but left the plates and glasses on the table, which got the once over as Molly inserted her long prehensile fingers into the containers, letting her fur soak up the liquid before sucking it. A close contest between the jug of milk and a glass of fruit juice, the fruit juice won. She let Ben scratch her feet then languidly swung off into the jungle teasing the macaques as she went.
Ben and I set off on the motorbikes looking for Banteng, He on a rusty collection of red pipes and mine my trusty Dream. Guests would pay for the ride, twisting and turning on a bumpy path through the tall grass, shaded by magical trees glowing as the late afternoon sun sank between their branches.
In search of Banteng
We didn’t see any of the 60 or so Banteng that roam round the mountain but Ben told me about his anti poaching patrols and how he came to be here. ‘Set up a community forest,’ the Forestry Administration told him so he did together with the local village.
A dappled sunlight lit the leaves around my tree house this morning as I lay for a while enjoying the cool and effervescence of green bursting with life around my platform.
Breakfast is a nice meal at BeTreed (they’re all pretty good), coffee, fruit, yoghurt and more coffee. An Oriental Hornbill flew across our view, while a Crested-serpent Eagle hungrily watched the peafowl.
Ben as in BeTreed (as opposed to Hur, he bares a striking resemblance to Charlton Heston) was waiting expectantly. ‘Zipline?’ ‘Ok lets go,’ I resigned. We retraced our steps of yesterday up the side of the valley to a wooden platform with a wire stretching to infinity. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought to myself as I stepped into what seemed like an insubstantial harness and hooked a worryingly small set of wheels over the wire. A piece of tire was supposed to be the break. I hurtled off into oblivion before I could think (as it turns out this is standard high spec equipment).
After a few seconds of abject terror and a tree that threatened to bring me to an abrupt halt, I started to enjoy the experience despite a vague concern about the ground, which was no where to be seen. Apparently my momentum wasn’t sufficient so I had to haul myself for the last few meters to the receiving platform then it was back again. Apart from my legs heading in a different direction from the rest of me, the view was stupendous, unbroken forest as far as I could see.
Ben dangling from his zipline
Sharyn and Ben, your hosts have been working in development in Cambodia since the 90’s but as they say on their website;
‘Seeing Cambodia losing its forests at an alarming rate (the worst in the world right now!) was disheartening and seeing (and attending!) all the workshops talking and talking about the problems but not actually doing anything was getting, annoying, frankly. They were often talking about forest that was no longer there. People just needed to do something… why not us?
Their mission is to preserve the Phnom Tnout community forest and protect its furry and feathered biodiversity while educating the local community as to its value. The Community’s involvement and employment shows villagers how they financially gain from the project.
Ben and Sharyn are doing something wonderful in this little and increasingly rare forested pocket of Cambodia. We can contribute by having an amazing experience in the jungle and directly contributing to its preservation.
Indochine Exploration is very pleased to promote and work with BeTreed. Its an exciting journey to get there which we can organize in a 4WD with the option of cycling the Oxcart Trail on a mountain bike.
Profits from this trip will be given to BeTreed.
300km later back where I started from, Little Red Fox