On the banks of the Mekong in the heart of Kampong Cham province, a secluded resort made of bamboo offers a natural, spiritual retreat from the hustle of city life, with a sustainable, socially conscious ethos.
Less than a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh, Hanchey Bamboo Resort opened a year ago under the shadow of Hanchey pagoda, a large monastery featuring a delightfully kitsch statue garden and the remains of some 8th century Chenla-era ruins.
Spread out over a sizeable terrain, the resort offers bamboo-built bungalows as well as four-bed dormitories, a huge pool, spa and an open-air, vegetarian-friendly restaurant with views of the river and some spectacular early morning sunrises. For those looking to add an extra dose of rest and relaxation, daily yoga and meditation classes are included in the cost of each booking.
The resort also operates as a hospitality training center for disadvantaged young Cambodians in partnership with the BSDA & Smile Institute.
Kampong Cham is an often overlooked province when it comes to considerations of Cambodia’s tourist offerings, but it is remarkably pretty when one takes a moment to appreciate it, rather than whizzing through en route to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. If R&R are your goal, you may not want to leave the resort at all during your stay, but if you did get an urge to explore, the provincial capital of Kampong Cham, 20km south, is quietly charming, with a diverting array of French colonial and New Khmer Architectural styles to be found among the Chinese shophouses.
If you make it this far, a trip over to Koh Pen is highly recommended, preferably by bicycle. Its shaded avenues are quite simply wonderfully pretty, and of course the famed bamboo bridge is a wonder in its own right. This seasonal bridge — the longest of its kind in the world — is built and dismantled at the beginning and end of the dry season each year, so that the rain-heavy Mekong doesn’t sweep it away. A ferry service is available when the bridge is not.
Taking the road back towards Phnom Penh, visitors can explore Wat Nokor Bachey, one of Jayavarman VII’s constructs whose embattled remains now house a working pagoda, the twin temples of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei or the Cheung Kok Ecotourism Village, home to an interesting and seemingly well-conceived ecotourism project. This seems to be more of a cultural tourism project than an ecotourism one as such, as it’s hard to see the real conservation benefit from the village, but it is nonetheless a great opportunity to explore a very pretty village, stop by local artisans and pick up some presents for home.
On the other side of the Mekong, more exploring can be done in the rubber plantations, with a boat trip into the east bank tributaries for those looking for deep immersion into nature and the chance to discover Cambodia’s last working wooden pagoda — Wat Maha Leap — and the nearby silk-weaving village of Prey Chung Kran, source of some of the best kramas in the Kingdom.