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Preah Vihear
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In the very heart of Cambodia, lost in the forests to the north of Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, the immense Preah Khan of Kampong Svay temple and of Kampong Thom, there is a retreat so perfect you may never want to leave. It is not luxury, it is not even easy to get to, but once you’re there, the peace, seclusion and immersion into nature are so complete, you may never want to leave. Betreed Adventures was started up in 2015 by an American-Australian couple (Ben and Sharyn Davis) who have been in Cambodia for more than 20 years each. What they have built here is an expression of their passion for Cambodia, for conservation and for a way of life that leaves the world in a better state than they found it.

Betreed Adventures is first and foremost for the adventurous. The immersion in nature is real. At the foot of Phnom Tnout, and surrounded by forest, accommodation is provided in a choice of either two traditional style wooden, open-air stilt houses or an actual, also open-air treehouse. There are some creature comforts though, including proper beds, and they all — even the treehouse — have indoor toilets. The stilt houses also have showers, while the treehouse has a shower at the base of the tree. Mornings here are a glorious crescendo of bird song and soaring gibbon calls that beat the beep-beep of an alarm any day.

Once you’re up, fed and caffeinated, it’s time to think of the day ahead. There are hiking trails, temples and Angkor-era quarries to discover. Along the way, you’re liable to encounter or see traces of a huge range of wildlife, including gibbons, giant black squirrels, deer, ferret badgers, deers, porcupines, wild boar, civets, silver langurs, and many more, not to mention the hundreds of birds who will provide the soundtrack to your every move. If that hasn’t tired you out, the Davises have run a couple of 300-metre zip-lines across a valley that give you clear views across the forest that seem to extend to the end of the earth.

Adventure in Preah Vihear
©Nicky Sullivan

That view though belies just how fragile life beneath the canopy really is, and the main reason the family is here. Betreed is a genuine ecotourism venture, created to fund conservation activities carried out by the family, in particular Ben, through patrols to prevent illegal logging and poaching within a 6,400 hectares of forest. Ben does this in partnership with Wildlife Alliance and has trained a team of rangers to patrol with him. It is backbreaking, occasionally heartbreaking, dangerous and essential work and the funds raised from guest fees go directly towards supporting it.

Their dedication has also brought them to the attention of First Lady Bun Rany, who has donated vehicles, and Tan Kimsour, who organised a concert to raise funds for the work.

Adventure in Preah Vihear
©Nicky Sullivan

Back at the main house, which is usually surrounded by a menagerie of rescued and rehabilitating wildlife, Ben and Sharyn serve up vegetarian meals that can be shared with the family, for small groups, or taken in a special dining hut for larger groups. If you can, we can only recommend joining them for meals though, so you can listen to the incredible stories about their work and life here deep in the forest — the nearest village is a few kilometres away.

Everything here is as green as it can be, including solar panels, gravity-flow water, their own vegetable garden, and recovered construction materials. Bottled water is not provided but reusable bottles and water filters are available instead.

All that said, it should be clarified that Betreed might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is raw, and wild and wonderful, but comes with challenges including the heat (no air-con), isolation, and bugs. All that said, don’t discount it just because you haven’t left the house without perfect bangs and a manicure in 10 years, it could be an opportunity to switch into a completely different mode and discover something more about what you’re capable of. Bring very comfortable shoes for hiking. And bug spray.

Getting there is easier than it used to be, but still takes about 3½ hours from Siem Reap, and six hours from Phnom Penh. The conditions, and routes, vary according to the time of year, so it is best to contact them directly to find out which way is best for whenever you’re planning to visit. Accommodation ranges from $40 (treehouse — up to four people) to $60 (stilt house — up to five people) per night. Each guest pays a Forest Preservation and Community Development Fund fee, at $15 for foreigners and $5 for Cambodian nationals. Meals are $15 per day (for three meals), or $5 a meal, or $9 and $3 respectively for children up to 12. A hiking guide is $10.