Search

Search form

Kirirom’s tea-time

A once-thriving plantation is gone, but tea has continued to grow in the wild.
A once-thriving plantation is gone, but tea has continued to grow in the wild. Charlotte Pert

Kirirom’s tea-time

All that remains of the great Cambodian tea experiment on Kirirom Mountain are a few stray plants picked by opportunistic villagers.

While coffee is widely grown in the Kingdom, tea cultivation is almost unheard of, except in the forests of Kampong Speu. There, in the 1960s, King Norodom Sihanouk launched an ambitious enterprise after being given plants from China.

The plant, camellia sinesis parvi-flora, is thought to be a hybrid of the Chinese and Assam varieties – a mix that could have occurred either in nature or horticulture.

According to Sihanouk’s book, Sangkum Reastr Niyum Le Development General du Cambodge, the plantation initially spanned 24 hectares but was later expanded.

After the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, tea cultivation in the area continued apace under a private investor. 

About 500 workers lived together in a commune, former tea-pickers recalled. “The difficulty was food, not enough rice, but it was a happy time because we lived with each other and played together,” said Mei Soth, 60.

When the manager died in 2000, the tea cultivation came to a halt. According to Soth, hundreds of families left the area in search of other work.

“I felt so much regret because I had no way to earn money,” said Kim Loan, another former employee of the plantation.

The land once used for the plantation was bought by Sokimex and crops were cultivated for a few years.  

Now the land is only weeds. A few tea trees continue to grow in the wild and Loan continues to collect and sell the tea.

She sells it on the roadside – mostly to visitors. “Not many local people buy it because they have other things to drink and they don’t have much income.”

Related Story

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • PM warns party of complacency in leaked audio

    Two leaked audio tapes, purportedly of Prime Minister Hun Sen speaking candidly to senior officials, appear to hint at insecurities within the ruling party over the controversial dissolution of the country’s main opposition, with the premier warning that the party’s “struggle” didn’t

  • Government approves plan to relocate Phnom Penh’s airport

    The government has signed off on a proposal to build a new airport to serve Phnom Penh and has earmarked land in Kandal province for the $1.5 billion project. A new international airport to replace the existing Phnom Penh International Airport will be constructed on partially

  • Music festival promises big stage, has even bigger hopes

    With a line-up of local and international artists, and a massive outdoor venue booked on Koh Pich, or Diamond Island, Saturday’s Diamond Moon Festival is aiming to showcase contemporary musical and artistic talents at a scale rarely seen in the Kingdom. [img] But the