When I followed their advice I saw the benefit, and I will get more in the future, I think.
Could the island of Koh Trong be set to become Cambodia’s next eco-tourist destination? Certainly Pierre-Yves Clais believes so. The Frenchman, who owns the popular Terres Rouges lodge in Banlung, established Sala Koh Trong on the small Mekong island opposite Kratie six months ago.
Clais first came to Koh Trong 15 years ago. When he returned for the first time last year, he was struck by how little it had changed.
“It reminded me of the Cambodia I first found in 1992,” he says. “It looks like Cambodia ought to.”
The resort only has five rooms, there’s no electricity from midnight to 5pm, and access is by ox-cart or bicycle. However, this is part of the charm of a place which is about as off-the-beaten track as you can get in the days of global tourism.
It is also great for families, claims Clais. “You can cycle here without fear of being run over by a Lexus.”
Guests are invited to take bike rides around the 6km long island, visiting some of the 283 Cambodian families who live there.
“You can understand the life of people in the village,” says the resort’s assistant manager Samnith Rin.
Those wishing to get even closer to village life can choose to stay in one of the two homestays on the island.
Vorn Sovanny, 38, established her homestay three years ago. Like most of the islanders she used to grow pomelos and rice.
“At first I did not know what I was doing,” she admits. After receiving some assistance from Dutch development organisation SNV, things started to pick up. “When I followed their advice I saw the benefit, and I will get more in the future, I think.”
Business has been good this year, with around 25 visitors staying at Sovanny’s wooden house each month. Many of these are arranged through tour companies, who stress the importance of Sovanny maintaining a high standard of hygiene.
Certainly on our unannounced visit, the upstairs rooms look spotless, even though Sovanny was not expecting any visitors until the following day, when a group of 20 would arrive. “The tour guides are happy with what we have already,” she says.
Sovanny believes the island’s sense of calm represents its main draw. “Generally tourists come for the fresh air,” she says.
This is something that Sovanny plans to do her best to preserve, however successful her small business becomes. Now she is saving up money to install a solar panel, so as to reduce its environmental impact. Clais has similar plans. As well as increasing the number of rooms to 14 and digging a swimming pool, Clais will install solar panels to ensure that the resort has power 24/7. Then Koh Trong could truly be said to represent Cambodia’s eco-future.