Taking note of the island’s tourist demographic, a Russian diving instructor and his son have set up High Point Rope Park, an adventure rope course with heights of up to 24 metres. With limited activity options on the island, it may well be a success.
Suspended in the air, I clutched desperately to the piece of wood I had slipped from. The plank dangled precariously from a rope that hung between two trees, and I contemplated the 10 metres that stretched between me and the earth below. My legs flailed, scrambling for solid ground. And then, almost as suddenly as I had fallen, a helping hand reached for mine and allowed me to hoist myself up and take another nervous step forward.
High Point Rope Park, the new adventure park on Koh Rong, is an obstacle course in the air or, to quote founder Pavel Yudin, a “jungle gym”. Twenty ropes hang between the trees, each one presenting a different challenge. One is a tightrope; one, a horizontal ladder. Some require you to walk on sturdy rope. All of them demand impeccable balance. Now and then throughout the course, participants are rewarded for their hard work with activities that require less work and more fun: two zip-line courses, and a swing and a barrel that fly between the trees at heights of up to 24 metres.
The park opened two months ago, with an aim to provide an alternative to sunbathing for Koh Rong’s tourists. Yudin, who has worked as a diving instructor on the island for three years, noted that the backpacker demographic might enjoy a bit of action and exercise to go with their sand, sea and sunset cocktails. For $25, visitors can enjoy the course as many times as they like throughout the day. “I think there’s quite a market on Koh Rong, because the island mostly has young, active people, and not many other attractions,” he said, once we were firmly on the ground again.
But the spark of the idea came from Anton, Yudin’s son, who moved to join his father at the Koh Rong Dive Centre a year ago. Back in their native Russia, Anton had worked for a company that built rope parks and sold equipment required for outdoor sports such as climbing and mountaineering – many of which are also used at High Point. “Shortly after coming to the island, he told me he thought it would be cool to build this kind of attraction on Koh Rong. It was kind of a joke at first, but in a short while it became serious,” Yudin said.
Tourists might be familiar with the Flight of the Gibbons experience in Siem Reap, but there’s a critical difference, according to Yudin. While Flight of the Gibbons is a “zip-line tour” that transports participants through the jungle, it doesn’t demand the physical and mental hard work that High Point does. “To cut a long story short, there is no challenge, no adventure, and not much exercise like we have. Their course is very good, but this is a sport,” he said, adding: “Our rope course is the first of its kind, unique in Cambodia.”
Before High Point was built, Yudin was a diving instructor and that kind of experience goes a long way: he’s great with people. He and his colleagues guide participants through the rope course. It’s also helpful that he knows the course well: every morning at 6.30am he does a quick whizz-around to clean off the remnants of “monkey shit” left during the night. A few times, he said, he’s even slept on the wooden platform on the tree he lovingly calls “Mama”, a giant beast that offers stunning views over the bay.
Yudin’s closeness to nature doesn’t stop there: he emphasised that building the park has not compromised the natural environment. In order to avoid choking the trees, wooden blocks serve as a kind of buffer between the ropes that are tied around them and the bark itself.
Of course, a trusty guide is nothing without safety precautions. Before embarking on the course, participants are required to sign a form acknowledging that High Point is not liable for any injuries that might come as a result of the course. They’re not yet certified by the European Rope Course Association – but Yudin insists that they abide by the same standards.
Yudin ensures that harnesses are securely attached to bodies, gives visitors a lesson on using carabiners to attach themselves to the sturdy rope that runs throughout the entire course. Visitors should wear sufficiently sturdy shoes. I wore sandals that, had Yudin not creatively attached them to my ankles using sellotape, could easily have fallen into the depths of the jungle below.
Will High Point be a success? For Yudin, it’s critical that they take their time to assess its popularity on Koh Rong before launching elsewhere. He said: “It’s too early to plan an expansion, but if it works well here, then why not?”