Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kirirom’s tea-time

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

MOST VIEWED

  • Breaking: US House passes 'Cambodia Democracy Act'

    The US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on Monday, passed the “HR 526 Cambodia Democracy Act”, also known as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. If signed off by the president, the bill will allow two major sets of action to be taken against high-ranking Cambodian

  • ‘Zero-dollar’ tours under fire

    Minister of Tourism Thong Khon has blamed “zero-dollar” tour operators for the decrease in foreign tourists to Angkor Archaeological Park in the first half of this year and has called for action against them. Angkor Archaeological Park received 1.24 million foreign visitors in the first half

  • Breaking: Rubbish found packed inside 83 containers at S'ville port

    Eighty-three containers packed with rubbish were broken open at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port by joint authorities on Tuesday. The origin of the containers has yet to be ascertained, Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. Pheaktra, who is also the ministry’s secretary of state, said

  • Some jobs off limits to foreigners from August

    Beginning from the second week of August, foreigners will be banned from driving taxis and tuk-tuks, as well as being motorcycle delivery drivers, street food vendors, hairdressers and product distributors among other lower-income jobs. Some white-collar jobs such as the head of human resources will