The sound of the water flowing through the pipes mixes with the workers’ laughter as they rejoice at the sight of the precious element.
Taking a short break from back-breaking work, Nuth Heng, 47, exclaims excitedly: “We are about to bring clean water to our village for the first time.”
The pristine water travels down the mountain for more than 3km inside blue PVC pipes. Its source is none other than the Anlong Svay waterfall – an important ecotourism destination in Kampong Chhnang province.
Located about 57km outside Kampong Chhnang town the Anlong Svay site, composed of nine different waterfalls, offers tourists plenty of recreational options.
Heng, the chief of the community-based ecotourism site in Anlong Svay, is leading a team of villagers to install the pipes.
“Here we have nine waterfalls and natural pools where people can enjoy a cold bath,” he says.
“Each waterfall has its own charm. Some prefer to bathe in the third or the fourth waterfall while others like the sixth or the seventh. Each person has its favourite.”
Heng says the third waterfall, named “Algid Cascade”, is 5m tall and looks like an eight-step ladder. It sits in the shade of a huge tree. The eighth waterfall is 10m tall and L-shaped, while the ninth one boasts a large pool, he says.
The ecotourism site in Anlong Svay was founded in 2004 to protect 1,663ha and promote community-based tourism in the area.
“Our work promoting ecotourism in the community has just begun. We are building a small office and changing rooms, and installing signs in roads and around the waterfalls,” says Heng.
Washing his face with water from the pipes, Heng says the water will reach five villages in Kbal Tuek commune.
Standing not far from Heng, a man wearing a red t-shirt points out that the primary goal of the project is to bring clean water to the villagers.
Chhi Bobta, the president of NGO Environment and Society, says his organisation aims to reduce the reliance on wood for cooking.
“Just one family can use as much as one tonne of wood a year. It is okay if they use dead wood, but sometimes they also cut the trees.”
The clean water will benefit not only the villages down the mountain but also the tourists.
“Today we are connecting the water pipes so that people in five villages can access water. When this water reaches the villages, we can install more pipes for toilets that will be used by the tourists.”
After villagers persuaded local authorities to prioritise the project, a footpath was built in 2018 to make it more convenient to reach the site.
The footpath makes hiking more convenient, but Heng says more must be done to keep attracting tourists.
“We have many tourists, but there are still many things that could be improved. For example, we have no restaurants, no places to eat and very few options as far as food is concerned. Because of this, tourists need to bring their own food or call us in advance so that we can arrange something,” says Heng.
Despite the increase in the number of tourists recently, Heng says the community is yet to profit substantially from the ecotourism site.
“People sell snacks and drinks at the foot of the mountain. They sell bananas, chips and some beverages. We don’t charge a fee to enter the ecotourism site. We only charge for parking,” says Heng as he picks up a big stick to hit the pipe.
“We feel we cannot charge people for entering the site because we have not built anything worthwhile yet inside. This is why we are now building toilets, restaurants, and areas where people can sit down to eat.
“On national holidays, many tourists come to visit the waterfalls. Around 200 people a day. However, on a regular day, we see only 30 to 40 people,” he says.
If the nine waterfalls in the ecotourism site are not enough, visitors can always walk deeper into the forest, where they can find many other treasures, Heng says. There are two large waterfalls that tourists can access from here – Chey Toung and Or Teamra in the Oral Mountain, both more than 50m tall.
However, those who wish to venture into the forest for more adventures need to contact the local authorities and travel with a ranger and at least a person from the community to ensure their safety, Heng says.
He says many of the visitors here are from Phnom Penh and are not familiar with the forest. Visitors need to be aware of leech-infested waters as well as sacred areas where no swearing is allowed.
The Anlong Svay waterfalls are located in Kbal Tuek commune’s Doung Sla village, about 100km from Phnom Penh.