Osoam, a small rural community at the heart of the Cardamom Mountains in southwest Cambodia, located between a crocodile sanctuary and Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, is fast developing as an eco-tourism site, attracting nature enthusiasts from around the world.
The idyllic community, composed of four villages home to some 400 largely Chorng and Poer indigenous families, is drawing in foreigners looking to experience rural life in Cambodia.
Michael started his journey with his wife in Phnom Penh, before heading to Pursat province’s Osoam community on the way to Battambang and Siem Reap. The two gardeners from France planned to spend two nights in the village.
After sitting at a long table having Chinese noodles for breakfast with new friends from various countries, the French couple chose to sleep in individual hammocks costing 10,000 riel ($2.50) per night each, rather than a homestay in the community costing around $7 per night.
“First we thought we would stay in Osoam only a few days before going to Battambang and Siem Reap. But when we saw the beautiful villages with nice views, good hospitality, organic food and affordable accommodation, we decided to extend another three days,” Michael says.
“We are budget tourists and we also want to stay close to nature. We plan to travel to many places in the country with beautiful views like this.”
During their five days in Osoam, the gardeners trekked around villages, climbed Samkos Mountain, and visited the Siamese crocodile pond, Chhay Roka waterfall and Chhay Broy waterfall.
In an area with few job opportunities, people in Osoam used to earn their living through illegal logging, hunting and clearing land for sale. But in recent years it has evolved into a growing community based on eco-tourism, allowing many people to earn a living through legal and sustainable means.
In order to facilitate their move into ecotourism the Osoam Cardamom Community Centre was established in 2014, and in the years since it has provided education, vocational training, tourism and agriculture programmes to residents.
“The centre opened five years ago with very few tourists. They ate with locals and stayed in hammocks. The second year, people increased a little bit from 35 in 2014 to 45 visitors in 2015. They were real adventurers who travel on their bikes across the Cardamom Mountains, travelled from Vietnam and arrived at the community by chance,” says Nuon Lim, Osoam Cardamom Community Centre founder.
The centre has its own Facebook page and a website to promote their community work, with Osoam now becoming a popular stop-off point for eco-tourists on their way from Koh Kong to Battambang and Siem Reap.
“Now we have two guesthouses and two homestays, and we are ready to open three more,” says Lim, who remains the community’s key strategist.
Situated in an isolated location approximately 120km from Koh Kong and 60km from Pursat provinces Promuoy district, Osoam does not have a formal restaurant providing an a la carte food service, but villagers often prepare vegetables grown in their own backyards and meat from animals they have reared in the community.
Originally from Phnom Penh, Chhub Pini married a local Osoam woman and has now lived in the community for 20 years. He has just launched his accommodation, Boeung Meas guesthouse, nearby Lim’s homestay.
Pini tells The Post: “We don’t have a proper market to sell food products so visitors have to pre-order their food because the vegetables come from our farm land and chickens are running in the open air. When they call us, we start buying husbandry stock and vegetables in the village. We can’t find those food products anywhere else, only in the community.”
Helping his wife prepare a late dinner meal for a group of local guests, Pini says that his guesthouse has 14 rooms costing $10 per night, and two bungalows, one of which is located by a stream and another at a pepper plantation. They cost from $20 to $30 per night.
Lim, 38, used to be a park ranger for the Ministry of Environment in Koh Kong province for eleven years before finding his permanent home in the community. He, working with the commune and village chiefs, set up the community’s website and Facebook to promote their eco-tourism venture.
“Today we meet different people coming from around the world. Each day we have a few houses for rent for both local and international tourists. They eat what we have for daily food,” says Lim, who also runs a homestay in the community.
Tourists can not only enjoy a sample of life in a rural village, but they can contribute to the community by volunteering to help with English language lessons, computer lessons, gardening, agriculture and building projects.
A five-hour taxi to the community from Pursat town (157km) costs between $10- $12 per person, or $60 in total one way. A three-hour drive from Koh Kong town (120km), costs $10 per person or $50 one way.
Osoam Cardamom Community Centre is located in Veal Veng district’s Osoam commune, Pursat provice. For more information, you can contact Nuon Lim via telephone (089 899 895).