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Solo explorer hikes into the wild and faces forest of fears

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Nov Veasna takes a water break on Khnong Phsar. Photo supplied

Solo explorer hikes into the wild and faces forest of fears

Adventure travel was increasing in popularity among young Cambodians prior to the pandemic but trekking through the forest solo and going on long solitary hikes is still a rare activity for anyone in the Kingdom.

Nov Veasna is one of a few people who have made the adventurous 110km walk from Khnong Phsar in Kampong Speu to Areng Valley in Koh Kong.

In the first video of the journey that he posted, torchlight dimly illuminated the trees in the dark of night. Veasna was in the Khnong Phsar Mountains alone at night facing his fears with only a few Facebook comments on his video to keep him company.

For western people, camping alone over night in the wilds or going on a solo hike is viewed as a normal leisure pastime, but it’s a frightening prospect for most Cambodians, especially since forests for decades had been viewed as Khmer Rouge strongholds filled with landmines and danger.

Because of that, the older generations who lived through the worst of the Khmer Rouge period, and resultantly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for most of their lives, had sternly advised their children not to visit the forests because they were not safe places.

In his video post at 7pm on February 15, Veasna said that he was taking on the challenge to camp at Khnong Phsar at night, starting at 5pm.

One Facebook user commented on his post “Really? Scary! Alone?” while another remarked “I won’t even dare to watch the video,” while others liked the fearful comment that “if you meet [any ghosts or spirits], don’t forget to say hello.”

Veasna, who says he has visited the place at least 25 times, reached Khnong Sampov at 8:30pm and spent the night there.

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Khnong Phsar is the first night stop with Veasna arriving at 8:30pm. Photo supplied

“I arrived at my Khnong Sampov campsite by walking three hours and 15 minutes from Taing Bopung village. Tomorrow [February 16] I am going to make my milestone destination Chumnoab village, in Koh Kong’s Thma Bang district, which is about 57km,” said the 29-year-old adventurer in another video post.

“The reason why I like hiking and trekking Khnong Phsar is because I love the natural beauty there and the seasonal landscape. The cloud valley is particularly scenic,” Veasna says.

“Adventure travel is good for your health and it also promotes eco-tourism and helps communities to earn more income for their livelihoods aside from doing agriculture,” he says.

At the dawn of the new day, after eating the breakfast he’d packed, nature enthusiast Veasna had a long and arduous day ahead of him hiking through the hills.

“On the second day I started out from Khnong Phsar at 6:30am and reached my destination at 10:00pm, so I spent 16 hours walking through Khnorng Krapoeu – past Chhum Neang Cave and through Tamao Forest, Veal Teap Yuon and Khnong Sangam – and it was all rough terrain with a lot of obstacles.

“The distance stretched my endurance, it felt like even more than 57km. I took a 15 minute break after every 3 hours of walking,” Veasna says.

Veasna hiked the entire 57km distance in one day as a personal challenge and a challenge to others who had already experienced hiking the trail from Taing Bopung village to the Areng Valley.

“There are actually some groups of people who do the hike between those two places and they usually take two nights to reach the Areng Valley. So I walked the whole day for 16 hours to reach the finish line in just one day. In fact, my original destination was Morech Kangkeb Mountain but I was too exhausted.

“I arrived in the village and I felt like I was sleepwalking. I couldn’t go on to Morech Kangkeb Mountain because that would take another two hours even when I’m rested,” he explains.

Veasna, who is a small business owner, continued saying “I’m tired but I refuse to give up on completing this journey. I’m firmly determined to really challenge myself. I can do it. Or at least I can try to do it. You can’t overcome any challenges in life if you don’t even try.”

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Veasna takes a short break at Chhay Yaung Waterfall on the third day of his adventure. Photo supplied

Veasna declared his second day a success, but his solo trek wasn’t finished yet because his last stop was to be Chhay Yaung Waterfall where he would spend a night before reversing directions and hiking back to where he had started from.

“Good morning from the Areng Valley on day three. It is now 10am and I’m refreshed and I’ve starting my journey to Chhay Yaung Waterfall, which is about 23km. I’ll spend one night there before I return to Khnorng Krapoeu and Taing Bopung village in Kampong Speu’s Roleak Kang Choeung area,” he says in another video post.

Since it was a long adventure that would test the limits of his strength, Veasna tells The Post that he packed only necessary items to keep his backpack light.

He carried two bottles of 1.5 litres of drinking water, a rice pot, a kettle, a portable mini camping gas stove with four gas bottles, 5kg rice, 0.5kg of dried fish, 2kg of dried beef, two cans of fish, two cans of coca-cola, five packages of instant noodles and some energy drinks to add to his water.

Veasna’s next post to Facebook on his page “Kindness Back” was just before he set out on the final leg of his journey which would take a path that circled back around to his starting point.

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Fried dried-fish with steamed rice makes a lovely forest meal. Photo supplied

“I’ve started hiking the 8 hours back from Chhay Yaung Waterfall to Taing Bopung village in [Kampong Speu’s] Aoral district, which is about 35km,” Veasna says.

Veasna says it was easy to find the trail on the last part of his journey since cars driving off-road have worn a path through the forest from the Areng Valley back to Khnong Phsar.

“Because camping tents are heavy, I prefer to carry a hammock and a sleeping bag. I also bring two torches and a couple of knives. Another important item to bring is a power bank. I have three power banks with cables for small camping lamps. I try to limit the weight to 15kg since I’m walking so far,” Veasna tells The Post.

Despite his love of exploring, Veasna admits to being frightened at times when out on his own, and running out of drinking water is a constant concern given Cambodia’s heat and the distances he is hiking.

“It can be a bit scary honestly and sometimes I worry about running into wildlife like bears. Of course, it’s a hard journey right from the start and you have to make sure you don’t run out of drinking water since its dry season.

“Walking at night brings a whole other set of problems. You have to watch your step – it’d be a disaster if you injured yourself while alone out in the forest. But I decided to risk it and I made it, though it wasn’t easy,” Veasna says.

Veasna is thankful to the kind people who donated money and supplies to sponsor his latest solo adventure. Though he’s just returned from his latest journey, he hints that his next destination will be the mountain ranges in Pursat province.

For any persons or businesses who’d like to help sponsor his trip with donations of money or supplies, Veasna can be reached at 077 915 885 or donate via his ABA account: 001 164 005 (Nov Veasna).

To follow his adventures online, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kindness.back

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