Though Oral Mountain is the hightest peak in Cambodia, even those without trekking experience won’t find reaching the summit hard. But the real obstacle to the summit is the tricky road journey before, with the use of a tractor almost essential.
Nearby Srae Ken village is home to about 300 Suoy Malou indigenous families. They use tractors as their daily transportation as their village does not have paved roads.
“When tourists reach the villages, we provide a tractor to take them anywhere, whether waterfalls or the peak of Oral Mountain. As you see, the road in the villages is quite hard for vehicles to drive on. Here, aside from bicycles and motorbikes, only tractors can transport materials, people and tourists,” said Theang Soth, one of a handful of local guides from Srae Ken Community, where tourists start their journey to the mountain.
It is 8km from Srae Ken village to a waterfall named Prek Snar at the mountain’s foot – a journey that takes more than two hours for tourists on a tractor driving down an unpaved road.
Soth, 47, a local guide for more than 17 years, told The Post: “One tractor can take seven to eight people, and normally we have one driver and one or two guides to help during the difficult journey. We charge $35 per guide for a day and tractor hire costs $50 per day.
“Some people come to visit a few places and then go back home – most of these people are from around Kampong Speu province. Others stay overnight, trekking from one waterfall to another on the same stream. A one day trek is not enough to explore all the waterfalls.”
Muth Pech drove his tractor with a large family from Thpong district and carried a speaker on his shoulder playing loud music.
“We came for bathing and lunch together then we are going back home,” he said, as he took the family to Prek Snar waterfall, which has a slope resembling a water slide that plunges into a 1.2m pool.
Soth is also a good chef, and he prepares lunch in the jungle with basic equipment.
“Tourists order food with us, such as two chickens for six people, and we cook them in the forest with condiments, ingredients and rice. Normally we do chicken sour soup and grilled chicken that is enough for several people,” he said.
Soth takes his guests on a more than two-hour walk after they get off the tractor.
“From the lower stream, we visit Smounh cave where we have installed beds to relax. We also visit Bak Kanhchherl, Steung Kroul and Korki creeks, which all have cascades. If people want to see all the waterfalls, spending just one day is not enough,” he said.
For benefit of the whole Srae Ken Community, authorities and locals are working to build a pebble trail that will make access easier.
“We are very happy to see construction vehicles building a road in front of our homes. We’ve never seen such a nice roads in our villages,” said Chhem Chhim, Srae Ken Community chief, which was founded in 2004 in Oral district’s Trapang Chhou commune.
“When we have a new road, Srae Ken Community is going to welcome more visitors who wish to visit Oral Mountain and it will bring ecotourism jobs for our people.”
While guides cook for visitors, all expenses are the responsibility of tourists, including meat, vegetables, condiments and steamed rice.
For more information and to book a trip to Oral Mountain, you can contact a Srae Ken Community local guide via telephone (087 411 425).