Tatai, Cambodia

Photo: 4 Rivers
Photo: 4 Rivers

The past week brought a whirlwind of emotions. You found temples and serenity, chaos and poverty, history and beauty as you traveled between Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville. Now you’re trying to process everything you’ve seen and experienced during your time in Cambodia. A retreat into the Cardamom Mountains might be just what you need at the end of this Southeast Asian trip.

The Cardamom Mountains—the largest evergreen rainforest on Southeast Asia’s mainland—sit in the Koh Kong Province along Cambodia’s southwest coast. The area is full of virgin forests, birds-of-paradise, rare animals, and even rarer orchids. But, due to its troubled past as one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, the area has been largely unexplored. Now that it’s safe, an ecotourism lodge is helping to change that.

Don’t get nervous by the term ecotourism. 4 Rivers Floating Lodge bears little resemblance to the rustic, shared facilities you’re picturing. Up the Tatai River, hours from anything that looks like a city, you find the lodge and 12 villas moored to the riverbank. They look both natural and completely out-of-place as you approach the lodge by boat. Behind it, the rainforest’s woven trees and vines tumble down the hillside toward the river. Khmer families fish and farm on an island across the river. The calm water is disrupted by a the splash of a feeding kingfisher. Plus colorful birds provide natural background music as you dock.

You can still hear the birds as you settle into your tented villa, where you’ll surely be comfortable with a king-sized bed and a red-cushioned daybed. White sun loungers and blue-and-white umbrellas sit on the recycled-wood deck outside. It’s linked to the other decks—and ultimately the sleek lounge and restaurant. Given your gorgeous surroundings, you decide that a jungle trek should be your first excursion. As you walk through the dense forest, your guide hears pileated gibbons before you can see them swinging between branches. Footprints show that two Asian elephants, the largest animals on the continent, passed by recently. While the rare Javan rhino remains hidden from sight.

Return to the lodge to watch the sky turn orange and purple, and sip a gin and tonic, as the sun sets. Stare at bright fireflies and the moon reflecting off the water from the open sides of the restaurant’s tent during dinner. Your three-course meal features lots of seafood: mozzarella, watermelon, and shrimp as an appetizer and steamed fish in a basil cream sauce for an entrée. Over dessert, you start dreaming about your plans for the rest of your time at the lodge. A kayaking trip to the Tatai Waterfalls, which act as a natural spa, tops your list. You’ve finally found peace in Cambodia.

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