Initially established as a holiday resort and tourist city in 1945, the area was named Kirirom namely“Mountain of joy”by the King at the suggestion of a monk from Phnom Penh. A hill of 700m covers an area of 35,000 hectares.
Especially interesting is the Chambok Ecotourism site.
A large new concrete sign on the right 88 kilometers from Phnom Penh on National Route No. 4 makes finding the turnoff very easy.
This beautiful national park area was once a favorite resort for the influential, the powerful and wealthy and a retreat for King Sihanouk himself.
There are not many types of larger wildlife in evidence on Kirirom, but it is an ideal spot to glimpse some of the Kingdom’s unique birdlife and birdwatchers even come from overseas to visit. Park rangers charge foreigners a 20,000 riel ($5) entrance fee.
The natural resort is decorated with many categories of pines imported from Japan.
The area is suitable for a day trip from Phnom Penh, but it is also possible to arrange accommodation. Near the main entrance is the rather expensive Kirirom Hillside Resort. A cheaper and friendlier option is the Chambok Ecotourism Site, a successful and sustainable community project.
The road rises steeply but is paved and in quite good condition. After about 10 kilometers you’ll reach Kirirom Guesthouse and Restaurant. Run by a Cambodian family, be prepared that nobody speaks a word of English here. A few words of Khmer come in handy. The basic rooms are situated apart from the restaurant.
Great Views in Kirirom
The Kirirom Restaurant offers ordinary, but tasty Khmer fare. Again a little pricy for a Cambodian restaurant ($3 – 5, rice not included). Heineken is the only beer on the menu, but there is Hennessy and Johnnie Walker.
The restaurant is perched on a high point, offering great sunset views of the pine forest and mountains from an open deck eating area on the roof. Unfortunately, when I was there, the air was filled with a smoky smell, caused by ground vegetation fires. You’ll see that in many places in Kirirom, especially at the end of the dry season.
There is also quite some garbage in the park. It is interesting to see the numerous “Do not litter, throw trash into bins” signs. The local tourists don’t heed to the signs well and much litter can still be found in the rivers and about.
The NGO Chambok Community-based Ecotourism (T:012-355272) tries to make the locals aware of preserving their natural resources and at the sime time generating some income by eco-tourism:
Chambok Ecotourism site is just next to the Kirirom National Park. Be prepared for some exercise (4 km trek), interaction with local villagers, and discovery of Cambodia’s unique natural biodiversity. (see pictures)
All of the revenue from the site supports the local community and their efforts to conserve forest and wildlife.
Furthermore, they offer the possibility to have a lunch in a villager’s house prepared by local women, including fruit and coconut at the waterfall.
Foreigner adult $3
Foreigner child $1
Cambodian adult 1000 riel
Cambodian child free
The rivers of Kiriom Plateau are slow flowing and calm, but the few rapids that occur have been designated as “waterfalls” on the tourist map. You will be most disappointed if you go there expecting dramatic shear drops from cliffs. There are a total of three such “waterfall” areas that are frequented by visitors.
At “Waterfall” No. 1, there is a short 10-minute jungle walking trail that goes around the area. Early morning is the best time to explore the area, as it is still devoid of the typical crowds.
At each “waterfall” area are numerous huts serving as raised platforms for picnickers. These ubiquitous huts line the river, trails and roads on both sides.
A better managed park with returns to the local community is the Chambok Waterfall Park. The young guides will bring you to a true waterfall:
It is best to visit Kirirom having your own transport (dirt bike or 4×4 car). That way you can explore much more of the park. There are numerous trails. Unfortunately you’re almost never alone as most of these trails lead to somewhere: a house, a school, a pagoda etc.
Visit just after wet season
Kirirom is a nice day trip from Phnom Penh, or a chill out point between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh. The national park is more interesting during or just after the rainy season: not that many fires on the ground and waterfalls having, well… water.