Welcome to Water World by Kirsty Turner

After a short journey, I arrive at Ream National Park. My companions – two young Irish women – and I are sleepy-eyed as we climb out of the mini bus. As I breathe in the fresh, morning air, I suddenly get my first glimpse of Ream National Park, and I feel my drowsiness drift away.

We have a few minutes to wait whilst our guides prepare the boat. I sit on the porch and watch two cute children trying to catch fish. They are using a small net attached to a long pole, which reminds me of a fishing net I had as a child.

Finally, we are ready to go. We set sail in a small motorboat down the Prek Tuk Sap River. The sun beats down, but we are sheltered beneath a canvass roof. The scenery is spectacular. The banks of the river are lined with mangrove forests. Occasionally, we spot beautiful green kingfishers are purple jellyfish whilst monkeys hoot in the trees.

Ream National Park is the most established National Park in Cambodia. Located 18 km from Sihanoukville, the park has been open since 1993. Ream covers 21,000 hectares; 15,000 hectares of land and 6,000 hectares of river and sea. Here you will find secluded beaches, tropical jungles and wide rivers. Over 155 species of bird call Ream home, as well as Sun Bears, the endangered elongated tortoise, eagles and even dolphins.
As we lazily glide along the river, we pass people digging in the river bed for shellfish and fishing from small boats. The friendly Khmers smile and wave as we slide past them.

After a couple of hours, we arrive at Koh Som Poch Beach. Once on the sand, our guide tells us that we have an hour to swim or sunbathe whilst he and his helper prepare lunch. The two Irish women immediately plunge into the sea. I, however, sprawl out on the sand, listening to the waves on the beach and the wind in the trees.

I am roused from my doze by the promise of lunch. Before long, we are all enjoying a delicious barracuda barbecue on the beach.

Once we have fed and rested, it is time to go trekking. We walk for about an hour through tropical jungle rich with plant life. The buzz of cicada beetles is loud and exotic and beautiful butterflies flutter through the forest.

Just as I am beginning to get tired, we arrive at the Thmor Thom fishing village. A Khmer woman greets us warmly and presents us with coconuts to drink from. The water is slightly sour, but very refreshing.

After a short rest, we wade through the impossibly hot water to the waiting boat. On the way, we stop to admire a sunbathing hermit crab.

The journey back to the boat station is very relaxing, and both of my Irish companions drift off to sleep. I am enchanted by the hornbills, which occasionally fly close to our boat. Our guide’s assistant skillfully crafts grasshoppers and birds from palm fronds as presents for us.
Before long, we arrive back at the bus station. We have a few minutes to wait for our mini bus to arrive. I sit talking to Ment, one of the park rangers. He is a man in a dilemma. “I love my work,” he tells me. “But I cannot afford to work here, my wages are too low. I want to drive a cyclo in Phnom Penh. That way, I can earn enough money and talk to tourists every day.” Poor Ment cannot even afford the taxi fare back to his home in Sihanoukville. Luckily, our driver agrees to give him a lift.

On the way back to Sihanoukville, Ment tells me that Ream’s population has doubled in the last eight years. This means that resources such as wood, herbs, fish and fruit are seriously over-used. There is also the problem of illegal logging and poaching to deal with.
The Cambodian Ministry of Environment is responsible for the protection of National Parks. Unfortunately, they receive no international funding and there is not enough money to help combat these problems. “Or pay the rangers properly,” Ment adds bitterly.

Fortunately, with the revenue from tourism coming in, Ream’s future finally seems bright. Logging and fishing have been curbed. The depleted forests are regenerating, providing much needed habitat for many birds and animals.

As with many tourist attractions, Ream has to maintain a delicate balancing act between man and nature. Fortunately, Ream finally seems to be winning the war.