At Sihanoukville Airport a smaller road splits to the south from national road 4. It's leading into Preah Sihanouk National Park, in short 'Ream National Park'. It has protection status under Cambodian law as a national park since 1993. The nature's diversity includes mangrove forests, lowland tropical rainforests, rivers and lakes, sand beaches and a considerable naval fauna and flora. Of the 210km2 park 60km2 are naval, including some islands. Parts of the park are coastal plains, others are slightly mountainous with hills up to 277m.
Jungle River seamed by Mangroves
Mangrove Forest is seaming a river close to Prek Chak Beach. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014
A number of rare species are living in the area, among them dugongs, dolphins, pelicans, bigger turtles and many more. The park has some touristic significance and is advertized particularly in nearby Sihanoukville town in hotels and tourist resorts who offer daytrips.
First thing I wondered about after entering the park was the brandnew petrol station one passes. Then I wondered about several heavy petrol trucks crossing my way; even more I wondered about a grand oil-petrol tank depot at the coast. How very flexible Cambodian laws can be.
Oil Port in Ream National Park
The oil port is certainly the reason why the road is paved. Petrol trucks frequently go in and out.
Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014
A few hundred meters behind the oil port comes a bigger naval base of the Cambodian navy - Ream Naval Base. From the slopes of the mountains behind one can see battleships in the port.
Ream Naval Base
Three of these large masonries are decorating the entrance to Ream Naval Base. Typically for any army and any nationalism in the world, it refers to the 'grand' old times - here the ancient Angkorian empire. Image by Asienreisender, 2014
Turning left at the naval base one approaches a bombastic, not yet fully completed buddhist temple at the slope of a mountain. Much donation money has been poured into the temple's construction, what meanes more harm for the forest. An as well brandnew concrete road leads further up the hill. After some 200m there follow some buildings I couldn't approach, for the road was blocked by an adventurous looking thug who waved his machete to signal me not to approach any further. It seems part of a military base.
Following the paved road further east parallel to the coastline one passes a larger area where logging happens. A greater area has been cleared already from the tropical rainforests. It gives a sad impression.
Following the dirt track further east requires some driving skills - the ground is sandy and the rear tyre tends to slip aside. After a while one enters the jungle. A few abandoned shacks follow, one of the park's rivers is to cross over an instable looking wooden bridge. The river is framed by mangrove forest. It's not Prek Teuk Sap (river), which lies further east. Reaching Prek Chak Beach makes one crossing a larger plain, before crossing another small river over another instable looking wood bridge and entering forest again. At the next slope and up on a ridge there is another building site, a new resort with a number of wooden bungalows and a restaurant under construction.
A narrow beach in the western part of the national park, seamed by casuarina trees. That's the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. It's planned to built a new road along the coastline to link access to Sihanoukville city. Image by Asienreisender, 2014
For me there is not anyhow to see that Ream National Park is anyhow under protection or different from other areas with the usual rampant building activities.
It's also possible to follow a dirt road to the western direction along the coastline. Soon one passes a bigger metal bridge which separates the sea bay from Boeng Thom Angkep lake. There is another settlement which stretches slumlike along the southern lake's shores. The dirt road then leads through a casuarina forest (Asian pine trees) which grows until close to the water, just giving space for a narrow stretch of white sand beach.
There are estimated 26,000 - 30,000 people living in the park in a few impoverished villages. They live mostly from fishing and from the surrounding forests. Considering the populations size and growth, it doesn't look sustainable. However, the greatest and apparently lethal threat for the nature is not coming from the poor but, again, from the rich. Cambodian law guarantees protection, but it's frequently weakened by exceptions over exceptions for the grand tycoons. That makes it, after all, worthless. If there is no exception given by the corrupt government, the logging happens illegal.
I would, by the way, bet on that illegal hunting happens as well.
A Settlement in the National Park
A slum in the national park at the shores of Boeng Thom Angkep lake. There are several of this kind and, next to the naval base, a village. Here and there is a restaurant open for the occasionally arriving tourists. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2014, 2015
The naval side does not look any better. Not only the existence of the naval base is a heavy impact. The military proofs itself again as useless, to say the least, where they could at least do a good job: protecting the remaining nature. Big trawlers operate in the closeby waters, using push-nets and destroying the fish grounds. The time of a sustainable subsistence economy is over in Ream National Park.
Preah Sihanouk / Ream National Park
The state of the affair in Sihanoukville's national park - a sad picture of the destruction of the nature for the profit-hungry tycoons.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2014, 2015
The part of the national park north of Kaoh Thmei Island is separated from the bigger part of the park in the west by a bay. There is one dirt road turning from NH4 to to the coast, passing the two bigger villages of Boeng Ta Prum and Ou Chrov. At the very end of the road lies a coastal village in the mangrove forests. This road borders the park to the east - further east stretch bare plains, formerly overgrown with mangroves but now all cut and used mostly for agriculture.
A few other, smaller dirt roads turn west into the inner park. Everywhere are more villages, artificial canals, new dirt roads and another of these bombastic buddhist temples (in this case labelled as a 'meditation center'). Urbanization is creeping into the nature, and a rapidly growing population is living from the shrinking forests.
Ream National Park, East Coast
A fishing village in the easter part of the national park. It's low tide; also the third photo shows merely mud with a few centimeters of water above. Usually the tides make no big difference on the coasts here.
All the numerous villages here grow and grow, the buildings advance more and more into the green. There seems to be no control maintained. Nature protection exists on paper, only.
The small image bottom left shows a canal in the park. Parallel runs a dirt road and everywhere hamlets sprawl out.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 5/2015
North of Sihanoukville
Inside a Rubber Plantation
Here and there are simple dwellings for the plantation workers and their families. The workers have frequently to go out inmiddle of the night for harvesting. The shacks are usually built of the most simple materials, mainly corrugated iron. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 4/2015
There is a paved road north of Sihanoukville which parallels more or less the railway track until it meets the NH4 shortly north of Veal Rehn. This road is mostly used by petrol trucks who bring petrol to Phnom Penh. It carves through a hilly landscape, where the plains are already deforested and now overgrown with savannah, while the mountains are still covered with rainforest.
At a certain point the 'Hun Sen Keo Phos Road', a new dirt road, splits up and leads to the north. It looks like a former logger's road; the beginning of it is in a very bad state, but improves after a short distance. Here the landscapes, who were a few years ago all overgrown with tropical rainforest, are now transformed into big monocultures of mostly rubber plantations and, to a smaller part, palmoil plantations. All the rubber trees are small and young, what shows that the plantations are also merely a few years old. In the dry season any bypassing vehicle causes a huge dust cloud; in rainy season there will be a tremendous slippery on this road and one has to drive slow and cautious.
Rubber (caoutchouc) is an essential product for the modern industries. In almost anything we use, rubber is a (mostly hidden) part of it. However, the industries produce for profit only, and so a huge amount of waste is made for quick consumption. The short-living products then quickly end up as rubbish.
Image by Asienreisender, April/2015
After some kilometers on this mostly straigh and broad dirt road it joins a paved road at a t-junction. This one connects the NH4 with a small and rather new industrial port. It's Oknha Mong Port City, another dirty and ugly place. It's already Koh Kong Province here.
Oknha Mong Port City
A small industrial port at the coast of the Gulf of Siam. A settlement is growing up here as well, providing houses for the workers. The buildings above were all empty, though. Directly at the coast are two resort-like places, a hospital and kind of an administration building. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 4/2015
A path, leading through the savannah. Image by Asienreisender, 4/2015
From Oknha Mong a road leads over the bridge of a smaller river towards north-northwest. Looking for a connection to Sre Ambel I followed a dirt road which became, after kilometers, smaller and smaller and ended inmiddle of nowhere. Another trial led me again into the dense green, following a small path now which cut through the savannah, crossed several adventurous looking tiny bridges who consisted of merely a wooden plank or two. Right hand a hill chain runs parallel. The plains here are also partially transformed into rubber plantations, only the hills are still forested. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the remaining forests have been poached heavily so that many species are extinct already. The valuable trees have been cut also, those who bring some thousand dollars on the market.
After an adventurous trail and a last crossing over a stream the path joined a wider dirt road. This one lead then eastwards to the NH4. Actually I was on the search for a connection to Sre Ambel. But without a usuable map and little orientation in the green I failed to find the last connection.