Finding Peace in Kampong Cham, Cambodia

Marissa Carruthers rejuvenates at the newly-opened Hanchey Bamboo Resort, an eco-venture that was lovingly carved from hand in the heart of the Kampong Cham countryside.


Marissa Carruthers rejuvenates at the newly-opened Hanchey Bamboo Resort, an eco-venture that was lovingly carved from hand in the heart of the Kampong Cham countryside.

A sense of calm washes over me as I drive from Kampong Cham to Hanchey Bamboo Resort. More like a tidal wave of calm, considering the laid-back urban hub that sits about 120km north of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh has none of the cacophony associated with the usual hustle and bustle of city life.

As we drive down the narrow road that leads out of the city, we leave all signs of civilisation behind. The stalls, eateries and houses that line the road start to fade, replaced by sweeping views of emerald paddies to the left and the Mekong River to the right. The only signs of life are the occasional stilted wooden house piercing the horizon, a huddle of farmers working the land and young cowboys leading cattle through flooded fields.

About 30 minutes later we arrive at the resort, which started welcoming guests in October. The last time I visited was in March 2017, when construction was in its early stages and I was there to write about the innovative craftsmanship being ploughed into this architectural feat.

A True Eco-resort

Hanchey Bamboo Resort Kampong Cham
Hanchey Bamboo Resort Kampong Cham

Perched atop Hanchey Hill, about 20km from the city of Kampong Cham, the resort is the brainchild of Vandong Thorn, a former long-serving monk and executive director of NGO Buddhism for Social Development Action (BSDA). His aim was to create an organic meditation retreat that would plant sleepy Kampong Cham on the tourist map, while providing employment and hospitality training for the local community.

During my first visit, the hilltop resembled a living art space. Huge skeletons of bamboo structures dotted the hill’s plateaux, the gentle arches of intricately interwoven poles complimenting the natural landscape. Vandong had told me he wanted this to stand as a true eco-resort and not simply another property jumping on the eco-movement bandwagon.

He used natural resources, with 99 percent of materials deemed eco-friendly. Bamboo was sourced from within a 30km radius and bricks were made onsite using the clay-rich soil. Construction workers were recruited from nearby villages, as well as an architect, engineer and construction supervisor. Three small training teams were brought in from Thailand to teach the workers in advanced bamboo building techniques, brickmaking and earth brick construction – skills that are rare and highly-sought after in Cambodia.

Most importantly, Vandong wanted to capture the soothing essence of Hanchey Bamboo Resort’s surroundings, providing a place of calm in a world where today we rarely press pause. And it seems after years of carefully crafting the five-hectare site, Vandong and his team have achieved just that.

A Sense of Kampong Cham Calm

Hanchey Bamboo Resort Kampong Cham
The swimming pool at Hanchey Bamboo Resort Kampong Cham

At the centre sits the reception and a large restaurant that serves a mix of local and Western dishes throughout the day. Daily yoga and Buddhist meditation sessions are held at the spacious mediation centre, with the open-air setting providing a refreshing breeze and tranquil rural views. Each of the giant structures is simple yet intricate in design, showcasing bamboo’s versatility when it comes to creative contemporary construction.

Sprinkled across the gentle slopes of the hilltop plain are 10 bungalows and four dorms that can sleep up to six people each. While the circular huts with over-sized roofs look like something straight out of Lord of the Rings, the interiors are far from Hobbit-like.

Inside, the 37sqm space is filled with king-size or twin beds with mosquito nets, table and chairs, a small bamboo wardrobe and a coffee-making area. The bathroom curves round the back and features a hot rain shower, western-style toilet and sink area.

A View of the Mekong

Hanchey Bamboo Resort Kampong Cham
A view of the Mekong from Hanchey Bamboo Resort Kampong Cham

But it’s the views that are the real pièce de résistance, with each bungalow and spot throughout the resort offering stretching vistas of the Mekong and a patchwork of paddies punctuated by clusters of houses; a landscape that dramatically transforms depending on the time of year. During dry season, arid land and bamboo farms dominate, but when monsoon’s heavy rains arrive, the Mekong bursts its banks submerging the fields under the swathes of water, as in during my stay.

Interested in what Marissa has to say? Read her take on whether Cambodia is set to become the next wellness destination.

Whether you choose to practice yoga and meditate, explore the surrounding area on one the mountain bikes provided or simply relax next to the swimming pool with a cocktail in hand, the soft chanting of monks faintly dancing through the air, trees gently rustling in the breeze, the chirp of birdsong and those delightful panoramas make it impossible not to press pause and simply enjoy the moment.

How to get to Kampong Cham

Several buses run daily from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham and take between three and four hours. Alternatively, shared and private taxis run from the capital.

Hanchey Bamboo Resort, Kampong Cham

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Marissa Carruthers

Marissa inherited her love of travel from her parents, who would entertain her as a child with exotic tales of their adventures across the globe. Her first solo leap into foreign lands was an Inter-railing trip across Europe and North Africa during her first summer at university and, despite two muggings, several dices with death and a terrifying encounter with the monkey mafia, she was hooked. Has made Southeast Asia her home.

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