After another month in the village, we found ourselves needing to return to Koh Kong for another Visa. As it is only an hour and a half from here, we took a shared taxi. It is lucky that the Khmer people are quite small because our taxi driver stubbornly squeezed seven people into his five seater car. At least nobody had a dog with them as well!
As expected, the visa run was another amusing (and slightly infuriating) experience. We crossed into Thailand for a record two minutes before re-entering Cambodia. Once again we failed to pay less than $25 for our visas. Jess thinks that we're just not Israeli enough. ;P
After a month in the village we were craving some Western food so, after checking into a hotel in Koh Kong, we made our way to a hamburger cafe that Bar had recommended. More than satisfied, we were about to pay and leave when two old westerners (we're ashamed to say that one was Australian) decided to have a roe in the middle of the place. It was over something to do with respecting other cultures, but seemed more like two mad b******s trying to prove themselves to the poor Thai lady running the cafe! We were embarrassed to be foreigners, and once again understood why many locals are resentful towards tourists. Walking back to our hotel, we were re-assured when one of the hotel workers invited us to join his friends to some local whisky and good food. We impressed them all with our Khmenglish and had a good laugh in between whisky shots, which lightened the mood considerably.
The next day we set off towards the Rainbow Lodge in Tatai. Ordinarily we rarely pre-book a place to stay, nor spend quite so much money. However, a few of our friends had recommended this place, which provides three delicious meals a day and, as an eco-tourist lodge, runs purely on solar power. It seemed too good to miss.
The Rainbow Lodge turned out to be well worth the visit and we soon realised why it was essential to book. Our taxi dropped us off next to the Tatai bridge, where we waited for a little wooden boat which took us even further away from civilization. When we arrived, we found ourselves surrounded by nothing but the river and beautiful dense forest. That is until we noticed the sand dredging...
Sadly, Cambodia is selling it's soul and natural beauty in order to improve it's economic position (something which the developed world has previously done and since forgotten about). It seems that as long as the money is right, people can gain permission to take whatever natural resources they want from the country! So, we spent our weekend listening to twelve massive Vietnamese sand dredgers ruthlessly raping the Tatai river of it's sand and shipping it overseas. Despite the fact that exporting sand from Koh Kong is illegal, the company somehow has a license?!? The once crystal clear river is now murky and brown and there are already stories of nearby landslides as a result. The locals have given up catching crabs.
We did see a positive response when Wildlife Alliance, the NGO we are volunteering with, stormed into the Rainbow Lodge, weapons in hand, to hear the lodge-owners story first-hand and investigate the situation. We're pretty sure that they won't be able to do much about it, but at least someone is noticing.
Despite the sand dredges our weekend was actually quite beautiful. After we arrived we took advantage of the free kayaks and paddled further upriver. We searched for our own private waterfall and found it, with wild monkeys swinging from the trees above and everything! We also went for a day hike through the dense Cardamon Mountain forest to find a beautiful and calm section of river in between two rapids. From here we continued through the forest to the famous Tatai waterfalls themselves. We followed our crazy Cambodian guide as he climbed all over the face of the waterfall and showed us the best spots to jump into the deep pools, and also where to get a good natural massage.
Before we left, we made time to paddle across the river and explore another rural village. We were pleased to see that, although most of their rice fields seemed to be better managed, there was little difference between this village and the artificially created one that we are living in.
Although satisfied and refreshed, we would have liked to stay longer in Tatai and were sad to leave. Realistically though, if we'd spent a few more nights there our money would have run out fast and we'd have to come home early. Also we have unfinished business at the village and are pretty keen to get back and see our projects through.