Why do we rest here? As Trish put it “It never disappoints.”
I took many pictures the last time I stayed at Veranda. It was raining, which made the stone walkways clean and reflective with water, great for photos. This time the weather was perfect for sitting at the pool, taking a hike, thinking and writing in beautiful places.
The jungle is lush and full of noises around our bungalows. A trailing vine is lodged in our bathroom skylight, along with a few small lizards that call it home. Birds fly around in the rafters of Secret Restaurant, accustomed to sneaking into the morning breakfast buffet for some rice or whatever else they can steal. There are so many good views with comfortable seating that I have trouble deciding which one to enjoy.
What makes a place restful? For me it means some things which are decidedly Western, but I am who I am and cannot fool myself into thinking I love to “tough” it all the time. I like:
Reliable wifi, easy to access and in lots of places
Security, room locks that work, a safe, reasonable amount of privacy
Cleanliness – clean, clean, clean
Good maintenance – my air conditioner was leaking water and a man with a ladder was here within minutes, at night, to fix it. Things work that are supposed to work.
Good food – there is regular delivery of organic produce, although I don’t know what that means over here
Simplicity – the natural stone and wood materials are found everywhere here, the colors are lovely and restful
Peaceful people – soft spoken, helpful and courteous, all
Veranda has all this and does it with a difference that clearly reflects the Cambodian culture. It’s not exactly like any place else that I’ve ever been. Love to rest here. Thank you Cambodia.
I’m supposed to be in training for a hike this fall, but this trip to Cambodia has meant a lot of sitting, and only a few walks around the city markets. Every day my activity app messages me “I see you have not met your daily activity goal…”. Okay, so quit it! I’m going for a walk in the jungle.
Veranda Natural Resort is built on the slope of a mountain, as it rises from the coast. Behind the resort the mountain continues to rise and it becomes Kep National Park. The trail entering the park is wide enough to be called a road, although at some points it only allows a moto to pass. The entrance is guarded by a “ranger” in a small hut who collects a dollar from me and returns to his mat to lie down. I head out, armed with a bottle of water and my phone (with only half battery life, oh no…).
I have gone only a few steps when I come to a restaurant! Who would expect to find Breton Pancakes and homemade ice cream up here? The Cambodians are opportunists. But I do not stop.
The trail is shady and the grade is gradual so it is very comfortable walking. I do have to watch my feet though because there are rocky areas and tripping or turning an ankle is a possibility. I stop whenever I have to take in the view or read a sign, like this one telling me what lives along this jungle trail.
I’m not sure how national parks in Cambodia compare to ones in the U.S. but I am pleased to see that they do have markers on the trail telling me how far I have gone, and the elevation. And as the trail climbs there are benches at scenic overlooks with the name of what I’m seeing painted on the back of the bench.
I’m trying hard to stay in the middle of the trail and look out for things hanging from the trees (insects). There is a pleasant breeze up the side of the mountain and as the trail winds steadily upward, around clefts and ravines there are a lot of unfamiliar noises. I recognize bird calls, an insect noise almost like a fire alarm, and something that could be a monkey, or maybe just a large lizard.
At 2.5 kilometers I find that the trail is maintained by a number of organizations and clubs, including the Squirrel Association. I conclude that they don’t hunt for fancy names for their groups here. I decide to continue on, hoping to get to the Remarkable Tree in 690 meters.
But I don’t make it. I do cross over the summit and find another valley, and as the road descends there are a lot of remarkable trees but I’m not sure which one is actually named that – unless it is this one with a sign I can’t read.
I did only a short portion of this trail, since I didn’t have enough time to complete the loop. But now that I know it’s here, maybe next time!
Phnom Penh is an inland city, full of people, noise, traffic, trash, heat, commerce… in general, it’s the kind of place everyone needs a break from once in a while. Many people here go southwest on Highway 3 (there are no numbers above 5 for their major roads) to the coast for access to the sea. There are beaches, resorts and other opportunities to enjoy nature and “get away from it all”.
One of the highlights for our team, and all the Asia’s Hope families is our outing to Kep, one of the seaside communities. Our team raises enough money to take children and staff from all six homes for an overnight stay at Rock Royal Hotel. It is a short walk from Kep Beach for ocean swimming, but also has a large pool.
On Saturday morning, we packed up and left Phnom Penh, traveling in three busses. There apparently is no seat belt law, or limitation on how many people can be packed into a bus. Two families in each bus, plus our team, and some university students, meant that people were standing, sitting on other’s laps and using the middle aisle. The children love being together with us and each other like this and some of our best conversations happen on the bus rides. It is a two hour trip, more or less, depending on road conditions. There are some very nice roads being built now but often “road conditions” refers to how many cows are on the road, how deep the holes have gotten, etc…
We arrived close to check in time. The families carry their own food with them because it is immeasurably easier and cheaper to feed everyone that way than to try to descend on a restaurant with 150 hungry kids. After eating they all headed to the pool for sun and fun (and the resulting exhaustion).
Our team had lunch at the Sailing Club, one of our favorite spots on the water. This is the oft photographed dock which we all have in our picture banks.
Our evening meal was with the house parents at a restaurant that they love, Kimly Seafood Restaurant. They are such a great group and have a lot of fun conversing and eating, and watching us order and eat (and laughing at us). We often do not know what to order since everything that sounds familiar to us turns out to be quite different, except for French fries which, surprisingly, are the same everywhere. I often opt for vegetarian dishes, or chicken. This night I got adventurous and ordered fish and chips. The French fries were exactly what I expected, the fish was totally different ( also as expected).
We all met together after dinner for a message and worship time and entertainment for those who weren’t too tired to stay awake. Julie and I weren’t among that group so I’m sure we missed some good things but we got some much needed sleep.
The next day we were up early enough to beat the crowd to the breakfast bar. That was part of our plan since we were familiar with what happens when 150 hungry kids wake up and descend on the buffet. We made it just in time.
Afterward our whole group met for worship and a message one more time. Then the kids loaded on the buses for a short jaunt to the beach. Some swim, some just enjoy the sand and sun. The men and boys had a “soccer” game on the beach. Since the bus drivers don’t allow wet, sandy people on the bus, they left to go back to the hotel while the beachgoers walked back. It was check-out time. The retreat was over except for the ride home.
This break from their normal routine is a much needed respite. That being said, it is also a common experience to all of us that going on vacation entails some work. The fact that they approach their work so calmly and efficiently is always remarkable to me. The helpers shop for food, pack it up and take it on the bus. The children are instructed to be ready on time, and they are. They pack up their suitcases (which most of them have purchased on our trips to the market) and take them to the bus themselves. They go around to all our team and say thank you and give goodbye hugs. They pose for pictures, and take plenty of their own. The buses leave for Phnom Penh.
This is a pretty awesome place. We have already decided that Julie, Bora and Vchen will get married this year and come here for their honeymoons. Hunsaders have been here in the summer for three years now and have gotten acquainted with the owner and his family. They are Chinese and have invested a lot of time and effort into this project and are quite proud of it.
As I said, the driveway to the resort is unpaved, muddy and steep. The resort itself is built on the side of a mountain that is covered with jungle – trees of all kinds, vines, undergrowth, birds and animals, giant centipedes, giant snails – these are the things I’ve seen.
The “natural” part of the resort name is evident throughout the establishment. All the construction is wood, stucco and stone and done beautifully and skillfully. At any point you find yourself, you can’t really see any other part of the resort. The plantings and rock walls hide all views except of the ocean and islands in the distance. Being on the mountainside gives the layout a distinctly vertical dimension. All the stairs and pathways are of rock and tile of several styles. The furniture is mostly from large wood slabs, root structures, and trunks of trees. Trish said one year a large tree had just fallen near the pool and they were already cutting it up to make something of it. Many of the large rock slabs have sedimentary lines in them just like tree rings. All the lighting is hidden under sea shells embedded in the rock. In the rooms the complimentary toiletries are in tiny stoneware vases and are made of natural products. There are signs encouraging conservation of energy. Here is a tour of the beautiful accommodations…
I appreciated the coffee and tea service in the room – the cups were big enough to hold more than two sips and there were small spoons to stir. A complimentary plate of fruit was delivered to our room the first afternoon. There was a hair dryer in the bathroom, and not only shampoo but also conditioner available. The doors were heavy, solid wood about 2 inches thick and moved quietly on their hinges (loved this!). The room had a lot of built in table and shelf space which made it so easy to find a place for suitcases and computers. The staff was always watching to see what guests needed. There was no bad food. Julie and I both had a massage package which was about two hours long and very nice. Honestly, there were so many beautiful places to hang out here that it was hard to decide where to go, and we didn’t get to all of them (so we will have to go back!).
I have to stop. I have way too many pictures of this gorgeous place. It has mystery, secrecy, natural beauty and you should go there!