As I waded into the crystal clear river fully dressed, towards Kanika, I thought to myself, “I don’t think normal travel consultants behave like this”.
I hadn’t even attempted to take off my clothes and change into swim wear. As I arrived at the Champa Lodge, a gorgeous little retreat near Kampot in Cambodia, I was immediately drawn towards the river.
The lodge is perched on the bend of a gorgeous river and there is even a small beach that leads into the clear shallow waters. That’s when I notice Kanika floating around in a lifejacket.
She waved me over enthusiastically and told me to join her.
“But I’m wearing my clothes,” I said motioning towards my silky skirt that I picked up in Hanoi for about £3 about three months ago and have worn ever since.
“Me too,” she said, now standing in the shallow water that only came up to her knees, revealing her t-shirt and denim shorts under the life-jacket.
My argument had been shot to pieces. It was so hot. The water was so inviting.
“Ok,” I said, throwing down my backpack and wading in. My skirt billowed around me, with huge water pockets floating to the surface and sticking to my legs at the same time. It was so cool and so refreshing.
It was around that time that Yan, who runs and owns the lodge with her Belgian husband Stephane, wandered over with my ‘welcome drink’, looking slightly bemused by my sudden river antics.
But, as I was about to find out, that’s The Champa Lodge for you. Anything goes.
The lodge has three gorgeous traditional Khmer houses on stilts – Yan and Stephane purchased them from other villages before dismantling and lovingly rebuilding them on their rather spectacular plot of land, which is surrounded by mountains, mangroves and rice paddies. While everything about their structure and design is original, the couple have kitted them out with plenty of little luxuries like piping hot power showers, funky square ceramic basins and even made-to-measure wooden furniture and big beds. Finishing touches include Khmer silk scarves strewn across the beds and fabulous photographs taken by friends of the family.
I was staying in the Sugar Palm Lodge, which has one big bedroom and en-suite upstairs with a huge comfy terrace overlooking the rice paddies, and a chill out zone equipped with hammocks under the stilts. Aptly named the Sugar Palm Lodge thanks to the towering trees to one side which a man climbs twice a day to collect sugar palm.
With plenty of work to catch up on I eyed up the daybeds on my terrace, which made for the perfect ‘office’. But with only 24 hours to experience this hidden gem of Cambodia, there was no time for such thoughts.
Instead, Stephane fixed a brand new engine to his local-style wooden boat, packed a cooler-bag of waters and beers, and together with his adorable five year-old daughter in tow we headed upstream. The river must be one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen, it feels more like a massive spring. As the sun lowered we passed the fishing boats heading down to spend the night at sea, and saw the shiny gold steeple of a pagoda emerge from the deep mass of mangroves.
It was about this point that Stephane’s ‘steering stick’ (I’m sure there’s a more technical name for this but you’re not going to find it here) floated downstream.
“Oh did you need that?” I asked naively. He nodded gravely. After scooping up a few bits of insufficient sticks of floating bamboo, there was only one thing for it. This time it was Stephane’s turn to jump in the river. There’s a theme here I thought as I held onto the mangroves trying to pull the boat round into the right direction.
That was just the beginning. Within a few hours we had dried off and were drinking ice cold Belgian beers and eating Stephane’s mother-in-law’s special Khmer Curry (which very much had a if-I-told-you-the-recipe-we’d-have-to-chain-you-to-our-kitchen-forever feeling). My favourite kind of curry.
By the time we had moved on to the 10% Belgian beverages, Stephane and Yan had convinced me that it would be a great idea to go caving and rock climbing the next day.
“Yeah, I’m going to conquer all my fears,” I slurred, clinking my bottle enthusiastically.
By morning, I cowardly traded in this experience for a 1.5 hour kayak trough the mangroves with a lovely Swedish family.
As we paddled through the tranquil waters, as if carving our way through a shiny mirror, we watched a group of women appeared from nowhere and wade through the river before disappearing into a mass of mangroves. They were, of course, fully dressed.
And I smiled to myself. Happiness is wading into a river with your clothes on and just not caring, I decided. And Champa Lodge is the perfect place to do it.
If you would like to stay at Champa Lodge, or combine it as part of a holiday to Cambodia contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to read more.
Disclaimer: I visited this resort as part of my research as a travel consultant. My views remain my own – and this blog remains my personal account of my travels – but every now and then I will tell you about some of my the very special places that I visit as part of my work.