Cambodia’s highest peak is Phnom Aoral at 1813m. While only 100km from Phnom Penh it is incredibly remote and difficult to access. For those that have the patience and fortitude, this is one of Cambodia’s great adventures. The mountain itself is nothing special and not a terribly difficult hike – getting to the trailhead is the part that is hard. Let’s be frank. This hike is not easy for tourists or short-term visitors. To pull this off independently is nearly impossible unless someone in the group has a decent command of the local language and customs, a general lay of the land, and experience with travel in rural Cambodia.
The trailhead is off the beaten path, down roads that are difficult to manoeuvre with any vehicle. Dirt biking is probably the easiest way to get to the trailhead. I prefer more simple travel and have accomplished the hike once by driving regular motorbikes from Phnom Penh and another by renting a private van to drop us off with our bicycles. The most fun was the latter.
Theoretically it should be possible to access the mountain from a number of directions but I’ve only heard of successful attempts from the south. Sre Kan is the name of the village at the end of the road (Srae Kan 3). This is already 19km from the main road. It’s not too much further after that before the trails begin to incline towards the mountain. I did say ‘trails’. Yes, trails branch in all directions through jungle and bamboo forest. There is no way you can just stumble upon the correct trail.
The hike can be done without a guide – I did it on my second ascent but only by following my previous GPS trail. It is pretty easy to pick up a guide in Sre Kan. You can literally show up and someone will drop whatever they’re doing to make a month or more salary in one shot. In the grand scheme of things, the 20-30USD that it will cost is well worth being able to just show up and get things arranged pretty quickly. Often the village leader will be contacted to get a sense of what’s going on and to arrange who will guide.
This is no day-hike. Unless all the logistics work out perfectly, it’s can easily be a 3-day trip. It’s convenient to spend a night in Srae Kan and another on the mountain. Staying the night on Srae Kan means throwing up the jungle hammock on someone’s porch or perhaps finding a homestay. Camping on the mountain is a different story. Be prepared to bring everything including food, bedding, and lots of water. There are a couple places with stream access on the mountain but only at certain times of the year. It is also FREEZING on the mountain at night. With a jungle hammock, warm clothes and even a fire it is a chilly shiver-the-whole-night kind of sleep.
All that remains is the question – why the heck would you ever want to go twice! Well, the answer to that is you don’t, ever. Except after returning to Sre Kan, someone told me that if I came back again, they would lead me to the crash site of an old airplane. It took two years to get the courage to even attempt that one.
Based on original travel tale – Summiting Cambodia’s Highest