The Cambodian Treehouse

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Author: Brandi of Sunshine & Succulents

I once traveled into the backwoods of Cambodia simply because I saw a flier for a tree house that I could sleep in. True Story.

My husband (then boyfriend) and I decided to travel around Thailand and Cambodia for a month when we were 21. Neither of us had ever traveled in a developing country before, and this would only be our second major trip each (having both saved up and gone to Europe separately when we were 20).

After 10 days in Thailand, we took a boat to the Cambodian coast, and eventually made our way to the capital, Phnom Penh. While staying at our $2/night hostel, we came across a flier asking if we wanted to get "off the beaten path," and advertising a tree house hostel far away from the capital. Our eyes lit up. This was before the era of smart phones, and we had very little internet access. We had purposely avoided over-planning the trip so that we could experience some true adventures, and this sounded right up our ally.

The flier gave some vague instructions on how to catch a bus for the 8 hour drive to Sen Monorom, way out in the country near the border of Vietnam. It then provided a phone number to call once you arrived in the tiny village, so that you could get directions for the mile or so walk from town out to the hostel. So the next morning, we hopped on the bus. The first 4 hours were on paved roads. The last 4 hours were on rutted dirt roads. The only food stop along the way was at a roadside hut serving some kind of gristly stir-fry for 20 cents a serving, and we were pretty sure the main ingredient was either feral cat or feral dog- of which there were many wandering about. We never did find out for sure, but we were damn hungry so we ate our fill.

We arrived exhausted from the bumpy ride to find ourselves in a one-road town in the middle of nowhere, We made our way to the hostel, and discovered that it had only opened mere weeks prior to our arrival. We were the first American visitors. Ever. And while the Tree Lodge Cambodia website now boasts such fanciness as laundry service and free wifi, it was little more than a few huts and an amazing, yet rustic and wall-less, platform tree house with a little kitchen (the "restaurant") on the ground floor.

We met the proprietors- a British woman and her Cambodian husband, both in their 20's or early 30's- and they immediately offered kindness and hospitality to us weary travelers. We ordered some food, set up a little tent on the platform level of the tree house to sleep in, and settled in.

If you can't tell from the photo above, the structure is built around a large tree. Small wooden boards were nailed into the tree to provide a spiral staircase, around its trunk, leading up to the second level platform. All of the structures on the property were built by hand from trees that were on the empty land when it was purchased. The owners even had to create the road to the property from town, as it was just a large plot of land with no development whatsoever when they bought it.

The only other tenant on the property, aside from a few short-term travelers like us, was a young Korean artist whose name I've long since forgotten. He slept each night in his hammock, about 25 feet up in the air in a tree. He had also nailed wooden "steps" into his tree to climb up. He invited Wes and I both to climb up to check out the view, but the "steps" were so far apart, and my fear of heights so intense, I couldn't make the climb. Wes persevered while I watched from the ground, in fear of him breaking his neck.

We spent a few days out in the sticks of Cambodia before heading on. Our nights were spent in the tree house, and our days were filled with adventures, including a minor motorcycle accident in a desolate area that left me with a nasty burn and which necessitated me leaving Wes and the broken down bike on the side of the dirt road while I caught a ride with a non-English-speaking stranger on his motorcycle back to town to get help (crossing my fingers that I'd even end up back in town...); tales of a tiger in the woods, and skull and crossbones signs along the road (which signify either that there are active landmines in the ground, or that there are still mass graves in the area from the horrible days of the Khmer Rouge), both in the vicinity of where Wes sat on the roadside by himself for 2 hours as I rode off to bring back help; and almost getting killed by a pack of feral dogs on what should have been a lovely evening stroll.

And one of the biggest, craziest adventures of our lives, which has left us with stories to tell for years, only happened because we saw a flier for a tree house, and we both knew that we just had to go there. The call of the tree beckoned, we answered, and despite the scar I still have from that motorcycle accident, we've never regretted it.