I hadn’t been awake for longer than a minute. I peeled back the tarp door to my room, walked out onto my deck, and leapt. It was an abrupt but purifying way to start the day. The cool, brackish water instantly defogged my mind, and my eyes opened to see the surrounding Tatai River and dense Cambodian rain forest. A lone sampan, anchored along an islet, was the only man-made object to interrupt the natural scenery.
My chic bungalow lightly swayed on the calm water behind me, an incongruous encampment against the wild jungle backdrop. Located on the southern tip of the Cardamom Mountains, near the Gulf of Thailand, the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge lives up to its name. Accessible only by boat, the retreat’s 12 landless suites all float on their own buoyant platforms, moored to the riverbank. Outfitted with a ceiling fan, armoire, and wood-paneled shower, each of the towering, safari-style tented rooms also provides a nearly 360-degree view of the tropical landscape. A boardwalk connects the rooms to a central lounge and dining area decorated in a muted variety of Miami Beach sleek.
At first blush, getting to this secluded outpost might seem daunting. I took a five-hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, followed by a half-hour longboat ride from the village of Tatai. But the journey is well worth the peaceful reward.
The Cardamom Mountains contain the largest and most intact evergreen rain forest in mainland Southeast Asia. For decades, the region was largely off-limits to developers because of land mines and fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge militia. This very isolation protected the area’s natural habitat, which is now home to scores of endangered species, including Asian elephants, hairy-nosed otters, and Siamese crocodiles. Mine-clearance efforts and the end of hostilities have made travel here safe for more than 10 years, but it remains a sparsely populated frontier.
The area’s remoteness is remarkable in and of itself. In the afternoon, I took a boat ride to the Tatai waterfall with several other guests. Even our skipper, a young Cambodian man who leads visitors on these trips every day, was still in awe of the lush surroundings. “So quiet and beautiful,” he said, looking at the palm trees along the river’s edge. After we arrived at our destination, I spent the rest of the day sitting beneath the waterfall’s forceful but soothing cascades, letting nature’s masseuse relax my muscles.
I returned to the lodge for dinner beneath an orange and purple sunset. On the restaurant’s uncovered patio, the only sound accompanying the clang of my utensils was the soft splash of kingfishers swooping to pluck fish from the river. I was less delicate, digging into skewers of mozzarella, watermelon, and fresh shrimp and a plate of steamed river fish topped with a basil cream sauce.
In the lingering twilight, I sipped a gin and tonic on my private terrace before easing under my bedsheets. As the gently undulating waters rocked me to sleep, any illusions I had about roughing it in the wilderness drifted away. —Brendan Brady
4 Rivers Floating Lodge, Koh Andet Island, Tatai Village (20 minutes from Koh Kong), Cambodia. 855/(0) 97-64-34-032, ecolodges.asia. From $139 per night. This appeared in the September/October 2010 issue.