Phnom Aural is the highest mountain in Cambodia that very few people ever visit or climb because it is extremely remote and involves difficult logistics and a trek through the jungle to simply get to the base. It's also not very high at only 5,948 feet so reaching the summit almost seemed like an unworthy challenge. ...until Denise pulled off the second blood sucking leech attached to her leg! This was after starting the first day at 4:30 AM wearing clothes and a backpack that were dripping wet from a large puddle that formed inside our tent from an unexpected overnight rainstorm. Despite the leeches, wet clothes, mud, heat and humidity, we were actually having loads of fun the majority of the time and appreciating the lush beautiful scenery and the means by which we were transported to this isolated corner of the world. Due to the severely rutted and otherwise impassable dirt "roads", we arrived at the foot of the mountain by way of two separate tractor rides, one from a local rice farmer and the other from a logger.
Another good reason for our good humor in the midst of the adverse conditions was our guide Phanina. We were extremely lucky to find him and when we first met at the bus station in Phnom Penh, his warm welcoming smile and giddy enthusiasm convinced us we were in good company.
It's not often he gets to guide clients up this mountain due to lack of interest, so he considered it a privilege and genuinely seemed excited to be on this adventure with us. Aside from a few blog posts, there is very little information
online about climbing this mountain so if you happen to be interested please feel free to contact Phanina directly, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on Skype at kimphanina. His English is excellent and he is also a knowledgeable professional guide for the more typical tourist sites like the Killing Fields and Cambodia's crown jewel - Angkor Wat.
Back to the mountain; although there are absolutely no trail signs whatsoever, after wading across several small rivers and pushing through the jungle we reached the "trailhead" at an altitude of less than 700 feet above sea level. We spent about 3 1/2 hours climbing up to a high camp at approx. 3,795 feet. There were a few steep sections where Phanina's friend had previously attached some ropes on a prior trip, and luckily we didn't encounter any more rain of significance to make the slopes and tree roots underfoot any more slippery and dangerous.
Once at camp we had a rest and some lunch, set up our tent, re-filled our water bottles and continued on to the summit. Unlike most peaks we have climbed where we are well above the tree line, in this case we were within the heavy tropical vegetation so there wasn't much of a view from the top. ...but there was a small pagoda and statue of Buddha.
We paid our respects, took photos and were back down to our high camp in 3 1/2 hours where we ate some hot onion and vegetable soup and went to sleep. During the trek back down the next morning we were treated by the sounds of birds and cicadas and the eerie sound of Great Hornbills flying overhead. It became quite hot near the base of the mountain when we were no longer shaded by the jungle canopy but a dip in the river cooled us off and it was a perfect conclusion to a Crazy Cambodian Climb!
No trip to Cambodia can be considered complete until visiting the temples of Angkor Thom in Siem Reap. The most famous of which is Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world. And of course the tree roots overgrowing the temple Ta-Prohm best known as the location for the 2001 Angelina Jolie film Tomb Raider.
Thanks for reading and signing off from Siem Reap. Until the next Summit for CAF adventure...
-Paul & Denise