Koh Trong: Cambodia’s Scenic Island Sweetened by Pomelos

KRATIE — Koh Trong, an island floating in front of the provincial town of Kratie, is one of the most visited tourist areas of the province. Its natural beauty and local community have made Koh Trong a popular destination attracting both Cambodian and international visitors.

Located about 250 kilometres northwest of Phnom Penh, that is, about four hours of gentle driving, Koh Trong, sits in the middle of the Mekong river. Spreading over 223 hectares or so, the island is divided into two villages usually referred to as the Front and the End villages.

The residents of this small island spend their days farming a variety of vegetables and fruits, providing food and accommodation for visitors, and fishing.

To get to the island from Kratie, ferry transportation is the preferred option as it is affordable, costing 1,000 riels (US$0.25) per crossing per person. Sao Sy, a ferry operator for more than 30 years, said that, on average, she takes to the island around 200 people per day between 6.00 am and 6:00 pm.

The photo shows Sao Sy, who is a ferry operator at Koh Trong. Photo: Nhek Sreyleak

“The route back and forth from the island can take longer or shorter depending on the water current and the wind direction,” Sy explained as she was instructing people where to park their vehicles to help with the ferry’s balance. “It normally takes around 15 minutes to cross the river,” she said. “I get travellers from nearby towns as well as distant places.”

For some people, hopping on a ferry can be a time to relax and cool down as the river wind blows away stress and other emotional pressures.

Upon reaching the tip of the island, tourists may need to cover on foot or on motorcycles 200 metres of river sand before reaching the Koh Trong Community Based Ecotourism Information Centre.

Travellers can choose among various means of transportation such as commuting bicycles, tuk-tuks, power tillers, oxcarts and even horse carts to get around the island.

With Koh Trong being right in the middle of one of Southeast Asia's most important rivers, sediment deposit has made the island a giant, naturally fertilised land that is highly suitable for local production and requiring minimum efforts.

At their houses bordering the narrow concrete roads used by cars, motorcycles and other vehicles, villagers have made their front yards beautiful with flowers and fruit plants.

On Koh Trong, one commodity reigns supreme and that is the pomelo, a fruit popular among Cambodians who usually eat it with red hot chilli salt. After harvesting, each pomelo, which is about half the size of the ball in basketball, can cost around 5,000 riels (US$1.25). With its citric-acid content, this juicy fruit is popular as refreshment after meals as Cambodians often enjoy fermented food usually associated with strong smells.

Pen Yorn, who is a farmer on the island, said that he has made enough revenues with his pomelo plantation to raise his four children and have them complete their studies at university. He makes around 6 million riels ($1,500) per year with the 30 trees around his house, he said. “I have a small area of land and have no valuable things to pass on to them besides these trees,” Yorn said. “I passed the oldest tree to my oldest child: that tree is 30 years old already.”

Pen Yorn is the director of the Koh Trong Rung Roeung agriculture community. Photo: Nhek Sreyleak

Originally from Kampong Chhnang province, the 70-year-old farmer is director of the Koh Trong Rung Roeung agriculture community which was founded in 2014. To grow pomelo, Yorn said, “[n]o hard maintenance is needed. The soil is very fertilised here. Unless there are huge rains, our pomelo remains sweet and enjoyable.”

As the tree grows older, the fruit size is not too big, the skin is not too thick and the citrus flavour is softer, Yorn said. With all these advantages, the fruit becomes more delicious, he said. The Koh Trong pomelo was awarded the prestigious geographical indication (GI) status in 2018, the result of efforts to protect the identity of this traditional product.

Asked about tourism on the island, Koh Trong Commune Chief Sam Bouy said that Koh Trong receives a steady flow of visitors although this has not reached the pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. Still, this has given hope and economic incentive to the population of the island.

Koh Trong Commune Chief Sam Bouy speaks during an interview with ThmeyThmey News. Photo: Nhek Sreyleak

“[The island] fresh atmosphere attracts many foreigners,” Bouy said. “They even make their way here when the day almost turns dark. Large trees, wild animals and accommodations are the charms here.”

In addition to Koh Trong island, Kratie province has protected habitats for freshwater dolphins in the Mekong River as well as large rubber tree plantations due to its rich red soil.

Conducted in Khmer for ThmeyThmey News, the story was translated by Ky Chamna for Cambodianess News.

Watch the original video in Khmer language here: 

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