Koh Kong province’s mangrove forests have changed from being a source of charcoal to serving tourists who help to protect their biodiversity. The forests have now become a popular destination for Cambodian tourists.
Fifty-seven-year-old Kratie province resident Chim Kan, who came to the area to visit with 25 family members, said he has been living near the fresh water of the Mekong River for many years, but had never seen these kinds of forest near the sea.
He said for this rare trip for his family members from Sandan commune of Sambo district of Kratie province, he chose Koh Kong because of the popularity it gained after people saw it on television.
“I decided to visit Koh Kong because it is famous because of good views, and there are some good resorts, especially this mangrove forest,” he said, adding: “I have never visited this province before and it is my first time to visit here.”
He said he is a farmer, but he had decided to spend some money so that his family members can visit faraway provinces, so he could see different things that his home province doesn’t have, and it is relaxing for his family as well.
Yem Yan, Peam Krasorb commune chief in Koh Kong, said gradually visitors have been coming from different provinces in the country.
He said Peam Krasorb community earned about 140 million riel ($35,000) from selling tickets to 40,000 visitors – Cambodian visitors pay 3,000 riel and foreigners pay 5,000 riel per day – per year in the last few years.
So far no money has been given to the government, but it is used for developing the community.
Yem Yan said mangrove forests were being destroyed in the 1990s because villagers made charcoal, but since the year 2000 there has been strict protection of mangrove forests.
They were developed into ecotourism sites in 2004. Eventually local residents stopped deforestation for making charcoal and instead started to set up services for tourists, such as selling souvenirs, or boat driving. He said although there are some improvements to save mangroves from devastation, changing people’s habits from the old practices and getting them to accept new things is still a challenge.
“So far local people do anything, relying on their own habits, so we need to train them how to serve the guests better,” he said.
He added that after the completion of a new shopping area, where he brings all local sellers to one place in order to avoid causing pollution to the environment, he would like to seek assistance from the Ministry of Tourism to train local people to serve the tourists.
Sok Raksmey is the head tour leader for Sophiya Travel and Tour Company based in Phnom Penh, which is organising group tours for Sacombank’s 70-person staff retreat. He said most of the people, particularly from huge companies, preferred visiting natural views and Koh Kong is one of their best places to visit.
He said Sophiya used to organise tours for companies and families to many provinces in the country. However, he said the biggest challenge was time management, which is influenced by slow driving due to road safety or weather, or the time of visiting, which can be slow.
“We are trying our best to make everything on schedule, but it is difficult sometimes,” he said.
According to Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, Cambodia has a total of 56 ecotourism sites, including Koh Kong.
Most of the ecotourists come from France, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, Vietnam, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States, Switzerland and South Korea.
According to tourism officials, Cambodia received about 3.58 million international tourists last year, a year-on-year growth of 24.4 per cent.