CAMBODIA’s Cardamom mountains, the largest tropical forest wilderness area in mainland Southeast Asia, are not only a biodiversity hotspot but are emerging as an adventure destination.
The township of Chi Phat in the Cardamoms is becoming the place to go for everything from mountain biking, trekking and kayaking to wildlife spotting, bird watching and waterfall discoveries.
The Cardamoms, in the country’s south-west, are one of the last remaining elephant corridors and large predator range in the region. The mountains host more than half of Cambodia’s 2,300 bird species and are home to 14 globally threatened mammal groups.
The western edge of the Cardamom region abuts the Thai border, while the easternmost part ends about 100 kilometres northwest of the capital of Phnom Penh.
The region’s area covers 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) with the highest point in the range (and in Cambodia) being Mount Aural, at 1,813 meters (5,946 feet) while there are five main rivers that run through the Cardamoms, creating dozens of waterfalls..
The Cardamoms contain a broad variety of landscapes and ecosystems ranging from dense evergreen rainforest to lowland swamp forests, elevated grasslands and coastal mangroves.
Biologists predict that the area holds unrecorded biodiversity. Trips to Chi Phat reveal hornbills and monkeys to the casual observer. Gibbon calls are commonly heard in the forests surrounding Chi Phat
“The southern Cardamom mountains are an exceptionally beautiful area,” says Frans Betgem co-founder of Khiri Travel, which specialises creating innovative itineraries in Thailand and Indochina.
“The locals can see the long-term benefit of turning from logging and hunting to ecotourism. Backpackers are arriving. Although Chi Phat is not an easy proposition at the moment, Khiri Travel has started to include it on specialist tours through Cambodia.”
Khiri Travel is supporting the efforts of the Wildlife Alliance which started the community-based ecotourism (CBET) project in Chi Phat in 2006.
Chi Phat comprises four villages on the banks of the Phipot River. Wildlife Alliance says that Chi Phat received 829 tourists in 2009.
The “Friends of Chi Phat”, a select circle of travel agents was formed to support responsible tourism of the green variety. The Friends’ aim is to build programs of activities in the area for study and adventure groups who want to book in advance.
The Friends also support the Chi Phat CBET committee with advice and training.
Wildlife Alliance and its community based ecotourism partners have created a dedicated website to the Chi Phat area of the southern Cardamoms.
For further information visit: www.mountainbikingcardamoms.com