As more remote corners of Cambodia open to tourists, travellers have a variety of choices
Forget temples, pub crawls and weekends at Serendipity Beach. Jungle treks and mountain-biking are taking off as popular ways to get off the well-trodden asphalt path to explore Mother Nature. From leisurely afternoon walks through the forest to weeklong treks, there’s something for everyone regardless of your level of fitness and enthusiasm.
Kirirom National Park is ideal for Phnom Penh residents looking for a taste of the outdoors without getting too dirty. Located on the eastern edge of the Cardamom Mountain range, local and foreign tourists alike come to the park to enjoy its cooler climate and having a go at spotting wildlife. Only two hours from Phnom Penh on the road to Sihanoukville, day trips from the capital are possible.
However, the prized cornerstone of ecotourism lies further away from the city, and it pays to invest a few days’ time to get a rewarding trip for your buck. Ratanakkiri province, tucked away in the northeast next to Vietnam and Laos, is recommended as an ideal outdoor getaway, with its jungle-clad mountains, secluded waterfalls and isolated beauty spots.
As it lies about 600km from Phnom Penh, prepare to spend the better part of the day on the bus or taxi getting to the provincial capital, Banlung, where it’s easy to arrange treks at the guesthouses in town (you can also go on an organised tour, but these are best arranged in advance).
Overnight stays in the forest, which provide opportunities to mingle with the indigenous population, are particularly popular.
On the opposite end of the country in Koh Kong province is Chi Phat commune, where ecotourism is encouraged as a means to protect the environment. The NGO Wildlife Alliance has been working in the southern Cardamom Mountains since 2003, pioneering “community-based ecotourism” (CBET), which aims to offer alternative livelihoods to poachers and illegal loggers. Trekking and mountain-biking guides are widely available in Chi Phat, and the commune can be reached by boarding the Koh Kong-bound bus from Phnom Penh and asking for a drop-off at Andoung Touek village along Highway 48.
From there, you can hire a boat to take you the rest of the way to Chi Phat.
By definition, ecotourists must tread through fragile eco-systems, so there are pointers to keep in mind. Practice leave-no-trace trekking by packing out all of your rubbish, and easing up on the use of non-biodegradable toiletries (particularly if you plan on spending the night outdoors). In addition to caring for the environment, remember that the people in these remote parts of the country are not always accustomed to the tourist trade. Consequently, the impressions you leave can be enduring. Try not to enter villages in large groups, and always ask permission before taking a photograph.
Furthermore, do not bring gifts such as candy, even if your guide suggests otherwise.
For more information:
Cambodia Community-Based Ecotourism Network/ CCBEN Address: 10A, Street 468, Sangkat Tuol Tumpong I, Phnom Penh Phone: +855 (0)23 355 272 Email: [email protected] Online: www.ccben.org