IT was 17 years ago on November 1 that Cambodia resurrected its commitment to developing a national system of protected areas following decades of civil conflict.
The Royal Decree provided for the management and protection of national parks selected as "natural and scenic areas of significance for their scientific, educational and recreational values".
Today the national parks are in areas scattered throughout the country and are not only part of its rich heritage, but are attracting more and more adventurous tourists looking for new “Wonders of Cambodia”.
From the far north to near the south coast and little more than 100 kilometres from the capital the national parks cover tens of thousands of hectares and include everything from untouched jungle and forests to secluded beaches and havens for animal habitats. A rich environment.
Bokor National Park. KamPot.
The Bokor National Park spans 1,400sq km at the southern tip of the Elephant Mountains near the Cambodia-Vietnam border and was first accessed in 1916 and developed later as a famous altitude resort during the French Protectorate.
The panoramic view from Bokor Hill, a 1,000m plateau, is stunning and the hill station has been abandon twice in its history, once when the Vietnamese overran it in the late 1940s while fighting for independence against the French and then again in 1972 when it was overran by the Khmer Rouge.
The national park was founded in 1993 and consists of untouched jungle, waterfalls, rivers and is home to a variety of animals and plant species and gives wonderful views of both the Cambodian and Vietnamese coasts and islands from the highest points above sea level.
The hill station has only been open to tourists since 1997 and consists of a collection of French colonial buildings, including a hotel and church, built in the 1920s.
Virachay National Park. Ratanakiri.
Virachay National Park, which starts about 45 kilometres north of Banlung in Cambodia’s mountainous north-eastern corner, has a massive land area of 332,500 hectares with a diverse environment, forests, many animals and birds.
There are jungle walks and ranger-guided tours and there are many varieties of plants and trees and many different species of animals and birds to be spotted in the forest.
Kirirom National Park.
The park is situated 120 kilometres west of Phnom Penh in Kampong Speu province and covers an area of 35,000 hectares. The park is a mountain resort about 800 metres above sea level known for its pine tree covered hills, water falls and lakes.
It was a favourite retreat for King Sihanouk in the 1960s, although the king’s villas, roads and other infrastructure were all destroyed during the Khmer rouge era.
The park has only been open to visitors since 1997, mainly Khmer people coming at the weekend or for holidays and it is easy to arrange day trips to the park from Phnom Penh through travel gents.
It is the only Cambodian park that can be visited on a one day return trip from the capital or as a stop-over on the way to the coast. The Kirirom landscape includes mountains and hills and the pine tree forest, which is peculiar to the park and only found between 600m and 800m.
The best time to visit the park is just after the rainy season, which ends around October, and since opening in the late 1990s facilities have improved to attract more visitors, including accommodation from a luxury resort to a simple guesthouse.
Ream National Park. Sihanoukville.
Ream National Park, open since 1993, is a 21,000 hectare coastal park, which includes two islands and has everything from tropical jungles to secluded beaches.
Less than 20 kilometres east of Sihanoukville, it has a rich diversity of flora and fauna including more than 150 species of birds and monkeys and a place where visitors come to see the white fresh water dolphins.
You can enjoy everything from boat tours down the Prek Tuk Sap River, through the mangrove forest, to jungle walks, swimming, snorkeling and bird watching.