AS eco-tourism grows, more places are set to benefit from the influx of people who come to the Kingdom of Wonder for more than the temples of Angkor.
Consisting of more than 1,000 hectares of protected forest within Kirirom National Park and with stunning waterfalls, the Chambok community-based eco-tourism (CBET) project is ideally situated to benefit from these new arrivals.
In 2000, 19,839 people visited the site, although there were only 11,654 last year.
“The drop is related to the global economic crisis,” says Touch Morn, 39, committee leader for Chambok CBET, a position he has held since the community was established in 2003.
According to Touch Morn, 30 per cent of the income generated from tourism is used to protect the forest. The remaining 70 per cent is allocated to the community’s more vulnerable people and community development projects.
Sharing the benefits of tourism with the local community is seen as vital for the preservation of the forest.
“We have to think about long-term protection of the forest,” Touch Morn says. “Members of the community are the driving force for protecting the forest.”
Working in groups, villagers monitor the forest to ensure no illegal activity is taking place.
“If a villager finds anyone cutting down the trees, they can report him to the community team immediately,” Touch Morn says.
A team of three volunteer community protection officers receive 7,000 riel a day each time they patrol the forest.
Villagers are rewarded each time they report someone indulging in illegal activities who is subsequently caught. The size of the reward depends on the gravity of the infringement.
“If they find someone who has captured a forest animal, we will reward them with 15,000 riel or more,” Touch Morn says.
All around us are young trees, perhaps four or five years old, that represent the forest’s future.
“Before the government created the protected land, people destroyed all the forest,” Touch Morn says. “Now we have areas with more trees. Around here, the forest was almost devastated.”
The centre has a small nursery where saplings are being grown to replenish the forest.
“We plant endangered trees and orchids here. We provide trees to students for them to plant trees before they leave,” Touch Morn says.
He estimates about 100 trees are planted each year by students visiting Chambok.
In the past, villagers looked after themselves and their families, but now they realise the importance of protecting the forest.
“Whenever we set up a home stay, we explain why visitors come here,” Touch Morn says.
“We tell them visitors go to Angkor Wat for the temples, and they come here because of the forest and waters. So they understand about it.”
As for the future, Touch Morn is examining various ways to encourage tourists to stay longer at Chambok.
“Right now, we are studying the potential of building a path where tourists can ride bicycles,” he says. “We have also found a new place where visitors can see where Pol Pot’s soldiers lived and watch the sunset at the same time.” INTERPRETER: RANN REUY