The Best Ecotourism and ‘Giving Back’ Options in Cambodia
by Ken Scott
Cambodia offers some of the best and most diverse holiday experiences in Southeast Asia. The magnificent Khmer ruins of Angkor, Preah Vihear, Sambor Prei Kuk are a highlight. So is eco-and community-tourism in the forests of the south of the country, as is coastal relaxation on the islands and mainland beaches (but avoid Sihanoukville). Phnom Penh is one of the most dynamic, chaotic, and rewarding cities in the greater Mekong region. Despite its turbulent and occasionally tragic history, Cambodians have regrouped in the last 40 years and look with pride at their thousand-year old Khmer heritage. Describing people as resilient is a cliche. But in Cambodia that honorific has been earned by the Khmer people.
Getting There & Weather
Many tourists visit Cambodia in combination with Thailand, which is effectively the aviation gateway to Cambodia. Flights from Bangkok to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Angkor) are very popular. There are also direct flights to Phonm Penh from Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and various northeast Asian cities. There are also land border crossings from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. There are no passenger trains in Cambodia any more. Road, air and river boats are your only options.
The wet season runs May to October; a windy and dry season is November to January; and a dry hot season February to May.
There are many tourist places that you can visit such as cafes, museums, workshops, community theatres, guest houses and hotels that are committed to ‘giving back’. Their role is to give disadvantaged Cambodians – young and old – training, skills, a decent salary – and hope. It’s not just about profit, but reinvesting in people. So, if you visit Cambodia, consider spending some time, money and appreciation in the following places, which are just a sample of the many responsible tourism options around the country:
- Artisans D’Angkor – encourage the revival of traditional Khmer arts and crafts with a visit to the Artisans workshop in Siem Reap
- Cambodia Landmine Museum – learn about the scourge of landmines and the shadow they cast over the rural communities in Cambodia.
- Epic Arts Cafe – a lively little cafe that provides a focal point for the deaf and disabled community in Kampot. The cafe helps fund art programmes. Enjoy tasty light bites, such as Kampot pepper bread.
- Mekong Blue – a delightful silk weaving showroom of the Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre. It has become famous for the high quality of its handwoven silk.
An Ecolodge in Koh Kong Province: Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing
Cardamom Tented Camp is an ecolodge located in lowlands just off the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province, southwest Cambodia. Offering nine well-appointed safari-style tents, the lodge aims to minimise the human footprint on the natural world and serve as a role model in promoting sustainable ecotourism practices within both the national park and Cambodia as a whole.
Located on an 18,000-hectare (180 km2) forest concession, the lodge and its surroundings are home to pristine lowland and coastal habitats linking wildlife corridors to the Cardamom Mountains. Apart from staying in comfortable well-furnished tents with their own shower, bathroom and balcony, eco-friendly trekking and kayaking packages are available for nature enthusiasts who are keen to be a part of real conservation work.
Clamping Down on Hunters, Loggers and Sand Dredgers
Profits from the camp, which opened in 2017, help pay the salaries of 12 forest rangers. Over the last five years, these Wildlife Alliance rangers have done a terrific job of reducing illegal hunting, logging and sand dredging along the Preak Tachan river which runs through the Botum Sakur national park. Guests can hike with the rangers and visit their ranger station to witness the confiscated netting, traps and crude homemade guns that poachers once used to hunt wildlife.
Cardamom Tented Camp’s business model is simple. Guests stay at the camp. The camp makes a small profit. The camp gives money to the forest rangers. The rangers patrol the forest to stop illegal hunting and logging. Accordingly, Cardamom Tented Camp accurately uses the slogan, “Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing.” Guests can feel good that when they stay at the camp they are directly contributing to conservation of a vital lowland habitat.
Due to the good work of the Wildlife Alliance rangers and the camp, the numbers of Asian elephants, dhole (small hunting dogs), clouded leopards, hog badgers, sun bears, mouse deer, pangolin and others are all stable – or increasing.
Perfect for Bird Watching
The area around Cardamom Tented Camp is also a perfect retreat for bird watchers.
In cooperation with the Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation, the camp offers birders specialist bird-watching activities. Led by a birding expert, the guide will accompany the group and help identify various birds.
A biodiversity study conducted in 2000 recorded over 160 species. Visitors have spotted no less than eight species of Kingfishers, and both the Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills can be seen here. Birders can start their day bird watching while enjoying breakfast at the camp’s restaurant, overlooking the Preak Tachan River.
A stay at Cardamom Tented Camp can be both relaxing or active. Either way, it is a rewarding opportunity to behold wonderful nature and protect vital forest habitat. Remember, “Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing.”
Further details at www.cardamomtentedcamp.com.
Now based in UK, Ken Scott was for 25 years a travel journalist and travel industry communications expert in Thailand. Ken was manager and then head of communications at the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Bangkok, 2000-2006. He set up ScottAsia Communications as a specialist PR company for travel brands in 2006. He returned to UK in 2013 continuing to serve travel companies from there. Further information at ScottAsia.net.