Ecotourism in Cambodia - The Best Environment-friendly Experiences for Your Vacation

With over 20% of its land area under government protection in the form of officially protected areas, Ecotourism in Cambodia has widely been successful in its implementation and popularity among a large number of visitors to the country. Visiting the remote villages, tasting food the local way, trekking through the various jungles and interacting with the wildlife in close proximity are some of the many intimate experiences sustainable tourism in Cambodia offers. In this article, we will talk about why ecotourism has worked in Cambodia, how it is implemented and what are the best experiences you can have.

Why Was Ecotourism in Cambodia Adopted?

Cambodia is home to the dominant rural landscape and this makes ecotourism a whole lot more beautiful experience than any other place. Ecotourism in Cambodia ranges from a variety of authentic activities in the remote countryside areas of the country to the learning about its unique flora and fauna. If you have explored the most popular tourist attractions of Cambodia or want to explore the true nature-friendly Cambodia, you must discover the country’s new locations and customs through ecotourism. But you have to travel to its most remote areas for the perfect experience. The rural Cambodia is not about artificial entertainment but is an example of a simple comfort life. Yet, this will be calming and beautiful that you will get surprised. There is a list of places and projects in Cambodia that are not a part of modern Cambodian society and they highly prefer sustainable tourism. But the environment has been deteriorating leading to the decimation of rainforests, soil erosion due to mass deforestation, and poaching and trafficking of wildlife. However, Cambodia has definitely made some progress through environmental tourism and is putting genuine effort into preserving what is left of its surroundings.

Besides various projects and centers that protect and conserve the wildlife in Cambodia, the country has some of the best national parks that are home to a variety of wildlife species. The national parks are great biodiversity spots in Cambodia and they follow the principles of ecotourism principles too. Virachey National Park is one such place which is a community-based ecotourism site (CBET) in Cambodia.

Community-based Ecotourism in Cambodia

Community-based tourism (CBT) is a kind of responsible tourism that puts local communities and their livelihoods as the first priority in tourism. Through CBT, the tourist destinations in Cambodia are managed by the respective community members themselves. Through tourism in general, most of the profits escape the communities and only a few private industries reap the benefits. In contrast to this, all decisions with respect to the management are taken by or in consultation with the communities and the whole profit will benefit them directly. The advantages of following CBT are that benefit-sharing happens among the community members and there will be community participation, control, empowerment, and conservation. Through this, the negative impacts can be minimized. Community-based ecotourism (CBET) concentrates on the well-being and development of both the community and the surrounding environment. Through CBT and CBET, the natural and cultural resources of the destinations can also be protected. CBET also helps in providing an alternative income to the families of the community which further encourages them to protect the natural resources instead of destroying them through unsustainable usage. Through CBET, tourists can talk to local Cambodian people and can know them better.  They can also enjoy their hospitality and observe their everyday life closely. This can also be considered as a good chance to learn about their culture and environment. It is an authentic form of tourism that takes visitors through another scenario of tourism, a natural and eco-friendly one. It is about exploring the real culture, real nature, and the real Cambodia.

Best Ecotourism Tour Companies in Cambodia

1. Heritage Friendly

Development is natural in any place and in the course of it, Cambodia has lost much of its ancient history. There has been a violent past in Cambodia and the looting and trafficking of Khmer artefacts still continue. So, as a prevention initiative, Cambodia now has ‘Heritage Friendly’ establishments. When you visit Cambodia, look for the ‘Heritage Friendly’ logo which was created by the Heritage Foundation which is an organization working to preserve its Khmer culture and antiquities. You can go through their role in the website www.heritagewatch.org. When an establishment bears its logo in Cambodia, it indicates that certain business or organization has met certain standards that help in protecting the Cambodian heritage.

2. Wild Asia

Wild Asia is another social enterprise in Cambodia that is working to support the conservation of nature and to improve the living conditions of the communities depending on the natural resources. You can go through their work on their website, www.wildasia.net. They are present all over Cambodia and the website covers information on the happening environmental initiatives all over the country. Any Cambodian or any visitor to this place should first look up to the Wild Asia enterprise for such information.

3. Asia Adventures

Based in Phnom Penh, the Asia Adventures company offers a huge variety of tours for visitors all over the country. The Cambodian trips through this company are better because they take you throughout the trip under their guiding ethos of responsible tourism and ecotourism. You can contact them through their official website, www.asia-adventures.com. 

4. Buffalo Trails

Buffalo Trails is a tour operator in Cambodia that organizes trips mostly to Tonle Sap Lake and also to the surrounding remote areas of the country. They are based in Siem Ramp and are famous for organizing special and sustainable day trips. When you book your trip through them, they make sure you discover the real beauty of Cambodia’s countryside along with the livelihood of local families.

5. Pepy Tours

Pepy Tours in Cambodia are actually a part of a famous NGO and environmental education project called PEPY that stands for ‘Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself’. You can learn more about them through their official website, www.pepeytours.com. Their specialty is organizing a variety of cultural and adventure tours, through which they raise funds for their environment development initiatives. 

6. Oasis Resort

You can also contact Oasis Resort in Koh Kong if you want to explore Koh Kong through their local excursion trips that take you closer to nature. You can go through the website, www.oasisresort.netkhmer.com. They take visitors on a variety of trips to Koh Kong’s mangrove forests, waterfalls, and many more locations where you can enjoy spending your time on serene beaches and enjoy dolphin-watching.

Best Tours for Ecotourism in Cambodia

1. Areng Valley of Cardamom Mountains

Areng Valley in Cambodia is a remote area located in Koh Kong’s famous Cardamom mountains. The Wild KK Project of this place frequently hosts a four-day tour that involves mountain biking, trekking, and kayaking besides camping on the top of the cliffs or alongside the river. The project was actually a part of Mother Nature Cambodia's environmental movement. This offshoot project now provides financial help to almost 1,300 indigenous people of the valley and has been a great source of awareness about the hydropower dam that has been long-proposed threatening the beauty and greenery of the valley. The area is also rich in biodiversity that it is home to the world's last few remaining species of Siamese crocodiles. Such places are a wonderful chance for tourists to explore Cambodia in its raw form.  

2. Chi Phat

Chi Phat is Cambodia’s one of the first community-based ecotourism (CBET) initiatives, located in the Cardamom Mountains, Southeast Asia’s largest rainforest. You can see rare flora and fauna here while the landscape is full of dense forests, grasslands, and mountains, giving you immense pleasure. Wildlife Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works together with the village people in the Chi Phat community and they managed to open a range of authentic homestays in Chi Phat. Those who used to perform poaching were actually trained to be guides who take guests through the wild jungles for hiking and bike riding along with many other activities. Chi Phat community comprises of four villages, Chi-Phat, Komlos, Chom-Sla and T’k La’o. These community members earn a living mostly through agriculture, fishing, and ecotourism. It has been more than ten years since the starting of the ecotourism project in Chi Phat and the villages managed to be more sustainable.

3. Elephant Valley Project

The Elephant Valley Project of Cambodia is in the heart of the northeastern province of Mondulkiri. It is the ultimate destination in Cambodia for some perfect experience with elephants. If you have loved elephants when you were a child or still love them, you would have a thrilling and a lifetime experience here. You will also learn more about these magnificent mammals as you will get a chance to be close and personal to them. Elephant tourism is everywhere in Southeast Asia but through Elephant Valley Project, you will also learn about its side effects. Their elephant sanctuary houses elephants temporarily or permanently that are left uncared, overworked, and neglected. These elephants can just relax and enjoy the rest of their time in their natural habitat at this place. So, you must not expect any elephant rides while you are here because you are supposed to understand the fact that elephant riding is something that this project is strongly against. But fear not, you will have a great time watching these beautiful mammals wallowing in mud and bathing in the river.

4. Sam Veasna Center

Sam Veasna center is actually a project started to conserve and protect the rare birdlife of Cambodia’s population. This Siem Reap-based organization arranges a variety of wildlife and birding tours for visitors ranging from a half-day tour to a 21-day custom tour. They have been doing this since 2006 and the interesting part is that you will be guided by local experts and specialist guides. Through these tours, you will be visiting some of the most protected areas in Cambodia that are considered important for ecotourism. Some of those destinations are Tonle Sap floodplain, the eastern plains, and southern Cambodia. If you are a birdwatcher, you would have fun spotting a wide range of birds.  The birds that are mostly spotted are the giant Ibis, Bengal Florican, Milky Stork, Greater Adjutant, white-shouldered Ibis, and Sarus Cranes. Some of the wildlife tours offered by Sam Veasna Center give you an opportunity to see many more species including the yellow-cheeked crested gibbon, plus Asian elephants, bears, and black-shanked douc langur.

5. Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

Wildlife Alliance (WA) is a popular and efficient non-governmental organization (NGO) that has been working in its best interests to rescue and rehabilitate Cambodia’s very rare and endangered wildlife from the illegal plans of poachers and traffickers. To conserve the fauna, the NGO helps in taking the rescued wildlife to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. In the rescue center, the species are given proper care and service. They only release the wildlife back into the wild after they are completely nursed back to proper health. If some species are not fit or not ready to go into the wild, proper arrangements are made for them in the rescue center itself where they can live out normally. They offer a programme called ‘day in the life of a zookeeper’ for guests, through which you will have a chance to observe animals closely and this programme is being operated with the help of all the funds received by the project. If you have registered for it, you can do so many interesting things like hand-feeding the elephants, visiting the tigers’ private den, going nearer to crocodiles than anyone else, feeding baby macaques and you can have many such thrilling experiences.

6. Wildlife Alliance Release Station

Out of many pioneering projects by Wildlife Alliance (WA) NGO, you can visit their wildlife release station located in the heart of the Cardamom mountains. This is the perfect place if you want to spend some valuable time with nature. This project is actually a follow-up project of the Phnom Tamao Rescue Center. They are not directly released from the rescue center into the wildlife. Animals that experts in the rescue center think are fit to survive in the wild, they are transported to a remote location in the Cardamom mountains where they are observed before their release. If you visit this Wildlife Alliance release Station, you can watch animals like gibbons, monkeys, sunbears, and also a wide variety of birds from close proximity. You will also have rangers nearby who will explain their stories. Just like in the rescue center, you can feed the wildlife and observe them while you are visiting the release station. You can also book tours to the surrounding jungles through them where you can again see rare flora and fauna besides the stunning waterfalls and swimming holes. You do not have to worry about the accommodation because you get to stay in basic bamboo huts that are built by nearby villagers. 

7. Visit Banteay Srei Project

The ‘Visit Banteay Srei’ Project was launched by a network of villagers in 2016. Through this project, the villagers opened up the doors of their homes for guests like a kind of homestay option. In fact, many business enterprises in Cambodia encourage tourists to visit such places to know more about the work-life of villagers in rural districts just outside Siem Reap. The project owns their own website where they put up all important information of homestays along with details of their activities and itineraries that happen in all sections like in nature, food, culture, lifestyle, and handicrafts. In Banteay Srei, the main attraction is Banteay Srei Temple which is also called the Jewel of Angkor and is very famous in Cambodia for its intricate carvings. Unlike the eternally famous Angkor  Wat, this temple in Banteay Srei is not crowded with tourists and thus the whole visit becomes more calming and pleasurable. It is a must-visit if you are an ecotourist visiting Cambodia. 

8. Cambodia Rural Discovery Tours

In Cambodia, Kratie is a rural province has started welcoming tourists to get off the beaten track. This is one of those few destinations where you can see the real Cambodia in its true essence. Cambodia Rural Discovery Tours (CRDT) recruit the local villagers and train them about the basic facts of the area, on-the-ground information, and a few important skills so that they can work as guides to take tourists on a series of tours across Kratie province. During such trips, you can explore a variety of homestays, go cycling through the countryside, visit the endangered species of dolphins in the Mekong river, go on boat trips and do a lot more. CRDT also operates the well-known Le Tonle Training Restaurant and Guesthouse where they train
people on hospitality skills and this becomes a means of acquiring skills for villagers to earn a sustainable income in their lives. 

9. Chambok

Chambok is a unique ecotourism site in Kirirom which is just two hours away from Phnom Penh. A visit to this place feels like you are entering a whole new world and it takes time to realize that you are actually in Cambodia. While walking among the pine trees of this area, you will feel it is a warm summer day in Europe. The climate also differs from the rest of the capital and you can enjoy in the lap of nature in Chambok. You can also interact with the locals and have a great time learning more about them and their lifestyle. The Community Protected Area inChambok as started in 2002 and there are 520 families in it from six villages. There are homestays arranged for guests by villagers and you can also join cooking classes by them if interested. You can do so much more like trekking, riding a bike through the forest, going on an ox-cart ride, camping, and you can also learn their traditional dance form. The Chambok community also protects its forest lands from logging and hunting. 

10. Betreed Adventure

Betreed Adventure place is a hidden gem in the northern Preah Vihear province of Cambodia. If you seek thrill and adventure, Betreed Adventure is the perfect ecotourism spot for nature-lovers. However, the main aim of this project is to protect almost 6,400 hectares of savannah lands where a wide variety of endangered and threatened species are living. Some of these species are banteng (wild cattle), silver langurs, pileated gibbons, barking deer, sambar deer, and many more birds. When you visit this place, you can explore the historic cave temples that date back to Angkorian times and you can also visit the quarries. These quarries are special for stones that were carved here from which the country’s glorious temples were built. Adventure awaits here for you because it has a 300-meter (984-foot) zipline and many more adventure activities.

11. Reasmey Phum Piri Kiri Boeung Kranhak

Reaksmey Phoum Piri Kiri Boeung Kranhak is an ecotourism site which you can visit in Cambodia if you are willing to spend with nature enclosure. This site was a recent establishment and though it started in 2014, it was officially recognized by the Kampong Thom Provincial Governor in 2015. It comprises of two different official community forests and also includes a beautiful lake that is surrounded by 193 hectares-wide forest on the eastern shore. As ecotourism has recently started to flourish, its principles and some other things are a bit basic but you will receive a warm and heartfelt welcome from the local communities of this area. You can enjoy the serenity by having relaxing picnics along the shore and you can also go for swimming or boating. There are trained guides among the villagers who can take you on forest walks and treks where you can have fun birdwatching. You will come across unique plant species and many historically important cultural sites. 

12. Trapeang Sangkae Cbet

Trapeang Sangkae is a community-based ecotourism site which is a Kampot-based initiative. The main aim of this initiative is to save the mangroves on the waterways of the province of this area that are being destroyed. This initiative is important to improve the fishing communities living in the same area. As mangroves are like a shelter for fish and squid, the mangroves that are torn away will have a direct impact on the Cham communities who rely only on fish by profession. This further results in poverty and so in 2009, a group of villagers asked the government for help. Then, 56 hectares were assigned to mangroves in 2011, along with an additional 337 hectares dedicated to fishing. There have been amazing self-made nurseries in this area since then and there is also a rich canopy of trees everywhere. It slowly developed as an ecotourism site by developing homestays for guests. They have also developed many activities attracting tourists that include kayaking, swimming, forest walks, hiking, and more. You can also go on day trips with local fishermen if you are interested.

13. Virachey National Park

Virachey National Park was established by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) in Cambodia in 2004. It is located in two provinces of Cambodia namely Rattanak Kiri and Stung Treng while sharing a border with Lao and Vietnam. It is vast in area and is also the largest National Park among the remaining seven National Parks in Cambodia. When you visit Virachey National Park, it feels like you are stepping into the wilderness and it is an incredible place to watch the wildlife of Cambodia. Multi-Day trekking trips are offered to tourists and a guide will take them through the place. You can also camp outdoors at night in the national park. You can book one of the guided excursions and treks that are available through its forests. Phnom Veal Thom wilderness trek takes you to the natural Montane Grassland and the Kalang Chhouy Sacred Mountain trek is through the villages nearby with camping options near the waterfall. O'Lapeung trek is another such option that includes village homestay, trek through Ho Chi Minh Trail, and jungle camping. The national park is also a community-based ecotourism site (CBET) and the services through CBT include homestay options, jungle camping, tents in the park itself, and well-trained guides. 

This post was published by Sravya Ronanki

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