Travellers seeking an authentic experience don’t have to look far in Cambodia, there is a string of ecotourism projects, tours and sites dotted throughout the country.
As more remote areas of Cambodia become accessible and infrastructure improves, accessing the country’s bounty of off-the-beaten-track destinations is becoming much easier. This has resulted in a swathe of eco-tourism sites and local experiences being developed. Here are a few to whet your appetite.
Visit Banteay Srei
The Visit Banteay Srei project launched in 2016 with a network of villagers opening up their doors to guests in the form of homestays; businesses are also welcoming tourists wanting to get a glimpse of work life in this rural district which sits outside of Siem Reap. The website details homestays, activities and itineraries that take in nature, food, culture, lifestyle and handicrafts. The main star of the show is Banteay Srei Temple, coined the Jewel of Angkor for its intricate carvings. The beauty of this temple is that, unlike Angkor Wat, it is not overrun with tourists, making meandering around the ancient site much more pleasurable.
Elephant Valley Project
The province of Mondulkiri is in Cambodia remote northeast and is covered in tropical and temperate jungle, scenic hills and valleys, the local minority people – bunong and their hill tribes and of course, elephants. Elephant Valley Project offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal to the magnificent mammals while learning more about the negative effects of elephant tourism, which is prevalent throughout Southeast Asia. The sanctuary offers a permanent or temporary respite for overworked and neglected elephants, who can kick back, relax and enjoy life in their natural habitat, As such, don’t expect any elephant rides — this is an activity the project strongly advocates against. Instead, visitors can spend the day watching the beasts wallowing in mud, washing in the river and stomping through the jungle, tearing saplings out with their trunks.
Cambodia Rural Discovery Tours
Kratie is a province that is all too often missed, but for those wanting to see a slice of real Cambodia, then this is the destination for you. Trips include a variety of stays in local villages, cycling in the countryside, visits to see Irrawaddy dolphins, boat trips and a trip to visit a Cantor’s giant softshell turtle conservation project to boost their fast-dwindling population. Cambodia Rural Discovery Tours has also opened the Le Tonlé Training Restaurant & Guesthouse. This pioneering project serves as a training school to provide locals with tourism and hospitality skills for a sustainable income and future.
This remote area is full of dense forest, grasslands and mountains that stretch to the horizon and take in waterfalls, villages and exotic wildlife. The last decade has seen the Cardamom Mountains open up, and, while much of it remains off limits, an increasing number of homestays and tours into the heart of the jungle have launched. Wildlife Alliance was the first to start operating, working with villagers in Chi Phat community to open a range of authentic homestays and a way to discover the real Cambodia.
Sam Veasna Center
This project’s main mission is to protect and conserve the country’s population of rare and dwindling birdlife. Since 2006, the Siem Reap-based organisation has been leading half- to 21-day custom birding and wildlife tours, led by local experts and specialist guides, to some of Cambodia’s most important and protected areas. Destinations include the Tonle Sap floodplain, the eastern plains and southern Cambodia. Birds that can be commonly spotted at the Sam Veasna Center include the giant Ibis, white-shouldered Ibis, Bengal Florican, Greater Adjutant, Milky Stork and Sarus Cranes.
Comprised of nine rural villages with more than 760 families, Chambok community offers the chance for visitors to experience authentic village life while exploring its natural surroundings. Located near Kirirom National Park in southwest Cambodia, approximately two-hour drive from Phnom Penh. The area is famous for its lush waterfalls, thick forest and beautiful scenic views. Launched in 2002 to provide locals with a sustainable form of income, guests can take treks into the forest, swim at the 12-meter (40-foot) waterfall, go on bike rides and learn how to make traditional crafts. The female-run restaurant serves locally sourced food. Two- and three-day treks can also be arranged with local guides.
Nestled completely off-the-beaten-track in Preah Vihear province, Betreed Adventure is the perfect trip for nature-lovers and thrill-seekers. Its main aim is to protect 6,400 hectares of savannah land that is home to various endangered and threatened species, including banteng (wild cow), pileated gibbons, silver langurs, barking deer, sambar deer and many birds. In addition to all of this, visitors can also explore ancient cave temples that date back to Angkorian times as well as quarries where the stones to build the country’s most famous temples were carved from.