Cambodia is perhaps not well known for its mountains and trekking holidays although the Cardamom Mountains offer some of the most untouched forests and wilderness in South East Asia.
The Cardamom mountains are located in Cambodia’s southwestern Koh Kong and Pursat provinces with the western edge close to the Thai border and the eastern part less than 100 km from Phnom Penh.
The total area of the Cardamom Mountains spans over 1 million hectares with the highest point reaching 1,813 meters at the summit of Mount Aural. The area is home to several pristine rivers, many waterfalls and a small number of ethnic minority villages.
The Cardamom Mountains have been protected and conserved through the setting up of two national parks in 1993. Mount Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the western part of the range and Mount Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is located to the east.
Both of these wildlife sanctuaries offer protection for some of the most endangered animals in the world and protect the vast forests from logging interests.
There has been very little research conducted in the mountain range, however, in 2000 Fauna and Flora International, Conservation International and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and Wildlife organised a joint survey that was conducted over a relatively small area.
Despite the limiting survey area, the teams identified an astounding number of different animal and plant species including over 60 mammal species, 452 bird species, 64 reptile species and many other insects and plants. Amongst the identified species were; elephants, clouded leopards, tigers, sun bears, pleated gibbons and Siamese crocodiles.
These were highly significant findings as some of the species recorded are highly endangered with few significant populations left anywhere in the world. The rivers in the mountainous region are also home to the rare and elusive humpback dolphins, this remains one of the very few places in the world where they can still be seen.
Activities and Ecotourism
Ecotourism is proving ever more popular in the area with new resorts opening all the time providing excellent bases to explore the virgin rainforest from. There are also archaeological remains in the Cardamom Mountains, most notably Neolithic Jars which are said to contain the bones of deceased Cambodian royalty.
One new project based in the mountains is Chi Phat Village who offer accommodation and activities from a community-based ecotourism resort. There guides who were once poachers and loggers in the area lead guests through jungle paths to breathtaking waterfalls, meadows and mountains.
This community-based initiative is helping to preserve the area without taking the livelihoods away from the local people who would once hunt and log for money. It was set up in 2007 with the help of the Wildlife Alliance to help educate and help the local community make a living from tourism as opposed to animal trafficking and illegal logging.
Of course, there is still a long way to go in regards to protecting the Cardamom Mountains and all of its incredibly diverse animal and plant species. All resources are under threat from a quickly rising population and a rapidly developing economy. However, with more community and eco-based initiatives like Chi Phat the future for Cambodia, its wildlife, people and travellers look bright!