Kirirom National Park is located on Kirirom Mountain, in Kampong Speu province, approximately 117 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh. The mountain is 700 meters high in altitude and is set in 80,000 acres of well-preserved forest in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The national park has waterfalls in addition to countless animal, plant and tree species.
The national park covers a considerable area in the Elephant Mountains. The name ‘Kirirom’ means ‘Mountain of Joy” in Khmer and it was coined by a former Cambodian king. The elevation is 2,200 feet, high enough to support a large pine forest quite distinct from most of Cambodia’s tropical jungle. There is also a newly renovated visitor’s centre which has some attractive displays and useful information.
Kirirom is a known locally for its pine forests and natural springs which form the headwaters for numerous streams feeding Kampong Speu province. This park is part of the ‘Southwest Cluster Protected Areas’ which include Phnom Bokor, Preah Sihanouk and Kep National Parks.
Attractions at this hill station of Kirirom are its spectacular scenery and its astonishing waterfalls. This park is also the home to many endangered species of animals such as pleated gibbon, sun bear, elephants and fishing cats. You can take a ride on the traditional ox-cart ride or trek along the walking trails amongst the pine trees.
Kirirom National Park is also a fantastic place to glimpse some of Cambodia’s rarer bird species. Bird watching tours can be arranged any time of the year but especially during or just after the rainy season when there are flocks of migratory birds visiting the park in addition to the species that call Kirirom home throughout the year.
Getting to Kirirom National Park
Kirirom is situated a two-hour drive southwest of Phnom Penh. From the National Highway 4, it’s 10km on a sealed road to a small village near the park entrance. From the village you have two choices: the left fork takes you 50m to the park entrance and then 17 kilometres up a fairly steep road to the Kirirom Information Centre inside the park. The right fork takes you 10 kilometres along the perimeter of the park on a dirt road to Chambok commune, the site of the excellent community-based ecotourism (CBET) program.
There are bus companies operating from Phnom Penh offering tickets to Kirirom for approximately $5-6 for a one-way journey. Alternatively, a private taxi can be hired for $35-40 one way from Phnom Penh.
Once in the park, there are a number of attractions for the visitor to see.
Kirirom Hillside Resort
Near the foot of the mountain is Kirirom Hillside Resort, which offers visitors a wide variety of leisure activities and facilities such as a hotel, restaurants, zoo, waterfall, children’s playground, fishing, canoeing, horse riding and off-road biking. In addition, there are full spa facilities, fitness centre and multi-use sports courts.
Chambok Ecotourism Site
Chambok ecotourism site is situated within the Kirirom National Park. There is a well recommended 4-kilometre trek, visits with local villagers, and an insight into Cambodia’s natural and cultural diversity. Visitors can also enjoy activities such as hiking, ox-cart riding, bicycle riding, picnicking, caving, bird watching, and swimming in the stream and waterfall. Also, visitors can have a traditional Cambodian lunch in a villager’s house prepared by the family.
Entrance fees are $ 3 for a foreign adult, $1 for a foreign child and 1000 riel (0.25 cents) for a Cambodian adult.
There are guided tours around the forests and streams and incredible views of the surrounding area. The English speaking guides are very informative about both the animals and plants living in the Chambok forests. There are also three waterfalls to visit on your walk and the opportunity of visiting a bat cave and its hundreds of inhabitants.
The Chambok Community-based Ecotourism site boasts a beautiful 40-meter high waterfall, which can be reached via a 3-kilometre nature trail. The site serves as a model as one of the best community-based ecotourism initiatives in Cambodia.
The Chambok site is an initiative which was developed in 2001 by a local environmental organization Mlup Baitong, in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment. The aim was to address the issues of deforestation and community livelihoods for villagers in the area, who depend on the forests to produce charcoal and timber. Through community education programs, they were shown the benefits of protecting the forests for future generations.
Since then, the Chambok ecotourism project was developed to provide an alternative income to the villagers. Managed by the villagers of Chambok commune, all revenues from tourism stay in the community and help them to protect the forest and manage it in a sustainable way. Trained local guides are available to share their knowledge of the nature, history and cultural aspects of the area.
Chambok is run with definite and realistic aims in mind conservation that benefits local communities through tourism. Ecotourism is very important for community development. The project supports families and the community and also has a visitor centre and a restaurant where the local youth stage dance performances and Khmer food is served.
For accommodation next to Chambok ecotourism site there is a basic guesthouse and the Kirirom Hillside resort nearby. The small town of Treng Trayeung with its market and restaurants is close to Chambok as well.
The rivers of Kiriom Plateau are slow flowing and calm, but there are a few rapids that you can see, often designated as “waterfalls” on the tourist map. You will be most disappointed if you go there expecting dramatic sheer drops from cliffs gushing with water, however, there are a total of three areas that are worth walking to and visiting, especially when the rivers are full at the end of the rainy season in September or October.
Most of the waterfall areas have a 10-minute jungle walking trail that goes around the area. Early morning is typically the best time to explore the area, as you will have the place to yourself devoid of any crowds.
At each waterfall area are numerous huts serving as raised platforms for picnickers to enjoy. These quaint little huts line the river, trails and roads on both sides and blend in perfectly to the local habitat.
The Kirirom Restaurant
The Kirirom Restaurant offers fairly standard but tasty Khmer food. Most of the dishes are very reasonably priced at between $3-6 per plate. The bar is well stocked with beer such as Heineken and the spirit cabinet with Hennessy and Johnnie Walker.
The restaurant is perched on a high point offering fantastic sunset views of the pine forest and mountains from the open deck eating area on the roof. This really is one of the best settings in the whole of Southeast Asia to enjoy a meal with all round incredible views.
Te Teuk Pus Hot Spring
Te Teuk Pus Hot Spring is located in front of Phnom Te in Phnom Te village in Kampong Speu province. Hot springs are rare in Cambodia, however, Te Teuk Pus boasts a diameter of over 100 meters. The surface water of the spring, which comes from six sources and smells like sulfur, is 80 square meters and a water temperature 70 degrees Celsius.
The entire site covers 5 hectares and is full of tall grass, reeds, wildflowers and sandstone rock. Local villagers, who are members of the Kuoy minority hill tribe, believe that the hot spring is effective for curing all kinds of illnesses and skin diseases, as well as sorcery. Washing one’s face with water from the spring is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
Ampe Phnom is the natural and cultural resort located in Ampe Phnom Village, So Por Tep Commune, Chbar Mon District. It is 48 Kilometers away from Phnom Penh on the way to Kirirom National Park and about five kilometres from the town of Kampong Speu.The site features a stream, walking paths and forests. A wooden suspension bridge crosses the Prek Thnoat River and links Tang Tonle and Ampe Phnom Village.
On the Ampe Phnom side of the stream, there is an old pagoda where Cambodians worship during national festivals. Visitors here can swim in the stream, traverse the suspension bridge or simply relax in one of the many cottages around the stream.
The nature reserve and river have well-signposted walking paths and big shady trees that make the ground level feel refreshingly cool. The bamboo huts along the side of the river are available for rent for a small fee and freshly caught fish and other foods can be purchased from the many vendors here. The water in the river is spotlessly clean and perfect for swimming in and the surrounding woods are great for a walk but are full of monkeys so keep an eye on your food and belongings!