Koh Kong on Cambodia’s southwest coast is a province that is quickly gaining popularity among tourists. The beautiful natural scenery coupled with the many eco-related activities make this a top choice for visitors to Cambodia.
Accessible only by sea and air till 2001, its fortunes are now changing thanks to a road that links the town to the NH4 and to the rest of the country. The town has built up its accommodations and dining options to cater to the increased influx of tourists from Thailand – the border is just 6 miles (10 km) away. Koh Kong is a good base for ecotourism; trips up jungle-fringed rivers and through mangrove forests can be organized from here.
About an hour upriver from Koh Kong, Koh Por Waterfall has a gorgeous rainforest setting. There is safe swimming below the falls, but visitors should be careful above the main drop as currents can be strong after heavy rain. Between December and June, hiking is possible on trails along the riverbank.
Set amid lush green jungle, the picturesque Tatai Waterfalls lie upstream from the bridge spanning the Tatai River. During the rainy season, the falls have powerful rapids, while the dry season presents opportunities for dips in rocky pools. Visitors can reach the falls by kayak, hiking trails, or boat, as well as by motos that can be hired from Koh Kong. Nearby, along the near pristine Tatai River, are two excellent ecolodges.
Peam Krasaop Nature Reserve
Covering 93 sq miles (240 sq km), Peam Krasaop Nature Reserve is one of the most important mangrove environments in Southeast Asia. The mangroves not only protect the coastline from erosion but also support a wealth of flora and fauna. The extensive mudflats here provide a crucial habitat for invertebrates and a rich feeding ground for waders such as the spotted greenshank and Asian Dowitcher. Concrete walkways have been constructed through the forest, allowing visitors a closer look at the wildlife, which includes mud crabs, storks, and cranes.
The preserve is also home to pangolins, monkeys, bats, and deer. Fishermen have also reported occasional sightings of saltwater crocodiles. A 49-ft (15-m) high lookout tower in the settlement of Boeng Kayak, at the main gateway to the preserve, offers excellent views of the estuary and mud flats. Boats can be hired for trips into Koh Kong Bay at the entrance gate, and early morning trips might provide the best chance to spot the Irrawaddy dolphin.
Koh Kong Island
A tropical paradise as yet unspoiled by development, Koh Kong Island features beaches lined with coconut palms and other vegetation. Its pellucid waters and pale, powdery sands form seven perfect beaches, although Beach Three, backed by a lovely lagoon, is the one to head for. This is a blissfully peaceful environment, an idyllic virgin beach where only the wind, the waves, and birdsong interrupt the silence.
Several species of sea turtle nest here, but visitors are unlikely to encounter them as they usually arrive at night. Snorkelling is good, with excellent visibility and clear views of schools of mirror fish. There is no regular transport to Koh Kong Island and visitors will need to organize a boat trip from Koh Kong, and register at the island’s police checkpoint before hitting the beaches.
The travelling time to Beach Three by speedboat is 75 minutes. Long-tail boats, on the other hand, take around 2 hours and 45 minutes. It is advisable to carry insect repellent because sandflies can be a nuisance here.
The largest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, the Cardamom Mountains cover an area of 3,900 sq miles (10,100 sq km). Two regions in these mountains have been declared protected – the Central Cardamom Reserve, which extends over an area of 1,549 sq miles (4,013 sq km), up to Pursat province; and the Southern Cardamom Reserve, covering 557 sq miles (1,443 sq km) east of Koh Kong.
These mountains sustain several distinct forest environments and a wide variety of wildlife. Lower elevations, which are dominated by dry forests and deciduous trees, support large numbers of mammals, including the elephant, tiger, and sambar deer. This region is also one of the last remaining homes of the Siamese crocodile.
Rainforests at higher altitudes are prime territory for endemic species such as the Cardamom banded gecko. Around 1,400 bird species have also been recorded here. However, activities such as hunting, illegal logging, and land clearance are putting tremendous pressure on these habitats. Koh Kong tour operators can help visitors plan trips to the foothills of the Southern Cardamoms. An ecotourism program has been established at Chi Phat village, 13 miles (21 km) upriver from the riverside port of Anduong Tuek, 61 miles (98 km) south of Koh Kong. It offers mountain biking, hiking, and bird-watching.
Local guides trained by Wildlife Alliance, an NGO, organize boat trips to the Chhay Tameas rapids, 4 miles (6 km) from Chi Phat. Visitors are most likely to spot troupes of long-tailed macaques and plenty of birdlife. Another option is the remote park station at Thma Bang, a 2-hour drive west of the Tatai River, with basic accommodations. Rangers here can organize rain forest hikes, along with local guides.
Botum Sakor National Park
Occupying the bulbous peninsula between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville, the Botum Sakor National Park encompasses 707 sq miles (1,832 sq km) of coastal land and low lying rainforests, grasslands, and mangroves. The park is home to the elephant, fishing cat, sun bear, leopard, and pileated gibbon.
Leopards and elephants are rarely spotted but there is still plenty to see, particularly reptiles and amphibians such as tree frogs, and birds such as the white-bellied sea eagle. The park has been a bone of contention between developers and environmentalists, with the former eyeing the fine sandy beaches on the western peninsula.
Environmentalists counter that these plans are contrary to Botum’s status as a national park and hence disastrous for its wildlife. Despite this, large areas of mangroves have been logged. There is limited road access to the park, but hikes and boat trips can be organized from the park headquarters, 2 miles (3 km) west of Anduong Tuek. These boat trips pass through mangrove forests teeming with mud crabs and kingfishers.