Sustainable eco-tourism means taking responsibility for your own actions and the impact they might have on the environment as you travel. It means paying attention to the environment you find yourself in and respecting the communities you visit.
The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.
Cambodia is only recently getting an education and understanding of waste disposal and recycling. However, it is still not uncommon to see locals disposing of all types of refuse on the side of the road or even the river or sea! Don’t feel encouraged to join in! Dispose of your own waste, don’t use detergents or shampoo in lakes and rivers, and don’t use electricity wastefully.
The environment in Cambodia, like the rest of Asia, has taken a beating over the years. Having said this, It is still considered one of the most vulnerable countries in Asia by environmental activists and experts.
High-canopy rainforest that once covered much of the country has been decimated by legal and illegal logging. The soil erosion resulting from the mass deforestation is also a long-term problem. What hasn’t been achieved by active plunder has been achieved by population growth in a country where subsistence-level living is the norm and resources are not used in a sustainable or renewable way.
A lot of the wildlife has also been poached or trafficked. Three-fourths of Cambodia’s wildlife areas have disappeared as a result of the ravages of logging. Endangered species in Cambodia include three species of gibbon, several species of wild dog and wildcat, leopard, tiger, Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Thailand brow-antlered deer, kouprey, giant catfish, Indian python, Siamese crocodile, and estuarine crocodile.
As of 2001, 23 of Cambodia’s mammal species and 18 of its bird species were listed as endangered. Cambodia is unfortunately still subject to illegal hunting of rare species, something to keep in mind when shopping in the markets. In recent years, there has been lots of progress in environmental tourism and attempting to preserve what is left.
In Kratie, for instance, fisherman no longer use explosives and electric to fish, thereby killing the endangered river dolphins. Yet there is also a lot to be worried about, including the rapid development of Cambodia’s coastline and nearby islands, particularly around Sihanoukville. There is a great deal being built there, and the developers are almost entirely unregulated.
Eco-tourism in Cambodia
With the construction of the brand-new road from the Thai border at Koh KongHat Lek (near Trat), the Cardamom Mountains, one of the last areas of forest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, is set to become the scene for eco-tours, with Koh Kong as its base.
This is something that will have to be managed very carefully if it is to do more good than harm. Hoteliers have also begun to adapt to the eco-friendly trend, opening eco retreats and a few carbon-neutral options. In Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, there are more and more opportunities to enjoy one of Cambodia’s most remote areas.
The heavy jungle is home to 12 different Khmer Loeu ethnic minority groups. On the way, you can stop in Kratie and go dolphin spotting on the Mekong. The rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins break the surface every now and then, but they remain powerfully shy.
WWF Cambodia are doing lots of valuable work to support the conservation of natural areas and the communities dependent upon their resources. They have a big presence in Cambodia and their website is an up-to-date source of on-the-ground environmental initiatives across the country.
General Resources for Eco-Friendly Travel
In addition to the resources for Cambodia listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel.
– Tourism Concern works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism.
– For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly