From a safari-style camp that funnels visitor dollars into forest ranger salaries to a community-based tourism project that helps protect mangroves, the palette of Cambodia’s travel world has gotten a little greener.
1. CARDAMOM TENTED CAMP
Hailed as the first eco-lodge in Cambodia run as a not-for-profit foundation, the Cardamom Tented Camp is a collaborative effort between the Minor Group, YANNA Ventures and the non-profit Wildlife Alliance. A slice of the proceeds from every visit goes to pay the salaries of the 12 forest rangers who safeguard the area from poachers.
One high point of any visit is kayaking down the river to meet the rangers at their base camp, taking a tour of the station to see the homemade snares and shotguns they have confiscated from poachers, as well as going out on a hike with them.
Sustainability is the watchword of any such endeavour. Over the next five years, the partners want to turn the Cardamom Tented Camp into a self-sustaining entity run by locals, while using it as a template to build other eco-lodges across Southeast Asia.
2. TREES OF LIFE
Members of the Trapeang Sangkae community in Kampot province take nature-seekers on boat trips to plant mangrove trees and teach them lessons about how they serve as important nurseries for juvenile plants and crabs. Now suffering from the highest deforestation rate of any other forests on earth, mangroves also provide a natural defense against storms.
In this friendly community, visitors can go kayaking, enjoy succulent seafood, bed down in guesthouses built on stilts over the water, and have some truly local experiences.
3. ELEPHANT REFUGE
In Mondulkiri province, the Elephant Valley Project provides a shelter for neglected or overworked elephants where guests can come for first-hand glimpses of these emblematic creatures and the green hills that shelter them.
No rides are permitted. That’s okay. Visitors will still be wowed by the chance to see them living freely and naturally without shackles or tormentors. Guests can also feed them by hand.
4. BIRDING BONANZA
Birders have field days in Cambodia, a country with many rare and exotic species. While some tour operators offer bird-watching trips, Sam Veasna Center (SVC) offers the opportunity to not only observe this avian air force, flitting through woods and flapping over wetlands, but to help conserve them and their environs too.
Partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other non-profits, SVC helps to protect some 25,000 nests of the waterfowl colony at Prek Toul by employing “community rangers,” who are often ex-hunters. Partly because of SVC initiatives, Cambodia is the only country in Southeast Asia where vulture populations are growing.
5. SANCTUARY FOR RESCUED ANIMALS
Of all the threats facing the survival of imperiled species like elephants, tigers and bears, from deforestation to depletion of prey, the illegal wildlife trade looms large.
For many years, Wildlife Alliance has been striving to right this wrongdoing. At its sprawling Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, guests can come to see some 1,200 animals from more than 100 species, most of which have been saved from horrific deaths in one of the world’s largest criminal enterprises, and contribute to their upkeep.