The best places in Cambodia to explore the natural world.
If you’re an avid animal lover, watcher or enthusiast, then Cambodia should be on the top of your list for holiday destinations. Cambodia is home to a plethora of rare and spectacular wildlife. The best part of visiting Cambodia is that you can go as an eco-tourist, as both the government and NGOs are extremely focused on conservation and preservation of the natural wildlife. This article will fill you in on the best destinations for watching wildlife, and how to do so in concert with wildlife preservation centres and organisations.
Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre
The Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre is located approximately 30 kilometres outside of Phnom Penh. This centre forms part of the Wildlife Alliance, a wildlife rescue NGO that works in Cambodia to prevent the illegal trade and trafficking of animals. The Alliance also educates communities on the importance of preservation and aims to rehabilitate and return wildlife to its natural habitat. You’ll have the chance to see many animals such as elephants, tigers, deer, gibbons, otters and leopards, sun and moon bears and Siamese crocodiles. Depending on your tour, you may even be allowed to take care of the bears for a day, feed baby elephants, or enter a tiger’s den.
Special tours offered:
- Bare Care Tour: Free the Bears offers a full day Bear Care Tour. You will get picked up in Phnom Penh and enjoy a presentation on the organisation’s work, and a tour of the bear sanctuary. You will then help to prepare treats for the bears and also make toys for them. You’ll have time for an authentic lunch and a short break, followed by a tour to visit the other animals at the Rescue Centre.
- Behind-the-Scenes Tour: This tour is run by the Wildlife Alliance. It includes a stop at the local market where you will buy fruit for the animals. You will have the chance to feed the elephants and baby macaques by hand. You will see sections closed to the public and enjoy a Cambodian-style lunch followed by a break spent relaxing in hammocks.
Head to eastern Cambodia and take part in the Elephant Valley Project. The Project provides a sanctuary for overworked and abused elephants. After a time of rest and recuperation, the elephants can then return to their natural habitat. They offer one-day tours where you can follow two families of elephants in the forests, guided by local Mahouts.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the world of elephants, then you might be tempted to participate in the Project’s three or five-day stays. You will learn all about the elephants and the the local communities, and if you agree that some of the best wildlife holidays include giving back, you can even have the chance to sign on for longer volunteering opportunities with the project.
In Kratie province, you can visit the part of the Mekong River that stretches between Cambodia and Laos. There you can see Irrawaddy Dolphins. These precious creatures are close to extinction, so be sure to choose a tour operator that is dedicated to conservation efforts.
Kratie is also home to the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre, which just happens to be located in a five hundred-year-old pagoda. The non-profit group Conservation International opened this centre in order to protect the endangered Cantor’s softshell turtle. Conservation International involves local communities in nesting projects and helps breed and release hundreds of turtles every year. You can even feed the turtles while you’re there!
Head to the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary on Tonle Sap Lake for the ultimate in bird watching. You are guaranteed to see cormorants, storks and pelicans from January to May, because that’s when flooding creates the perfect nesting grounds.
You can also visit the Sam Veasna Centre. This NGO has been protecting and preserving rare birdlife in the region since 2006. With their tours, you are sure to see Bengal floricans, giant and white-shouldered ibis and endangered vultures.
The Sam Veasna Centre offers day trips and overnight bird-watching tours in the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. The day tour starts with a pickup at 5am and breakfast during transit. It includes a one-hour boat ride to the floating Prek Toal Village and an optional paddleboat tour of the village.
While you are in Siem Reap Province, you should head to Phnom Kulen Park. Phnom Kulen Park is part of the Phnom Kulen Mountains, one of the most popular national parks in Cambodia. There you will find the Angkor Centre for Conservation and Biodiversity, Cambodia’s first conservation centre. The centre offers daily tours where you can see pleated gibbons, silvered langurs and the slow loris.
If you opt to take a tour offered by the ACCB, you will be requested to make a small donation, with 100% of the donation going to the upkeep of the centre’s programs and operations.
The Cardamom Mountains are home to many endangered flora and fauna and are also threatened by illegal logging and poaching. Even so, it still boasts a huge area of tropical rainforest and rare wildlife within.
The Wildlife Alliance has a wildlife release station in the heart of the mountains. Animals that have completed their stay at the Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre and are deemed fit for survival on their own in the wild are transported to the station where they are re-released.
You’ll get to stay in an authentic bamboo hut and hike through the vast jungle while enjoying a wide range of flora and fauna, waterfalls and refreshing swimming holes, so make sure you bring the appropriate gear. If you’re lucky, you’ll see sun bears, gibbons, monkeys and many birds.
Virachey National Park
Virachey National Park spans an area of approximately 3,300 square kilometres, and there is tons of wildlife that you’ll be able to admire. This park is listed under the ASEAN Heritage Parks, due to its rich biodiversity and plethora of valuable natural resources.
During your stay, make sure to see some gibbons! Head to Veun Sai-Pang conservation area which is also located in the Virachey National Park. The charismatic gibbon monkeys can be found swinging from tree to tree, barely ever taking a break on the jungle floor.
Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary
If you are truly committed to ethical tourism, then the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary is a good fit for you. This vast animal and environmental conservation projected is located in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and Meanchey.
They operate in partnership with the Save Elephant Foundation and the Cambodian government to provide refuge for a wide range of endangered species. Some of these species include:
- Giant and white-shouldered ibises
- Asian elephants
- Eld’s deer
- Sarus crane
- Siamese crocodile
- White-backed and slender-billed vultures
If you want to go to the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary you will be going as a volunteer. They offer an eco-volunteer programme where you can stay at the sanctuary for up to eight weeks and help rehabilitate Asian elephants. You work may include gardening, tree-planting, making trails or working with the local community.
Cambodia is an excellent place to visit if you want to watch wildlife. And if you don’t require a five-star resort and spa when you go on vacation, consider eco-tourism for your trip to Cambodia. There are many places you can go in Cambodia to see rare and endangered wildlife, and the best part is that you can volunteer, or donate money while doing so. After you’re done with your wildlife adventure, you can keep off the beaten path and experience cities and towns like the locals do.
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