Now that the pandemic situation in Cambodia seems to be under control, an outdoor enthusiast like you may want to start going on adventures again. But, where do you go? With so many countries still in lockdown, you may not have a choice but to travel within the Kingdom. As it’s always better to be safe than sorry, you may need to find places with a smaller number of visitors. We have found a great place for you at the Cardamom Tented Camp. It is the perfect place if you also happen to be a nature lover, writes Taing Rinith.
As I write this on my smartphone, I am lying on a hammock in an open-air riverside bar/restaurant, listening to the soothing sounds of the gibbons and cicadas as well as the rustling green leaves of the trees. Before I found out about Cardamom Tented Camp a week ago, I spent my weekends listening to our neighbour croaking on a $30 portable karaoke set. I was hoping he would lose his voice, so I could catch up on my reading.
Cardamom Tented Camp is situated in Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor National Park, the Kingdom’s largest national park covering over 171,000 hectares. The massive ecologically protected park-land is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, including the Pileated gibbon, Sunda pangolin, Bengal slow loris and the Indochinese tiger, along with tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of tropical fauna and flora.
Before embarking on your trip here, it is highly recommended you book in advance. You can do that by sending an email to [email protected] at least one night before your trip, choose your package and receive your confirmation. We recommend the promotional three-day, two-night package, which costs $175 and is inclusive of food and drinks (except for alcohol). Then, you can pack up for your adventure.
To get to the camp, if you start your journey from the heart of Phnom Penh, head south-east on National Road Number 4 to Koh Kong for around five hours and turn off Road 48. After about another hour, you will reach a place where you are received by a group of friendly guides who will bring you to the camp on a boat.
Lasting about 20 minutes, the boat cruise is the beginning of an exhilarating adventure. As the boat strolls along Prek Ta Chan River, you will be amazed by the sight of views: the picturesque river with crystal clear water, trees and vegetation on both sides, wild birds and, on a lucky day, wild animals such as gibbons, roe deers, wild boars and so on. The air is cool and fresh and there is no noise apart from those made by the animals, which are enough to make you forget the noise of the bustling city.
Once you dock at the wooden pier, you will notice the internet is hardly working and the reception is poor. Herein lies the key to you having fun: being disconnected to the rest of the world and connecting with Mother Nature. After a filling lunch, you will be taken to your tent.
The ecologically friendly camp ground has nine large safari-style tents within Botum Sakor National Park. The tents provide a fully encapsulated 30-square-metre area with a queen-size bed, hot-water showers and 24-hour electricity. There is also a fan, although you may not need to use it since it can get very cold at night. An added plus: a Western toilet.
There isn’t very much to do on your first day, except dipping in the cool river, kayaking to a nearby beach oasis and getting on a thrilling zipline to the other side of the river (with no extra fee) where you get to see the antics of the long-tailed macaque swinging from tree to tree.
After that, you can enjoy a cold drink at the bar/restaurant while playing a game of chess or listening to Allan Michaud, the lodge manager and a British wildlife conservationist, telling the story of how the camp was founded two-and-a-half years ago with the tagline, “Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing”.
Wildlife Alliance, the nonprofit environmental advocacy group, has been working together with the government to protect rainforest and wild animals in the area. They have set up ranger stations and law enforcement officers to patrol over 8,000 square kilometres of the Cardamom rainforest landscape.
“The Tented Camp was set up by Wildlife Alliance as a way to protect Botum Sakor National Park from poachers and loggers,” Allan said. “We contribute 20 percent of the rangers’ salaries at the moment, but the target in four or five years is to cover 100 percent,” said Allan
According to Allan, since the rangers have been stationed there seven years ago, there have been no illegal logging in the forest while poaching has significantly decreased.
“We also believe tourism is a good and sustainable way to preserve and prosper the nature and communities in this protected area,” he added.
After dinner, you should sleep earlier because there is a big day ahead waiting for you.
When the sun rises, you put on your long pants and walking shoes and eat a hearty breakfast from the buffet to garner enough energy for the trek up which lasts the whole morning. An English-speaking guide will accompany you on the arduous trip.
You will start by getting into one of the kayaks and row to the ranger station, located about four kilometres from the camp. It can be a tiring voyage, but you will be hypnotised with breathtaking views and be refreshed by the fresh morning air—not to mention the chance to catch some rarely seen animals and birds.
All the guides know how to imitate animal sounds to bring them out in the open, which is quite an amazing experience for city folks.
When you arrive at the rangers’ station, you get to take a break and listen to the rangers talking about their work and how they are risking their lives to save the ecosystem from people’s greed. Visitors are welcomed to participate in their project to protect evergreen forest and wildlife including joining in patrols.
After about half an hour, you get to hike back to the camp, which is one of the best ways to learn about the local wildlife, nature and external influences threatening the protected area.
It is unlikely for you to run into a wild animal, but you can see traces of them either through footprints left along the trail, food remnants left behind or them scuttling off after they notice you. I discovered a sun bear’s paw print on a hardwood tree and learned that sun bears close their eyes when they are getting honey from a beehive.
You have the rest of the day to yourself to do all the things you like or simply relax before heading back the next day. The thought of leaving all this behind may be unsettling but a beautiful sunset on the river will definitely cheer you up.
If you choose the $220 package, four days/three nights, the extended stay will allow you to immerse yourself in nature with special activities scheduled to suit guests’ preferences, including a boat cruise at night, which is the beginning of the day for many wild animals.
“Every guest’s contribution is to protect this area and its wildlife,” Allan, the lodge manager, says.