Cambodia is a vast country, still recovering from war and internal conflict. Much of it is still rural; head away from the tourist havens of Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and you will be richly rewarded. The countryside of Cambodia is largely untouched, beautiful and bursting with enigmatic wildlife and friendly locals living the simple life.
In the right places, animal lovers will be in seventh heaven, surrounded by rare and unusual species in their natural habitats. Seeing the wild side of Cambodia is the perfect luxury summer getaway. Here are some of the places and local inhabitants you can see.
Irrawaddy dolphins, Kampi
The riverside town of Kratie is already starting to get rather off the beaten track, although serious animal lovers head here for a glimpse of the endangered Irrawaddy river dolphin. A morning trip on a traditional fishing boat will take you upriver to Kampi – shallow pools which are the best place to spot these playful animals. Alternatively, you could hire bikes and cycle along the well-marked Mekong Discovery Trail.
Gibbons and more, Ban Lung
The gibbons of South East Asia are heading towards extinction at breakneck pace, thanks to deforestation and disruption of their natural environments. But Ban Lung in Cambodia plays host to the Gibbon Research Centre, a valuable site which works tirelessly to support the local Red Gibbons.
Guides will escort you in small groups on night walks through the forest in search of the native animals. You might see the tracks of a sun bear, or the glowing eyes of the pygmy loris and civet cat. First thing in the morning is the time to catch sight of the gibbons as they noisily wake up to start the day.
Elephants and leopards, Ratnagiri
The northwest region of the country is the real Cambodian outback, far from its cities and towns and made up of rolling hills, mountains, plateaus and crater lakes. Although it is under threat, about three-quarters of this area remains heavily forested. Wild elephants roam here in the hills and even if you don’t see them, you will hear them calling to each other across the valleys. Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a variety of endangered wild animals such as banteng, tiger, gaur, dholes and sun bear, as well as leopards, Eld’s deer, sambar deer, muntjacs and wild pigs and many bird species. Virachey National Park is another good base for trekking and exploring, where you might see similar wildlife as in Lomphat, as well as gibbons, pig-tailed macaques, douc langurs and Asian elephants. There are even rumours that Java Rhinos still live on the Laos border.
Birdlife, Tonle Sap
The huge lake that fills the gap between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is called Tonle Sap and here you can take boat tours that will show you the local ‘floating’ communities and the wildlife they live in close contact with. The flooded forests surrounding the lake are teeming with birds and wildlife.