Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Som Leng & The Cardamoms

Hanuman Tourism's latest quarterly newsletter, Som Leng, was published on Friday. To keep you up to date with what's happening, I'll post a few of the stories from the newsletter, which was a special edition dedicated to ecotourism and community-based tourism in Cambodia, which is slowly but steadily taking off. Here's a look at the Cardamom Mountains for starters.

Opening Up the Cardamoms

The fabled Cardamom Mountains have been described as Asia's last great wilderness, a vast area of jungle-clad peaks rolling across Southwest Cambodia. Much of this area has been considered off-limits for a long time due to a combination of land mines, illegal logging and poaching, but as conservation organisations gain control of more areas, new ecotourism initiatives are under development. The remote peaks and isolated river valleys are home to almost 60 globally threatened animal species and more than 100 species of endemic plants. It is one of two places in the Mekong region where unbroken forest connects mountain summits to the sea and is currently under consideration as a World Heritage Site. Hanuman is working closely with these wildlife and environmental organisations to help them promote their new products to a wider audience.

Wildlife Alliance (formerly Wildaid) has a pilot community-based ecotourism project underway in the Chipat area of the southern Cardamoms. Plans include village homestays in Chipat, boat trips along pristine stretches of river, treks through the unique rainforest environment, cycling routes through the forest, and animal hides near freshwater ponds in the jungle. Wildlife Alliance is working with an educational NGO called Live and Learn to arrange specialised mountain biking tours that will help support education projects in the southern Cardamoms. Future initiatives include a canopy walk to view gibbons and monkeys in their natural environment and a wildlife rescue and release centre.

This is another project in its infancy, but we will be travelling to Chipat in May to take a look at what is available and help advise them on how to move things forward. Hanuman will be offering a new range of ecotourism adventures around Chipat, combining boating or kayaking, biking, trekking and wildlife viewing. Short day trips will be possible for visitors entering or exiting Cambodia via Koh Kong and longer multi-day trips for those who really want to see this great wilderness. In time there are plans to offer challenging treks across the Cardamoms to link up with the Conservation International project in the Areng Valley (see below). Hanuman will also be able to use its comfortable 'Temple Safari' tents at designated camp sites under development and near the animal hides, in return for contributing to the community fund.

Chipat lies about four to five hours from Phnom Penh or just three hours from Sihanoukville and Koh Kong and is accessible via National Road 48 which crosses the Cardamoms from Sre Ambel to Koh Kong. Access is via a dirt road (bumpy) or a scenic river trip from Andong Teuk. As part of next month's trip through the Cardamoms and along the remote South Coast, we will also be looking at remote beaches and islands to offer a combination wilderness and beach experience for those wanting something truly unique. See the Cardamoms, one of the most pristine environments in the region, before enjoying private tropical beaches on remote stretches of coastline.

Further west in the Cardamoms, Conservation International is encouraging ecotourism activities in the Areng Valley. A remote and beautiful valley, this river is home to the rare Dragonfish, one of the most sought after species in the region, and the only population of wild Siamese crocodiles left in the world. It is possible to stay at a new guesthouse in Thmar Bang and try treks and boat trips in the area. However, sadly this area is also under threat from development and during our exploratory visit last March, we saw Chinese dam workers measuring up the river. We will be revisiting the area as part of the May trip and will assess the potential for our guests.

Other areas just beginning to take off in this region include: Botum Sakor National Park, occupying a headland jutting into the South China Sea that is ringed by pristine beaches, and is home to forest elephants; Peam Krasoap Wildlife Sanctuary, a unique maze of mangrove swamps that shelter rare birdlife and some incredible stilted fishing villages that perch above the sea; Koh Kong Island, the largest in Cambodia and ringed by stunning sandy beaches with not a beach hut in sight; and Tatai Waterfall, a scenic spot in the Cardamoms with a new ecolodge, located 22km from Koh Kong.

All these and more will feature in our new 'Cardamoms and Coast' discovery tours that are currently under development for later this year. For those that thought of Cambodia as an add-on destination to Thailand or Vietnam, it may be time to think again.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for having the som leng newsletter. it's good to read up on cambodia with this newsletter as i am also a cambodia fanatic. thank you for having this voice to show the world what cambodia have to offer. god bless.

April 30, 2008 at 3:18 AM  

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