Located in the Southwest region of Cambodia, The Cardamom Mountains region is a stunningly beautiful highland area of the country, largely forested and lush, much of which could be described as tropical moist broadleaf forest. It is one of the country’s largest intact areas of rainforest, but has suffered from land encroachment in recent years.
It was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge during Cambodia’s darker years of the 70s and 80s. Today, it is largely seen as the area that has the most potential for preserving and regenerating Cambodia’s wildlife, much of which was lost during those dark days. At its highest point, the Cardamom Mountains rise to just over 1,800 metres at the country’s highest mountain, Phnom Aural.
Here, Wildlife Alliance is a non-profit organisation instrumental in preventing illegal poaching and logging. Not only are they working to preserve the flora and fauna of the Cardamom Mountains, but they are also working to regenerate and repopulate the area with native wildlife. This is still a very off-the-beaten-path destination, but as tourism becomes more important to the local economy, so the importance of protecting the forests and the wildlife that lives there carries more weight. Shinta Mani Wild is one such place where tourism is certainly helping to preserve the natural environment. Newly-founded, by the flamboyant designer Bill Bensley, the eco-friendly luxury tented camp is working in close partnership with Wildlife Alliance. As part of one’s stay, it is possible to venture out with the Alliance officers on patrol, searching for loggers, poachers or traps that may have been set. Jungle trekking and wild swimming in natural pools under high waterfalls surrounded by rainforest: Shinta Mani Wild really is the best place to experience the Cardamom Mountains.
As an emerging destination in Cambodia, the Cardamom Mountains should be experienced, and combine very well with any Cambodia itinerary. It is possible to travel there from the capital Phnom Penh in just three hours depending on road conditions, and offers a wonderful contrast to the bustling city. From the region, one can then continue onto the Cambodian coast for some well-deserved relaxation and rejuvenation on one of the islands that sit just off the mainland.
The best time of year to visit is just following the rainy season in November when the rainforest is at its most lush, and the rivers are full. The driest period is generally from November to April, but visiting in the rainy season from May to October is also a good time as the rainfall is only expected at certain times of the day, which adds a wonderful atmosphere to being in the rainforest.
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
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