The New Eco-Paradise of Southeast Asia: Cambodia

December 28, 2012 by

Asia, Beach & Water Adventures, Things to Do

With the tourist trail expanding across the key provinces of Cambodia, there is certainly a fair share of places from boutique hotels to high-end resorts for visitors to crash in, but it is perhaps the eco-conscious options that are drawing the most attention from travelers.

Like Thailand 40 years ago, new country-wide developments in the tourism sector have brought attention to the remaining natural assets, with a new class of visitors hiking past the temples of Angkor Wat and main attractions of Phnom Penh and toward little-seen frontiers yet to be touched by the mainstream.

Koh Rong archipelago

Koh Rong

Koh Rong. Photo credit: Ivo Posthumus via Flickr.

Located just 25 kilometers off the coast of Sihanoukville, the Koh Rong archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand is known for its string of pristine beaches and the small handful of local fishing villages that live around them. Schools of fish hop fearlessly above the glossy blue glare of turquoise-colored water, while colorful hornbills and sea eagles sit atop the mangroves, confident and proud.

The island of Koh Rong meanwhile is engulfed by a vast jungle full of exotic birdlife, and conservation experts are convinced there are yet undiscovered species of other wildlife to be found. Luckily, there are at least a few accommodation options available for the island traveler looking to stick around for a while. Those accommodations offer opportunities for the visitor to enjoy and participate in the tropical paradise through amazing hikes through the Cambodian jungle as well as access to kayaks for undisturbed travel through islands virtually all your own.

But, with most of Cambodia’s islands now privately owned and set for development in the near future, eco-paradise destinations such as Koh Rong are far and few, while preservation lays solely in the hands of those new inhabitants.

Such inhabitants include Koh Rong’s first and, so far, only luxury private resort Song Saa, where conservation is everything. Each of its 27 luxury villas are built from local woods, while the bedrooms are lined with unique décor–local paintings and sculptures made from driftwood– all with spectacular sea horizon views.

“Conservation is actually weaved into the DNA of the whole project,” said Dr. Wayne McCallum, director of conservation at Song Saa, adding that Song Saa has five people who work solely on conservation issues there. “I think what we create is a template that outlines how sustainable development can be in coastal Cambodia.”

Affectionately known as the sweetheart islands, the resort also fixed an arrangement with the Cambodian government giving its two islands a conservation perimeter of 200 meters in any direction, protecting its valuable and rich marine life, making snorkeling around the local reefs especially excellent. You can also go bird watching at several platforms on Koh Bong.

The green ambition doesn’t stop with the island’s immediate surrounds. Song Saa’s on-site conservation scientists are currently creating a regional-first carbon offset scheme for visitors. The offset scheme will protect a valuable mangrove community and bastion bird habitat along the coast near Koh Kong province. Mangroves capture and store more carbon per square meter than land trees in a more effective and long-lasting way. For what will end up being an economical few dollars voluntary contribution, visitors can offset the emissions for their entire stay to, from and on the island while preserving a critical coastal ecosystem.

Koh Kong

Koh Kong

Koh Kong. Photo credit: Aram Visser via Flickr.

Cambodia’s jungle paradise, Koh Kong, is chock-full of absolutely stunning waterfalls, rivers and mountains. For the eco-enthusiast the buck stops here as dozens of locals are always on hire looking to guide you through the famous Cambodian Cardamom Mountains landscape.

Go kayaking among the mangroves, explore the local floating villages nearby, or spend the entire day making your way through the dense jungles of the Cardamom Mountains, there are always several things to go see and do in Koh Kong, including heading out to Koh Kong Island, long considered to be one of the best islands in the region.

For the more adventurous traveler, there are some great rapids, called the O’bak Retes, also worth checking out.

As for the accommodations, there are more than a number of them in the central part of town that need no reservations. These places can also more often than not help you book any tours you may wish to embark on.

While there is a great deal of sand dredging construction on various hydropower dams in the area that greatly affect the environment, you may wish to go for a more eco-friendly experience, and although they are not located centrally, they provide the most tranquil and peaceful accommodation for a weekend away in the jungle.

Places such as the Rainbow Lodge leave less of a footprint on the Cardamoms by using solar power and buying only local foods, while the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, in addition, has its own sophisticated water treatment facility, while only using enviro-friendly materials for building its luxury floating villas.

With 4 Rivers, you can embark on a floating village tour, where you get a chance to meet the local fishermen and their families, as well as see their community—and if you like, you can buy local crabs to take back with you for dinner.

After the sun sets over the jungle and you are feeling parched, 4 Rivers offers a set three course menu that features some great Khmer-fusion and western meals including caprese salad, prawns in Koh Kong sauce or a succulent steak with the always crowd-pleasing Kampot peppers.

Read more: Top 4 Things to Do in Koh Kong

 “Otres 2,” Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville Otres Beach

Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach. Photo credit: Stefan Fussan via Wikimedia Commons.

Located only a few miles away from the main beaches of Sihanoukville, there is a developing little beach town that has all the makings for a fantastic weekend on the beach. Affectionately dubbed, “Otres 2,” the area contains a strip of bungalows only a few feet from the water that is quite minimalistic in the way they barely have electricity, but are romantic and beautiful nonetheless.

All of these accommodations will have a localized menu featuring some of the freshest and most delicious squid and prawn dishes you can hope to try.

- Philip Heijmans

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