EXPEDITIONS: Backpacking In Southeast Asia’s Longest Track Of Virgin Forest In Koh Kong, Cambodia.

In recent years eco-tourism has become a popular form of travel for those who want to be actively conscious of the natural environment. Many countries in Southeast Asia have become destination hotspots for travelers wanting to participate in eco-tourism. One of the more popular eco-tourism travel destinations is Koh Kong in Cambodia. Yet what is ecotourism, and what makes Koh Kong an eco-tourist hot spot. 

Eco-tourism can be classified as a form of responsible ecologically sustainable tourism that focuses on natural travel areas that conserve and sustain the environment. Additionally, eco-tourism encompasses the fostering of cultural and environmental understanding and appreciation. Moreover, eco-tourism is also about sustaining the areas where a local population or humans and animals co-inhabit.  

Essentially, eco-tourism is about more than minimizing behavioral, physical, social, and psychological impacts on the environment. This form of tourism is also about building an immersive culture of respect for the environment while highlighting the importance of conservation. 

In Koh Kong, Cambodia, this concept has begun to bear fruit with the creation of ecotourism activities like backpacking along the longest track of virgin forest in the Cardamom Mountains. Yet this is not the only eco-tourism project that has been established to help protect and conserve the Cardamom Rainforest. 

The Cardamom Mountains are home to the largest remaining virgin rainforest on mainland southeast Asia, and the longest track of virgin forest is found in Koh Kong, Cambodia. This natural rainforest area spans an estimated 17,100 square miles and is inhabited by 25,000 people, many of whom represent ethnic minorities. It is also home to approximately 59 globally threatened animal species, including bears, elephants, tigers, pangolins, and Siamese crocodiles. Additionally, it’s believed that there are more than 100 species of endemic plant life that have been identified thus far, even though this rainforest is one of the least explored in the world. 

Unsurprisingly, the burden for protecting and conserving this richly biodiverse rainforest has fallen upon various environmental organizations and grassroots community groups. That’s why the Cardamom rainforest has become an emerging ecotourism destination. 

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According to the Global Forest Watch, approximately 148,000 hectares of tree cover during 2001 and 2019 was lost in the Cardamoms. In order to prevent and curtail illegal poaching and deforestation, many organizations work alongside local communities to develop alternative livelihoods. For example, Conservation International has initiated lemongrass oil production projects, butterfly farming, and eco-tourism projects.  

The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project has recently begun expanding sustainable agriculture and community-based ecotourism with indigenous and local communities. Additionally, commitment to the Cardamom Mountains and rainforest region is growing exponentially. The World Bank recently committed to an over $50 million investment that is primarily aimed at managing and improving protected areas and promoting various eco-tourism opportunities in the local area. 

Yet, let’s take a much closer look into the various eco-tourism projects that tourists are participating in to help protect and conserve areas of Koh Kong in Cambodia, including the Cardamon virgin rainforest. Besides backpacking eco-tourist endeavors, there are many activities that tourists can choose to take part in. 

There is a wildlife release station in the Koh Kong province that releases animals that were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade back into the wild. In 2013 this wildlife station was opened to tourists so that travelers could receive insight into the various workings of a wildlife release and rehabilitation site. Tourists stay in jungle chalets while enjoying traditional Cambodian hospitality. Some of the activities travelers participate in at this Wildlife release site include setting camera traps, feeding resident wildlife, jungle hiking, and radio tracking. 

Another eco-tourism project that is underway is found in the village of Chi Phat. This eco-tourism project is community-based but has the support of the conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance. Community members who used to be hunters and loggers are now making a sustainable income through offering multiple guided treks to cultural and natural sites and boat and bird watching tours. 

Ultimately, there are many different ecotourism activities that tourists can participate in. Backpacking the longest track of virgin forest in Koh Kong, Cambodia being only one of the eco-tourism activities you can do. 

With the recent and ongoing commitment of many NGOs and organizations like the World Bank, the Cardamom Mountains, and rainforest is receiving added attention that is focused on conservation and preservation through ecotourism projects. These projects are gaining momentum with the current trajectory, demonstrating that eco-tourism in Koh Kong, Cambodia, in South East Asia is here to stay. 

WORDS: Jason Collins.

IMAGE: Paxse.

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