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Ecotourism, sustainable tourism and responsible tourism are all buzzwords kicking around Cambodia, as an increasing number of initiatives aim to provide underprivileged communities with a form of income. And there are plenty of experiences in and around Phnom Penh that do just that. Here are 10 of the best.
Asia Adventures is an advocate of responsible tourism and has developed a series of trips that employ locals equipped with grassroots knowledge, from guides to tuk-tuk and cyclo drivers. Its day-long Phnom Penh city and history tour takes guests to the National Museum, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom, the notorious Tuol Sleng genocide museum and then to the Killing Fields. The trip rounds off with a walk along Riverside before guests can enjoy free time enjoying the entertainment Sisowath Quay has to offer.
Another Asia Adventures trip that will definitely appeal to cyclists is the one-day tour through the countryside that surrounds the capital. Starting with a visit to the Killing Fields, the journey takes cyclists along dirt tracks that cut through sleepy rural villages to Tonle Bati. Here, you can explore the quiet temple complexes of Ta Prohm–not to be confused with Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat–and Yeay Peau, before relaxing in one of many hammocks that line the river.
Another sustainable company is Grasshopper Adventures, which carefully crafts tours to ensure visitors experience the real Cambodia with communities benefitting along the way. This one-day trip is a great way for those on restricted time to experience rural Cambodia, a stone’s throw away from Phnom Penh. The morning bike ride takes visitors to Koh Dach–or Silk Island, a sleepy isle that sits in the Mekong about 10km from the capital. Cycle through the villages that dot the island, learn about local agriculture and the traditional silk weaving process that gave the island its name.
Ecotourism doesn’t always have to come with a huge stamp on it. Often, it’s simply about choices individual travellers make while exploring a country. One way to create your own sustainable trip is to engage with the communities you come across and use your tourist dollar wisely to support them along the way. Koh Dach is one such place where this can be done. Famous for its silk weaving, the island is dotted with traditional stilted homes, where women can be found below weaving silk from their hand-made looms. They are happy to show you round their homes and the weaving process, with products, such as scarves, available to buy.
NGO Wildlife Alliance works tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate and conserve the country’s swathe of endangered and rare wildlife from the clutches of illegal traffickers and poachers. Rescued animals are taken to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, where they are nursed back to health before being released back into the wild. The centre’s day in the life of a zookeeper programme gives guests the chance to get up close and personal to the wildlife, with all funds being pumped back into the project. Guests can hand-feed elephants, enter the tigers’ private den, feed baby macaques and get within a whisker of leopards, gibbons and otters.
Phnom Tamao is also home to another worthy project, Free the Bears. Launched in 1997 after a spate of sun bear cub rescues in Cambodia, the Cambodian branch of the NGO expanded in 2000 to welcome adult sun bears. In 2006, a fully-equipped wildlife hospital was built to tend to the rescued bears, many of which were injured by snares and other traps. In 2012, the organisation opened its education centre for schools and tours and started welcoming guests through its doors. The ultimate aim is to educate visitors on sun and moon bears while raising funds to support the rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Home to more than 120 rescued bears, this stands as the world’s largest sanctuary for sun bears.
Taking a couple of days out of your agenda to travel to Kirirom–about two hours from Phnom Penh–is a great way to immerse yourself in nature, enjoy the cooling climes of the mountain area and learn from locals. The Chambok Community Protected Area launched in 2002 and comprises 520 families from six villages. Guests can camp in the forest, stay with locals at the range of homestays, take part in cooking classes in traditional villages, trek or bike through the pine forest, take an ox-cart ride or learn traditional dancing from villagers.
Located about a 45-minute drive from Phnom Penh is the small island of Koh Chen, which sits in the Tonle Sap River. The island, which is famous for the traditional handicraft of clay and silver craft making, and its handful of villages can be explored, with visitors welcome to stop off and watch the intricate silverware and pottery being crafted by hand. Again, a great way to support these communities is by negotiating a great price on souvenirs to take home for friends. A trip to Koh Chen can be included in a visit to the ancient capital of Oudong. Alternatively, various tour operators run boat trips from Phnom Penh.
Khmer Architecture Tours is a great initiative started by a group of Cambodian architecture students. The ultimate aim is to showcase and promote the country’s unique portfolio of architecture, both modern and colonial. Its Central Phnom Penh by Cyclo tour employs vetted cyclo drivers to take guests around the capital, stopping off at historical sites, such as Central Market, the Post Office and a series of temples.
The environment is a global concern and it’s no different in Cambodia, where visitors cannot help but notice the waste that plagues many parts of the country. Go Green Cambodia was launched in 2016 in a bid to educate the country about pollution and plastic consumption, while playing its part in cleaning up Cambodia. The organisation hosts regular litter picks throughout Phnom Penh, with anyone welcome to join. To date, 16 cleanups have taken place, with more than 60,000 kilos of trash collected from the streets. Join the group, make some new friends and play your part in keeping the country clean.