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Cambodia’s natural landscapes, expanse of countryside and abundance of authentic rural communities make it the perfect spot to develop ecotourism. Here are 10 of the best ecotourism experiences near Siem Reap.
Explore rural Siem Reap in the fashion of a local farmer — by ox or buffalo cart. This is the perfect way to kick back, relax and take in the surrounding paddies, farm land, forests and village life at a slow pace. The five-hour trips by Buffalo Trails, which employ locals to steer their cattle around their homeland, show visitors seasonal farming methods and the daily activities of locals living in the provinces. Stop offs along the way give the chance to stroll through villages to meet residents and learn about local handicrafts, such as mat weaving and making boxes from palm leaves. The Buffalo Trails’ tours run in the morning and afternoon.
This two-day one-night tour operated by Sam Veasna Center takes visitors on an exciting adventure to discover some of the country’s critically-endangered wildlife. The overnight camping safari covers Ang Trapaeng Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve, a visit to the traditional silk village of Phnom Srok, SVC’s safari camp at Varin where guests spend the night next to a waterfall, a trek up the mountain at Changkran Roi, another refreshing couple of hours at a waterfall and learning about traditional farming techniques in a local village.
For those with a bit more time to spare on their itineraries, then this five-night six-day tour also lead by SVC is a must for nature lovers. The adventurous tour includes spending the night in a tree house, meeting monkeys, venturing into cave temples, zooming down ziplines that cut through the jungle, visiting rural communities, hiking to mountain temples, watching vultures feast on their food and traipsing through temple ruins hidden in the middle of the jungle.
The Visit Banteay Srei campaign launched in 2016 and aims to throw the spotlight on the area, which sits about 30 minutes away from Siem Reap town. Dotted with homestays, guests can choose from private villas to spending the night sharing a room with locals in their home. Many hosts are also happy to introduce you to their community and way of life. For example, Bayon Smile runs six homestays in the area and the owners can organise activities, such as remote temple treks, bike rides through the countryside and guided walks along nature trails.
If a relaxing boat ride on a scenic boray behind Banteay Srei Temple sounds up your street, then this can be organised, with villagers happy to welcome guests on board their simple boats. Boat trips also run at scenic Srah Doun Riek and Ta Neav Reservoir, or head to Stung Trojiek that offers delightful views across to sacred Phnom Kulen. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch at one of the many bamboo huts that dot the edge of the water. Boats can be hired simply by turning up at one of the lakes.
A great way to immerse yourself into the life of locals is by jumping on board one of many tours that incorporate rural ways of life. Siem Reap Ride organises a series of grassroots trips, with its tractor tour proving a popular way to explore the countryside. Starting from Khnar Pou commune, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Siem Reap centre, the trip takes in rice planting from June to December, or the rice harvest in December, villagers working the land and the remote jungle temple, Banteay Ampil.
This community-based recreational area at the base of Phnom Krom, near the Tonlé Sap Lake, offers visitors the chance to experience Cambodia’s nature and rural lifestyles. The site is home to a hotel as well as a range of other activities, which are organised by villagers from 50 local communities who are employed by the site. Activities that can be arranged include camping, ox cart rides, cycling trips, boat rides and trekking.
The expansive Tonlé Sap Lake is home to a series of floating villages that can be visited by tourists. Kampong Phluk is one of the more popular and is even home to a handful of homestays. Butterfly Tours is one of many companies that organise day trips to the site, where visitors can explore the flooded forests, sail past floating shops, community halls and houses and meet the people who call Kampong Phluk home.
Another unmissable experience operated by Butterfly Tours is their local ways of life trip. The day tour takes visitors through paddies and into small villages, where guests can interact with locals as they carry out their daily tasks. A local lunch is also included, with guests able to watch it being cooked up in the kitchen.
As one of the first community forests to be developed in Cambodia, Prey Kbal Teuk is home to a series of unique and rare flora and fauna, including carnivorous pitcher plants and a range of orchids. Activities include guided nature trails through the woodland.