The best places to experience wildlife in Cambodia
Deep in the Mondulkiri jungle, in the far reaches of eastern Cambodia, a conga line of elephants is one that any visitor would want to join. The Elephant Valley Project, reachable from the provincial capital of Sen Monorom, offers one-day tours that allow guests to shadow two families of elephants through the forest, guided by local mahouts. However, true pachyderm paramours will take the immersion offered by the project’s three- or five-day stays. They offer extended time with the elephants while also learning more about the animals and local communities by volunteering for the project.
From the mighty giant ibis to the elegant sarus crane, the skies of Cambodia have plenty to pique the interest of bird lovers. Learn more about the country’s feathered friends with a visit to the Prek Toal Core Bird Reserve, set on the great Tonle Sap lake. The area’s seasonally inundated landscape is a vital nesting area for large water birds. According to the Sam Veasna Centre, which runs day tours to the area, “large flocks of cormorants, storks and pelicans are almost guaranteed from January to May”.
A one-hour drive away from the capital, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is well worth the trip. Home to more than 1,200 animals, the sprawling centre allows visitors to discover many of Southeast Asia’s colourful creatures, from sun and moon bears to Siamese crocodiles. A number of organisations go one step further by allowing visitors to get a little closer to the animals than usual. Free the Bears runs the enchanting ‘bear keeper for a day’ experience, while a full-day behind-the-scenes tour operated by the organisation Wildlife Alliance includes feeding elephants, entering a tiger’s den and a visit to a rehabilitation centre where visitors can interact with a variety of baby animals.
While many people head to Kratie to get a glimpse of the Mekong’s critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, the easterly town is also home to the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre, located within the confines of a five-century-old pagoda. Opened by the non-profit group Conservation International to protect the endangered Cantor’s softshell turtle, the world’s largest freshwater turtle, the project breeds and releases hundreds of reptiles each year, as well as involving local communities in nesting projects. Visitors can explore the conservation centre, feed turtles and enjoy the area’s breathtaking scenery.