Leave the air conditioning and complimentary robes behind and soak up Cambodia’s breathtaking natural environment
Elephant Valley Project
Built on the premise that elephants belong in the wild rather than in captivity, the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri is a sanctuary for overworked elephants that have been retired from lives of labour. Visitors shadow the elephants through the jungle and learn their histories from local mahouts, who also reveal the cultural rites and practices of the indigenous Bunong people of Mondulkiri. Shave $30 off the $85 cost of a day-long visit by volunteering on the farms that keep the elephants fed. True elephant enthusiasts can spend up to a week volunteering around the sanctuary, with both backpacker dorms and private bungalows available.
Grasshopper Adventures cycling
From the hidden trails of Angkor Wat to the timeless Silk Island on the Mekong, Grasshopper Adventures’ cycling tours of Cambodia offer travellers hidden glimpses of a country that can sometimes get lost behind a world of room service and rooftop revelry. Set off on a one-day ride along the abandoned railway lines to the old capital of Oudong, or push yourself with a week-long trip from Angkor to the coast with Grasshopper’s wide range of tour styles. Prices start at about $65 for a half-day trip.
Koh Kong trekking
For those not content holidaying from a hammock, Ritthy Koh Kong Eco Adventure Tours offers travellers a chance to bushwhack through the untamed jungles of Cambodia’s southwest. Would-be wanderers can choose a day-long riverside trek or up to four days camping in the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province. Camp is set up near a waterfall where trekkers can cool off after exploring the jungle with their guides, who also prepare the evening’s barbecue. Both options require a minimum of two people and range from $20 per person for a day trek to between $35 and $130 per person for a longer trip.
Sarus Crane birdwatching
The tallest flying bird in the world, the majestic sarus crane has become a rare sight across Southeast Asia. Taking its name from the Sanskrit word for ‘courtship’, inspired by its elegant mating dance, the sarus crane has had its habitat devastated by the expansion of the agricultural industry. A day’s drive from Siem Reap, the Ang Trapaeng Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve is home to more than 300 cranes in the dry season, though upwards of 200 other species of bird can also be found. Birdwatching trips can be organised through the Sam Veasna Centre, which offers local communities a sustainable income through eco-tourism. Visit between January and May for the best chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive crane.
Yeak Lom lake
A place of worship for local hill tribes in northeastern Ratanakiri province, Yeak Lom lake lies in the crater of an ancient volcano 5km from the provincial capital of Ban Lung. An oasis of pristine serenity, Yeak Lom is ideal for an afternoon of bathing and relaxation, although the 2.5km walk around the lake’s edge offers splendid local scenery for those who can tear themselves away from the water. Be sure to talk to locals for a chance to learn more about indigenous culture and the spirits that watch over the
lake and its surrounds. Nearby markets also offer hand-woven scarves, musical instruments and other native arts and crafts.