Trekking in the Cardamom Mountains

By John Reality, Cambodia, March 2012

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Trekking in Cambodia's rugged and forbidding Cardamom Mountains is not for the faint of heart (or the faintly fit). As one of the largest and still largely unexplored mountain chains in Southeast Asia, the Cardamoms offer remote, exotic adventuring to travelers willing to rough it.

The price of admission is primarily in the expenditure of energy and enduring the challenging conditions. The actual cost of supplies, security, experienced guides and other support is nominal; though certain commodities (such as large size footwear) will be virtually unobtainable in most villages. Take care to plan in advance where the procurement of sophisticated trekking/camping gear is concerned. And you'll want all the technical advantages you can scare up (and carry, as you'll likely be your own porter). The famed inaccessibility of the region is sufficient to have made it one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge.

What is all the fuss about? For starters: the thriving wildlife. The region is home to what is reputedly the largest population of Asian elephants in all of Indochina. Other endangered or threatened animals include Indochinese tigers, clouded leopards, wild dogs, Malayan sun bears and pileated gibbons. The rivers contain humpback dolphins and some of the last populations on earth of both Siamese crocodiles and royal turtles. The trees are home to more than 450 species of birds.

Tourism in the region is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Wildlife Alliance has pioneered sophisticated ecotourism in the area in the village of Chi-Phat (the so-called “gateway to the Cardamoms”), but there is a wide variety of independent operators as well.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mason via Wikipedia.

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