In this era of mask wearing and Covid precautions, the fresh air blowing in my face as I sit on a small boat speeding along the Prek Tachan river is refreshing beyond words. After a six-hour journey to Koh Kong province, within minutes of stepping out of the taxi I was on a boat, the dark grey water hemmed on both sides by verdant green. I was headed to Cardamom Tented Camp and couldn’t have felt further from Cambodia’s denatured capital.
Cardamom Tented Camp (CTC), a joint-venture involving Wildlife Alliance, covers some 18,000 hectares of what was once Botum Sakor National Park in Koh Kong Province. These days, much of the park has been sold for farming or other questionable activities — international airport and casino, golf course, and a planned coal-power station to name a few — and Cardamom Tented Camp’s protected area is quickly looking like an oasis in the desert.
The nine guest tents sit near the banks of the Prek Tachan, named after a local French colonial-era resistance fighter who was believed to be bulletproof (no one could tell me if he had died of old age though), and offer a real taste of luxury: real beds with cotton sheets, hot water showers, fans and 24-hour electricity courtesy of the large solar and battery system. Camping in the mud this ain’t.
Indeed, the ‘eco’ credentials of Cardamom Tented Camp are front and center. Much of the food is locally sourced, as were the building materials and staff. CTC is plastic free, the waste is composted, and even the toiletries tick all the sustainability boxes.
Speaking of the food, while all was delicious (and vegetarian-friendly as requested) the desserts are truly spectacular, including a chocolate lava cake that would not be out of place in Phnom Penh, and totally unexpected in this boat-only location in the middle of nowhere. The 17 wines on the menu only further highlight the efforts attempted to offer some luxuries amid the beautiful surroundings.
Now for the rules: No dogs are allowed (to protect the local Dhole wild dogs from any dog-borne illnesses) and small children are discouraged due to some poisonous wildlife. While all the spiders are safe, the manager, Allan Michaud, was quick to point out that some of the 19 species of snake seen in the area have nasty bites (however unlikely a bite might be).
CTC has seen a growing shift to Cambodian guests, due both to the lack of foreign ones, but also a newly found interest and pride in exploring what remains of the country’s rich natural beauty — and hopefully prioritize its protection!
As with Betreed in Preah Vihear province, and Shinta Mani Wild in Kampong Speu, there is a zip line. Cardamom Tented Camp’s zipline stretches from the restaurant across the river, where hiking trails lead into the forest and some of the abundant wildlife may be spotted. Otters, birds, deer, peafowl, gibbons and langur monkeys all call the area home, and elephants used to be a regular occurrence before the LYP-owned rubber plantation was built along CTC’s border.
CTC’s goal is to fund the two ranger stations in the park, ensuring up to 13 rangers can patrol and keep out poachers, remove snares, and stop the illegal logging that blights so much of Cambodia and the region’s natural areas. It’s clearly a labor of love for Allan and his team, who work hard to preserve what remains of the local wildlife in a way that visitors can enjoy. Allan’s passion for Cambodia’s wildlife is apparent; with 20 years experience as a nature photographer and videographer, he can provide ample stories of animals seen or adventures survived. And he has similar plans to open a tented camp in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima Park, with the equally inspiring goal of funding conservation efforts through tourism.
That Cardamom Tented Camp has survived the drop in tourism caused by Cambodia’s Covid restrictions is a sign that people want to see, experience, and stay among the Kingdom’s natural beauty. Visit now while it’s not fully booked, and while the prices are at their most affordable!
Due to Covid impact on bus travel, the normal Virak Buntham Phnom Penh-Koh Kong bus ($10) might not be running. It’s easiest to drive or arrange a taxi ($75, about 6 hours) to the Trapeang Rung Bridge, where a CTC boat will be waiting for the 20 minute river journey.
Wildlife Alliance is also involved in community based tourism (CBET) projects in nearby Areng Valley and Chi Phat, offering accommodation and activities in some other beautiful Cardamom spots, while their Release Station offers the chance to see wildlife such as pangolins and sun bears up close, before their reintroduction back into the wild.
Current pricing for CTC is $200 per person (this is a promotion, and will be $220 per person starting November 19th), for a 3 days/2 night stay, inclusive of food and activities. There are longer and more luxurious packages available. Children under 14 are half price.
Tel: +855 966 410 783