Trekking in Cambodia: 5 Things You Need to Know
Cambodia is not only a country of stunning ancient temples and forgotten empires, it’s a place with wonderful tropical terrain – a wild, remote landscape wrapped in thick jungle that makes it an increasingly popular destination for trekking.
There are also plenty of choices for jungle trekking in Cambodia, like Bokor Mountain in Kampot, Kirirom National Park in the south, or Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary to the north, but if you’re looking for an experience in absolute wilderness, then the best destinations are either Banlung in Ratanakiri Province, or the Cardamom Mountains in the southwest that includes Botum Sakor National Park.
Botum Sakor National Park, which lies on the peninsula projecting southwest from the Cardamom Mountains, is Cambodia’s largest national park. This spectacular wilderness is not just the location of Cardamom Tented Camp, but is a great escape from civilization and one of the best places for trekking in Cambodia.
What not to bring is also important too! We are not a typical hotel and because getting to Cardamom Tented Camp involves a boat journey, albeit a stunning one, we have limited luggage capacity on our boat and in our tents. At the boat jetty in Trapeang Rung village, we have facilities where you can safely leave larger items of luggage, but where possible, we advise guesst to put hefty suitcases into storage for a few days and bring a small backpack or carry-on-sized bag instead.
Like most regular hotels, we also do not allow pets at Cardamom Tented Camp. This is to ensure, not just the safety of your pet, but also the park’s wildlife. The delicate ecosystem of Botum Sakor is home to some of the world’s rarest species and therefore we cannot risk the possibility of disease being transmitted to the local wildlife in this pristine biodiversity.
Sadly, we must also insist on no children below the age of 7 years old, as the jungle can be a dangerous place for curious and inquisitive youngsters. Families visiting us with children between the ages of 8 and 14 must also ensure that their children are accompanied by an adult at all times, and that any instructions for children on treks and patrols into the jungle are carefully followed.
There are several jumping-off points for trekking and exploring the pristine biodiversity of the Cardamom Mountains. One of them, which takes you to Cardamom Tented Camp is in Trapeang Rung village on Highway 48. In the village, you’ll find a pier next to the bridge on the Trapeang Rung River, where you can board a boat for a spectacular one-hour journey to Cardamom Tented Camp, deep in Botum Sakor’s remote jungle wilderness.
At our ecolodge you can take part in all sorts of activities, including guided treks and river trips that assist and teach guests about the challenges of protecting Botum Sakor’s spectacular flora and fauna. Cardamom Tented Camp is a three-way initiative that includes the NGO, Wildlife Alliance. The camp grew out of the need to have a sustainable initiative that helps protect the park’s environment. Eco-based activities also include trekking with Wildlife Alliance Rangers, who play a key role in protecting the park from illegal logging, poaching and encroachment.
Another good starting point for trekking in the Cardamom Mountains is Chi Phat village, where Wildlife Alliance runs an eco-tourism project that provides an alternative income to villagers, who once relied on poaching and the illegal logging industry to earn a living. Now they are employed as guides with exception knowledge of the region, leading to some spectacular treks in stunning terrain. This project helps to protect the region’s biodiversity, while also demonstrating that responsible tourism can also be sustainable.
Whichever destination you decide on for trekking in Cambodia, it’s just a question of planning for the experience. Here are a few tips on preparing for your trekking adventure – what to expect and things you might need, ensuring you get the most out of your trip.
1. Dense forest
Trekking in Cambodia is not like trekking in other parts of the world – like for example in the Himalayas, or Nepal, where you will be met with spectacular mountain vistas. The jungle is by definition dense, and for parts of the trek you’ll be surrounded by thick undergrowth. The bonus is that you’re more likely to encounter signs of wildlife at close range – whether its birds or monkey’s in the tree canopy above you, or the fresh tracks and scat of wild elephant, banteng, leopard or other exotic animals!
2. When to go
During the wet season, which in Cambodia typically lasts from June to September or October, Botum Sakor, the Cardamom Mountains and Ratanakiri are inundated with heavy downpours that make trekking almost impossible. Trails become slippery and dangerous and camping in the open can be a nightmare when it’s bucketing down. The best times for trekking are from November to March when you are almost guaranteed dry weather with cooler temperatures.
This can depend on where you are trekking, but on a lot of treks in the tropics you’re likely to run into leeches and Cambodia is no exception! These little blood sucking critters don’t live in water, but in the leaf litter of the forest floor, where they have an uncanny knack of attaching themselves to you, as you walk by. To help reduce your chances of getting sucked on, wear long pants, tucked into your socks, along with a sturdy pair of boots. There’s no guarantee that these dextrous survivors won’t find a way in to you skin, but this will help reduce the opportunity for them to sink in their little teeth. On the upside, Cambodian leeches are quite small – not like the movie horror stories!
4. What to take
Even if you’re trekking in the dry season when temperatures are cooler, you are still likely to find it a lot hotter than you’re used to. The sun can be very strong and burn you in minutes, even when it looks overcast and grey! Make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses for those parts of the trek where you are not protected by the jungle canopy. A lightweight waterproof jacket is also essential, even during the dry season, as sudden downpours can still occur. Of course, don’t forget your camera and a battery pack or two, as it might be a few days before you can do any charging!
5. Warm attire
Often overlooked are warm clothes, which are really essential on an overnight jungle trek, like on our Jungle Camp package. While it might be hot and steamy during the day, temperatures can really drop at night, especially if you are trekking in mountainous terrain. You’ll also find a scarf useful at night too. Along with the blanket your guide will provide you, if you are wearing warm clothes, you should stay nice and warm at night. Becoming cold can be a tortuous, sleepless experience and will leave you sapped of your strength for the next day of trekking. Don’t underestimate the importance of warm clothes, even in the tropics!