Cardamom Mountains

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Cambodia’s Mountains

Why would you want to visit these awesome mountains?

The most impressive mountain range are the Cardamom Mountains, or Krâvanh Mountains in the southwest of Cambodia and Eastern Thailand. The country’s Cardamom Mountains are extraordinary. A vast blanket of tropical rainforest which remains one of Southeast Asia’s most pristine expanses of wilderness.

Isolated by their remoteness and rugged terrain and forgotten during years of conflict in Cambodia. The Cardamoms have at their core a virtually undisturbed rainforest covering over 10,000 square kilometres. That is more than 4.4 million hectares. The Cardamoms are mainland Southeast Asia’s largest remaining rainforest and wilderness area. It is claimed to be the most pristine wilderness area remaining in Southeast Asia.

The Cardamom Mountains are inhabited by many of Cambodias endangered flora and fauna. The expansive woodland is also home to about 25,000 people, many of whom are ethnic minorities.

The highest peak of the Cardamom Mountains is Phnom Aural in the northeast at 1,813 metres. This is also Cambodia’s highest mountain

Cambodian Wildlife

The Cardamom Mountains are also known to contain almost all of Cambodia’s known mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. This is partly due to the very high diversity of habitats, some of which occur nowhere else in Cambodia. The large expanses of fire-regulated ferns, upper montane forest, high elevation marshes and blackwater rivers. The rivers are home to both Irrawaddy and humpback dolphins . In addition some of the last populations of the rare Siamese crocodiles and the nearly extinct northern river terrapin, or royal turtle remaining in Cambodia.

To date, people have identified:

  • 30 large mammal species,
  • 30 small mammal species,
  • 450 birds,
  • 64 reptiles,
  • 30 amphibians,

and many other plants and insects.

The animals indigenous to the Cardamom Mountains would include elephants, tigers, clouded leopards. A variety of other mammals such as the Malaysian sun bear and pleated gibbons are to be found in tha Cardoamoms. All of which are high on the endangered species list, represent the only significant population thought to exist anywhere.

Thanks to this vast array of rare animals and tropical flora, there has been a recent upgrade of roads. This has resulted in a more community-based tourism projects cropping up, tourism is starting to trickle into this remote area.

Accessability to the Cardamoms

The Cardamom Mountians were once an inaccessible part of Cambodia either through environmental conditions or by human activity – it is now easily accessible. Recent improvements to access and the development of community-led projects has seen visiting the area vastly improved.

The area has a rugged landscape, which takes in mountains, marshes, plains and gushing rivers making it perfect for the vast collection of rare and endangered species that call it home.

There are two wildlife sanctuaries in the Cardamom Mountains, both of which were decreed by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1993. Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is in the western part of the range, and Mt. Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is in the east. These are “paper” parks only, as they exist only by law, with none of the active management necessary for a wildlife preserve.

Conservation in the Cardamom Mountains

Conservation and sustainability are often among the lowest priorities in Cambodia. All around the country, stories of illegal logging, mining, overfishing, and slash-and-burn agriculture are common: literally, a rapping and pillaging of the country by self-serving individuals making quick money at Cambodia’s expense. Essentially, the selling off of Cambodian’s heritage and future.

And Cambodia’s endangered flora and fauna in the Cardamoms may well be under threat from these illegal activities. There have been attempts in the recent past by developers to exploit resources in the area.

Being home to such a swathe of endangered animals, hunters commonly prowl the forest to find rare catches and lay snares. Their prizes are often sold on for hefty sums – often to be used in Chinese medicine.

Cardamom Mountains Animal Poaching

While poaching remains a serious threat, recent years have seen it slow down. This is thanks to the tireless efforts of a series of organisations. Several initiatives have equipped former poachers with new skills and ways to make money so they can leave their past behind.

Helping Cambodian Wildlife

If you want to get up close and personal with some of these incredible animals, then nature organisation Wildlife Alliance (WA) offers a special experience.

Working in the Cardamoms, WA rescues animals from poachers and traffickers, and rehabilitates them at Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre, outside Phnom Penh.

Activities include accompanying a ranger on his patrols of the forest, checking camera traps for animal sightings, kayaking and hiking.

Former poachers now act as guides to lead guests through the jungle and families can make their cash through guesthouses and other businesses tapping into visiting tourists.

Education has also dramatically helped, with many organisations visiting schools and villages to explain the importance of keeping the Cardamoms intact. Patrol stations have also been set up in areas that are rife with hunters, with rangers trained to patrol the areas.

Rosewood Logging in Cambodia

For decades, the area’s precious woods, including rosewood, have been targeted, with vast expanses of the forest cleared.

Efforts are being made to stamp out the large-scale logging and other illegal operations by campaigners and environmental NGOs, but it continues to be a problem today.

Tourism in the Cardamom Mountains is relatively new to the area. In 2008, WA launched a community-based ecotourism program in the village of Chi-Phat, marketed as the “gateway to the Cardamoms”. Visitors to Chi-Phat continue to grow and the community is regarded as a model for community-based ecotourism, with approximately 3,000 visitors a year.

If you do decide to visit, keep in mind there is no luxury, no wifi, no hot showers or hospitals in tha Cardamom Mounts area. There is scarce generator-powered electricity and in many places, no phone reception. There are insects, malaria-riddled mosquitoes in some areas, a range of strange creepy crawlies, and other odd-looking creatures. But at the end of the day it is well worth a visit.