One month wandering around looking for wildlife
I went to Cambodia to participate in an expedition from BINCO, in cooperation with WWF Belgium and WWF Cambodia. If you want more information about my experiences and links to the organisations, check out my blog post BINCO expedition to Cambodia: Kdan Mekong 2018.
Here you can find some information and experiences in the different places I visited in Cambodia during my one month travelling in Cambodia (June 2018). These experiences ranging from figuring out what to do in Phnom Penh, were to find some wildlife, other tips to enjoy Cambodia.
Side note: After I returned from Cambodia, I found bed bugs in my room (not entirely sure I brought them from Cambodia, but most likely). Make sure you do a bit of research about them, as they can be a pain to get them out of your place (and can make your ‘cheap’ travel trip very expensive…)
During my stay in Cambodia, I passed by Phnom Penh (PP) a couple of times. I landed at the airport in PP. From there, the bus is the cheapest option to get into town, and the bus stop is just outside the airport. The tricky part is getting off at the right place. Other options are tuk-tuks and taxis. check out all the options here.
Be aware: I heard a lot of stories of people whose phone got stolen. It’s kind of easy to prevent, just don’t walk around eyes focussed on your phone. Apparently, they drive around on scooters to grab phones from people’s hands. I heard stories both from people walking on the street as people using their phone while sitting in a tuk-tuk. All these stories come from secondary sources, so I never talked to someone to whom it actually happened.
On my first day, I stayed in the One Stop Hostel Phnom Penh, close to the Mekong and Wat Phnom. The hostel was basic but nice (Not as nice as the Envoy hostel). The staff was amazingly friendly and they had good and cheap basic food options. On my way the Wat Phnom, I spotted my first mammals on the trip, so bats. The large bats were hanging in a tree near the Temple. I didn’t bring my binoculars or camera with me.
After the BINCO expedition, I was about time to try and extend my tourist visa in Phnom Penh. I ended up in a hostel close to the WWF office, as I still had to arrange some stuff. I stayed at the Envoy hostel, super nice and I definitely recommend it. They also were happy to arrange my visa extension for a small addition. On the downside, it took them 10 working days to process it, but apparently, that’s how the visa application works. They told me it was fine to just travel with a copy of your passport, and that’s what I did.
I’m not really a standard tourist, so I actually didn’t go to the S21 museum and the killing fields (activities almost every tourist does). Instead, I went to the Sanctuary/Zoo
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Together with some people I met in the Envoy hostel, we arranged a trip to this Wildlife rescue centre. We arranged it ourselves, just talking to the tuk-tuk drivers outside of the hostel. We shared a tuk-tuk ($40 for a day – which was apparently overpriced) and the entrance was less than $10 if I remember correctly. The Sanctuary/zoo itself isn’t super great, but they have a large area with rescued bears. Each bear had its own story written down, which was an interesting read.
Check out their website here.
The city of Sihanoukville was in the process of being taken over by the Chinese people, so not sure how it will look like at the moment. I stayed in the Monkey Republic, but I want for food mostly to the Big Easy, which seemed like a very nice hostel as well.
Of course, most of the people only come to Sihanoukville to continue to the islands or to go to Otres Beach. In the city of Sihanoukville itself, I saw an advertisement for a tour the see fluorescent algae at night. I went out on my own to the beach but didn’t find any signs of them.
If you like it more chill, Otres Beach is the place to be, it’s about 6-7 km from Sihanoukville. It’s a bit more alternative travel atmosphere
I came to Koh Kong on my way to the Cardamom mountains, where I was going to visit the Osoam Cardamom Community Center. From Koh Kon,g I did a couple of trips. I visited the mangroves, which was really nice.
Day trip to the waterfall, a nice waterfall, but lots of plastic…
Cardamom mountains: Osoam
From Koh Kong, you can take a shared taxi to the Osoam Cardamom community center for $10. If you are lucky, you have some decent space, otherwise, you are in for a treat. It was close to the rainy season, so the road wasn’t in the best condition. When I got the Osoam, I tried to figure out where to go to see some wildlife. I got mixed responses, ranging from ‘there is no wildlife’ to ‘yesterday, some locals saw a tiger near the waterfall’… Some rumours of the presence of fishing cats around the lake, but I couldn’t find any signs of them. In the end, I booked a 2-day jungle trek with some other tourists. It was a very nice experience.
Apparently, there is another similar project more focused on wildlife, called Chi Phat (check out blog post where to watch wildlife in Cambodia)
The jungle trek itself… it was a nice experience, although after just 100m our guide already dropped most of our rice on the ground. We did our best to collect as much as possible, as it was our food for the next 2 days. It’s a very nice walk and we saw some nice jungle, but nothing was really really pristine. The locals have been everywhere to collect wood. After a couple of hours hiking, we stumbled upon some hammocks, but nobody there. Around this little ‘settlement’, we also found some snares. We dismantled a couple of them, but it was sad to see even in nature reserves, animals are not safe. Another interesting fact during the jungle trek were the leeches. They are super-fast and looking for you all the time. The locals used tobacco soaked in water against the leeches. When you put some of the ‘tabacco-water’ on them, they seem to go away. The hike itself was nice, from larger trees and jungle into higher elevation bamboo. We found some older elephant faeces, so there are definitely still some wild elephants around. We had a rainy night, but it was fun, sleeping in hammocks again. The next day was a bit disappointing, our guides kind of rushed back home. On the way back, we heard some monkeys and spotted a green snake…
Overall it was a nice place to chill and relax, you can help the guy with his different projects (building schools etc…). Although the place itself was for me a bit too chill, as I wanted to get out in the jungle and try to enjoy some wildlife.
An organisation I couldn’t get in contact with, but which is doing a great job in protecting the nature and wildlife is the Wildlife Alliance (FB)
Due to circumstances, I had a very quick visit to Kampot. Nonetheless, it seemed to be a really nice city with a lot of opportunities, ranging from visiting pepper plantages, hiking in the nearby national park, to just chilling along the river.
Sen Monorom is the capital of the Mondulkiri Province. I went there to check out some elephants, but I wanted to find the most responsible tour. There are several elephant projects around, but I knew where I was going for… WWF and WCS are promoting the EVP (Elephant Valley Project), so I wanted to book a tour there. You can book these tours in the Hefalump Café in town. I got there on a Friday, and apparently, the EVP is not doing tours during the weekend in order to give the elephants some rest. Fair enough, so I stayed a weekend in this little town, discovering some local places and people. If you have the time, definitely spend some time in Hang out bar and Chilly’s on the rocks bar. That’s where I ‘ve met all the interesting people.
Here I met some other Belgians working for a rubber tree plantation, which was a very interesting talk from their side about ‘how green their industry is’. Afterall it was a fun evening.
The next day I’ve met a Russian in the bar, he told me about another great place in Cambodia which I had to visit. It was somewhere in the jungle near Siem Reap (see Below)
I stayed in the Happy Elephant Bungalow.
I decided I could skip the S21 museum and the killing fields, but I could skip Angkor Wat while being on holiday in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is Ancient complex with temples. I was trying to figure out the best way to visit it. There are guided tours, but for those who know me, it would be of a huge surprise if I tell you I rented a bicycle…
If you put some effort in it, it’s definitely possible to get a cheap tuk-tuk deal. But I rented a bike for $2 dollar. I rented it from the night before. Something you need to know beforehand: the ticket service is not near the ruins! I heard about this and I also heard you could buy your ticket for the next day from 5 PM onwards. This could save you a lot of time, and this wasn’t the only advantage. If you buy your ticket after 5 PM for the next day, you are allowed to go already to the ruins for the sunset. So that was my plan.
I was at the ticket service complex far too early, luckily there was a museum. I explored the museum and figured out a bit of a plan for my evening and for the next day. During the evening I wanted to go to the highest place… but it seemed like I was not the only one with that idea. Anyway, it was about time to buy my ticket ($37 for 1 day). I was one of the first ones, jumped on my bike on my way to Angkor Wat and all the other buildings. As usual, it was quite hot and humid, and the combination with trying to ride this bike fast wasn’t the best. I was going this fast, I missed the turn to the entrance where you have to show your ticket, so I got a couple of people shouting at me. With my best gestures, I made clear I was coming their way… It wasn’t Cambodia if they didn’t want to sell me a more relaxing and less physical solution to visit the ruins… After they figured out I was not going to change my plan and I was going to explore the ruins by bike, they let me continue, giving me some directions. Of course, I was far too early at the ruins, and after my bicycle trip, I needed some sugar. I bought a coke and up that hill I went, waiting for the sunset. I was not alone.
The sunset was nice, but I expected more. The next day I was up early (=in the dark), as apparently, it’s a thing to see the sunrise around Angkor Wat. Again, I was not alone, but this time it was kind of worth it. Nice and chill experience. After sunrise, most people take a bit of a break. Later I figured out why. I was full of energy, so I started cycling around. It’s a very nice place with some nature and ruins. The one thing I didn’t know but should have known, was that almost all the ruins didn’t open until 8:30 AM, and it was like 6 AM or so. So in short: I already cycled almost the whole complex around Angkor Wat before the ruins opened. But I had a great time, cycling, stopping to look at ruins, enjoying the trees growing into the ruins… I was really doubting to wait for the sunrise again, but I decided to take a nap somewhere under a tree, and suddenly it was about 2 hrs later. I met up with some friends, checked the sunrise and finished up my Angkor Wat experience. It’s definitely worth a visit!
Siem Reap surroundings: Betreed Adventures
I heard about a place near Siem Reap which should offer a nice jungle experience, too bad I only got to know about the option at the end of my trip. But definitely check out my post ‘Where to watch wildlife in Cambodia’ and read about Betreed Adventures.
Kratie – Irrawaddy Dolphins
Kratie is a nice, but smaller place along the Mekong River. From Kratie, you can get tours to Kampi to see the Irrawaddy dolphins. Again, just ask around for tuk-tuk drivers, they will be happy to take you there. During the BINCO expedition, we also passed by this place, and we actually saw the dolphins from the riverside. Nevertheless, the boat trips are a great addition to the experience and are not expensive.
A little side note, somewhere during my travels I collected bed bugs. I wasn’t too paranoia about bed bugs, but once you encounter them and you start googling, it’s a different story. I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to write too much about it. Just be aware they are around and keep your eyes open. In the end my room got an exposure to 60°C (specialised company) to kill them. So far it seems they are gone, but they can escalate quite fast. There is no reason to be scared, it’s just worth checking you hostels and look a bit around where you put your bags.
I had a great time in Cambodia. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in how hard it was to arrange more specific trips for wildlife watching and experiencing nature. Also, Cambodia is facing a huge deforestation problem. Furthermore, there is almost no ‘plastic awareness’ and plastic is just been thrown everywhere. I had a very interesting time in Cambodia.
Check out my other articles about Cambodia: