Gibbon Calls and Elephant Poo

Cambodia has many areas of untouched jungle and forest, which are home to a wide variety of birds and animals – including elephants. Most of this remained in excellent condition until the 1990s, which were a time of intensive logging in many areas in an attempt to reconstruct Cambodia after years of war and struggle. The majority of our 17 km cycle to Chi Phat was through former jungle now reclaimed as farmland, though the soil is very poor. Many animal species were particularly hard-hit, both by loss of habitat and through over-hunting. Now an estimated 30% of Cambodia is designated as a protected national park, but the government seems unable to effectively enforce the protection of these areas. Bokor (near Kampot) was officially a national park, and yet there were huge construction plans slated, and large parts of the park resemble a construction site rather than a protected forest.

Community based eco-tourism projects are attempting to provide a sustainable alternative to logging and poaching as a source of income for impoverished rural communities. The project we visited in Chi Phat has been running successfully for several years now, and provides something of a model for other communities. Many households offer homestays or function as guesthouses, while individual members of the community are hired as guides, cooks or boatmen. It’s all run from a central office, which puts everyone in the village in strict rotation, ensuring that the benefits are spread widely within the community. Feeling rather dusty and grimy from the road, we eschewed the homestay, and plumped for the most luxurious option, and the only one with a shower – the Eco Lodge.

The CBET office offers several one to seven-day walking and biking treks and bird-watching trips, and provides backpacks, hammocks and mosquito nets. We opted for a three-day, two night trek including a visit to a waterfall, and set off the next day with our guide and our cook into the jungle. It was an incredibly relaxed schedule, only 40km in three days, but apparently the guides complain if asked to walk longer. The jungle, once we got to it, was pleasant and leafy. Sleeping in an army style hammock with built-in mosquito net in the jungle was fun and different in itself. It’s incredible how noisy it gets at night, with only thin material between you and an unimaginable number of bugs. The jungle is also known to be home to populations of gibbons, macaques, langurs and elephants, along with many birds.

We didn’t see a huge amount of animal life, but we did hear the gibbons calling and dueting through the trees in the morning, which was amazing. On our final bit of walking, we also came across a lot of elephant dung – clearly we aren’t the only ones using the path. The dung was our first real sign of elephants in the wild, and though it would have been amazing to glimpse one, it is also nice to know they are sensible enough to stay away from humans, while still enjoying the jungle. Most excitingly, we saw several monkeys chattering and climbing in the trees on the banks of the river as we took our boat back to Chi Phat at the end of the trek. A hornbill flew over us several times when we were camped at O’Malu waterfall. We didn’t get a picture ourselves, but he looked like this. He was very large, and made an impressive whirring noise as he flew.

All in all, we had a great three days, although we had some reservations about the way the project is run and organised. Our route was unnecessarily easy – we were mostly done with the walking by noon each day. Luckily we took our books. As our guides spoke virtually no English and were extremely unenthusiastic about trekking and nature, they weren’t much company. We hired a boat to take us back to Anduong Tuek, and from there we’ll begin the three-day ride to Phnom Penh.

Pages Updated : Food, Pictures, Stats, Maps

Pictures from the jungle can be found here

~ by Elephants on February 1, 2011.

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