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Introducing Chi Phat

In an effort to protect the southern Cardamom Mountains from poaching, logging and land grabbing by turning the rainforest into a source of jobs and income for local people, the Wildlife Alliancehas launched a multiphase project to transform the Southern Cardamoms Protected Forest (1443 sq km), whose southern boundary is NH48 between Koh Kong and Andoung Tuek, into a world-class ecotourism destination.

Once notorious for its loggers and poachers, the river village of Chi Phat (population 550 families) is now home to the Wildlife Alliance’s pioneering community-based ecotourism project (CBET), offering travellers a unique opportunity to explore the Cardamoms ecosystems while contributing to their protection.

A variety of outdoor adventure activities are on offer. Visitors can take one- to five-day (four-night) treks through the jungle, go sunrise birdwatching by kayak, hire motos or mountain bikes to visit several nearby waterfalls and shoot (with a camera) monkeys and hornbills with a former poacher as a guide. Destinations include an area with mysterious, ancient burial jars; and – 45km away – the Areng Valley. On overnight trips you sleep in hammocks or at one of four campsites set up by the Wildlife Alliance, equipped with ecotoilets, solar-powered electric light and either hammocks or field beds.

Of particular interest are the multiday mountain-bike safaris deep into the Cardamoms and the sunrise birdwatching trip. The latter involves an early wakeup call and a 1½-hour longtail boat ride before you jump in the kayaks and paddle along the placid Stung Proat, an unlogged tributary of the Preak Piphot River. Silver langurs, long-tailed macaques, greater hornbills and other rainforest creatures can often be seen along the banks of Stung Proat. Gibbons are hard to spot, but can often be heard calling to each other through the forest canopy.

All of this is controlled through the exceptionally organised CBET office, a two-minute walk from the river pier in Chi Phat. Stop by the office when you arrive to get your housing assignment and book your tours for the upcoming days. The office has wi-fi, 24-hour electricity and a good restaurant serving both meat and vegetarian Khmer food.

Prices for all tours are extremely reasonable – usually less than US$35 per person per day for groups of two or more, including lunch, transport and equipment. All- inclusive multiday trips cost a bit more per day. All tours require guides, most of whom once worked as poachers and loggers.