Khiri Travel has launched small group tours to Cambodia’s Cardamom mountains, the largest tropical forest wilderness area in mainland Southeast Asia.
The company says that the township of Chi Phat in the Cardamoms is emerging as Southeast Asia’s new adventure destination for mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, wildlife spotting, bird watching and waterfall discoveries. Biologists predict that the area holds unrecorded biodiversity. Trips to Chi Phat reveal hornbills and monkeys to the casual observer. Gibbon calls are commonly heard in the forests surrounding Chi Phat.
“The southern Cardamom mountains are an exceptionally beautiful area,” says Frans Betgem co-founder of Khiri Travel, which specializes creating innovative itineraries in Thailand and Indochina. “The locals can see the longterm benefit of turning from logging and hunting to ecotourism. Backpackers are arriving. Although Chi Phat is not an easy proposition at the moment, Khiri Travel has started to include it on specialist tours through Cambodia.”
In April, Khiri Lotus, the division of Khiri Travel that specializes in mid-priced soft adventure travel for small groups, will take a group of Dutch students to visit Chi Phat as part of a two-week Laos-Cambodia overland trip. In Chi Phat the group will ride mountain bikes into the mountains and plains of the Cardamoms. They will visit the 300-plus year old archaeological site of the Khmer Lue tribe which left behind giant jars associated with funeral rites. The mountain bike trail passes through deep forest, grasslands, rivers, streams and an elephant crossing area. The bikers will stop at the Teuk Vet waterfall and a cave with a large bat colony. Accommodation is in a guest house.
Khiri Travel is supporting the efforts of the Wildlife Alliance which started the community-based ecotourism (CBET) project in Chi Phat in 2006. Chi Phat comprises four villages on the banks of the Phipot river. Wildlife Alliance says that Chi Phat received 829 tourists in 2009.
The “Friends of Chi Phat”, a select circle of travel agents that includes Khiri Travel, was formed to support responsible tourism. The Friends aim is to build programs of activities in the area for study and adventure groups who want to book in advance. The Friends also support the Chi Phat CBET committee with advice and training.
The Cardamom mountains of southwest Cambodia are a biodiversity hotspot. They are one of the last remaining elephant corridors and large predator ranges in the region. The mountains host more than half of Cambodia’s 2,300 bird species and are home to 14 globally threatened mammal groups.
The Cardamoms contain a broad variety of landscapes and ecosystems ranging from dense evergreen rainforest to lowland swamp forests, elevated grasslands and coastal mangroves.