Named after the spice that still grows on its slopes, the Cardamom Mountains region in southwest Cambodia is the last true wilderness remaining in mainland Southeast Asia.
The region is the focus of conversation efforts by the GMS Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Initiative. Take part in one of the eco-tourism initiatives.
The western edge of the Cardamom region abuts the Thai border, while the easternmost part ends about sixty miles northwest of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The region’s area is 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares). The highest point in the range (and in Cambodia) is Mount Aural, at 1,813 meters (5,946 feet). There are five main rivers that run through the Cardamoms, creating dozens of waterfalls.
Exceptional biological diversity
Ignored for decades due to war, this remote region has an exceptional degree of biological diversity. The Cardamoms are part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, one of 25 global hotspots that represent only 1.4 percent of the Earth’s landmass but are home to more than 60 percent of all terrestrial species.
Equally importantly, it forms a critical watershed for agriculture and fishing, the economic staples of Cambodia. Annual rainfall can reach nearly 200 inches (500 cm) in some places. As a result, the rain forests here are dense with foliage. In the lower elevations, tall trees reach nearly 100 feet (30 m) high, allowing enough light through to foster a mid-canopy of palms and rattans. Shrubs, climbers, and lianas prosper in the dense understory. The upper montane forests are less rich, but they do support patches of dwarf rain forest trees only half the height of their counterparts at lower elevations.
Khmer Rouge guerrillas retreated to the Cardamoms after losing power in 1979, and for the next twenty years, no one wanted to enter that area for fear of the KR and the mines they placed in it. As a result, the region remained untouched and undeveloped. Thousands of Cambodians left the country before and during the KR holocaust by walking over the Cardamoms into refugee camps in Thailand.
Now there are treks and adventures organized in Cambodia’s pristine, forested Cardamom Mountains, which cater for varying levels of fitness, the varying Cambodian seasons, and the time schedules of tourists.
The Cardamoms are considered to represent Southeast Asia’s greatest natural resources in terms of virgin forest and wildlife habitats that have never been fully explored andor catalogued. In 2000, Fauna and Flora International, Conservation International, and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Protection Programme conducted a joint survey that covered only a small part of the vast expanse of unexplored land.
Despite the minimal area under observation the survey identified 30 large mammal species, 30 small mammal species, more than 450 birds, 64 reptiles, 30 amphibians, and many other plants and insects.
To name just a few of the animals indigenous to this area would include elephants, tigers, clouded leopards and a variety of other mammals such as the Malaysian sun bear, pleated gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles all of which are high on the endangered species list and the only significant population thought to exist anywhere. Nearly 500 bird species are known to dwell here, but scientists think more could be discovered.
There are two wildlife sanctuaries in the Cardamoms: Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is in the western part of the range, and Mt. Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is in the east.
Virtually every square centimeter of the area is choked with some kind of life, whether moss or vine, insect or reptile. Bring long trousers, long sleeved shirts, socks, and most importantly walking boots, insect repellents, sun block, and a raincoat. Don’t bring anything that you won’t especially need, i.e. expensive watches, jewellery, large sums of cash.