Cardamom Tented Camp Keeps the Forest Standing
Rangers protect 180sqk of forest surrounding the camp from loggers, poachers and wildlife traffickers
(June 7, 2022) I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Cambodia for over 15 years. Despite the elapsed time, I still have very vivid memories of what I experienced there; the scale of Angkor Wat, the sadness of the Genocide Museum and the authenticity of the Cambodian people. It’s a place that I find impossible to forget.
Far removed from the main tourist draws of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, in the depths of Botum Sakor National Park, nestles Cardamom Tented Camp. Awareness of sustainability is becoming more widespread in many countries, however in Cambodia, Cardamom Tented Camp is one of the very few genuine destinations with sustainability embedded within its operation. It has won praise and accolades from recognised industry leaders for walking the talk. It delivers sustainable tourism with tangible benefits to the local community and environment, whilst simultaneously offering guests a unique experience in well-appointed accommodation surrounded by forest.
I recently enjoyed a conversation with Allan Michaud, (pictured) the Camp Lodge Manager. Originally from the UK, Allan has lived in Cambodia for the last 21 years. On his first trip to the Cambodian rainforest, he captured a photograph of a Giant Ibis, Cambodia’s national bird. During that trip Allan succumbed to a variety of tropical diseases including malaria, but it was the photo that made him delirious, in a good way! The Giant Ibis was previously thought to be extinct, and Allan’s photo was the first evidence of its existence in over 50 years.
A keen conservationist, Allan jumped at the opportunity to manage Cardamom Tented Camp, which has the slogan, ‘Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing’. The Camp’s primary purpose is to generate sufficient funds, through sustainable tourism, to cover the costs of a team of forest rangers. These rangers protect 180sqk of forest surrounding the camp from loggers, poachers and wildlife traffickers. This small team of 12 rangers is making an enormous impact and contribution to conservation in the forest. Mammals, including the endangered clouded leopard, which were being illegally captured prior to the introduction of the rangers’ team, are now making a recovery.
The importance, and danger of the work undertaken by the forest rangers, can’t be overestimated. A hike through the forest, led by the rangers, makes it possible to experience its beauty and biodiversity, and also witness traps and weapons that have been confiscated from poachers.
The Camp was recognised for the work it is doing to fight against illegal wildlife trade by being shortlisted as a global finalist in the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards 2019 by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Tourism globally has taken a battering by Covid 19. Allan’s first words in our conversation were, “We are still going, we are still alive and kicking.” I think this reflects the relief that many, who have managed to survive in the tourism industry, are feeling at the moment. When there is such a close connection to something bigger than ‘just a job’, as there is at Cardamom Tented Camp, then the feeling of relief is not just at your own survival, but at, in this case, the survival of the team of forest rangers and their ability to protect the forest and its inhabitants for generations to come.
Emerging from Covid 19 many of us are craving opportunities to experience authenticity and a reconnection with nature. This has resulted in a huge increase in demand for sustainable tourism. Cardamom Tented Camp offers this, along with peace and quiet, and a pristine environment with clean air and water. The riverside location attracts wildlife and recent sightings close to the camp include a young male elephant and a baby sun bear. Allan recommends kayaking as a must do activity for guests as it’s a perfect way to savour the pristine water and observe the local gibbons in their natural environment.
The inbuilt sustainability practices and inclusion of renewable energy technology have certainly helped the survival of the camp over the past two years. Allan has been living onsite with his family throughout the lockdown periods, and as an all-round mechanic, electrician and handyman, he has been able to keep the camp in good condition and ready to welcome guests back as travel restrictions ease. This is in sharp contrast to many hotels experiencing challenges reopening to tourists due to lack of maintenance during that period.
Other challenges are on the horizon. As in many countries, the price of fuel in Cambodia has sky-rocketed with the knock-on effect of increasing food prices. As part of the Camp’s overall sustainability practices, most of the food produce is sourced locally. This helps both with minimising cost increases and reduces the risk of disruption to supply chains. The one possible exception to this is wheat flour as stock globally is under pressure. The camp offers great food with a menu tweaked by a chef with Michelin star restaurant experience during 2020 to make it even more appetising.
The Camp sets a high standard of sustainable tourism. However, sustainability is itself a journey. The Camp continues to plan and invest for the future with a flood preparedness plan and an upgrade to the current solar battery capacity both due to be implemented. Future aspirations include electric boats for guest transfers.
Allan is excited to see the green shoots of recovery. International guests, predominately from Singapore, have been arriving at the Camp since December 2021. As travel begins to open up more globally, future bookings include an increasing number of guests from Europe.
In the time Allan has lived in Cambodia, it has grown and become more ‘developed’. Road transport has improved, and the skyline has changed as high-rise buildings have been erected. The forests have been decimated and areas that on a map are shown as being protected, are in reality ignored on the ground. This makes Cardamom Tented Camp and the forest it protects even more important. Thanks to the return of guests, Allan is confident of the camp’s financial survival and therefore the ongoing protection of the forest by the ranger team. So, your stay, really does help keep the forest standing.
Location: 48 National Road in the Heart of Botum Sakor National Park, Trapeang Rung, Koh Kong Province 09254 Cambodia
Reservations: +66 81 309 5477
Passionate about sustainability, Irene loves to discover stories from people in the travel industry with knowledge, dedication and insight, on how they make a positive difference to their local communities, habitats and environment through applying sustainability principles and practices.
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