Most people would associate Cambodia with ancient temples, given that it’s home to Angkor Wat — the largest religious monument in the world — among many other famous temples. However, what many people don’t know is that 40% of Cambodia is covered with national parks and protected areas, making it a haven for those who enjoy exploring a country’s wild side.
As many of these national parks are largely unspoiled by human hands, they provide refuge for native wildlife, and are a treasure trove of lakes, waterfalls, mountains and forests. From the winding rivers of the South Cardamoms to the coastal mangroves at Botum Sokor, here are 8 of the best national parks in Cambodia.
Kirirom National Park
Just three hours southwest of Phnom Penh, you’ll find the beautiful Kirirom National Park. It’s a far cry from the chaos of the city, offering a peaceful respite in the form of lush plateaus, cascading waterfalls and sweet-smelling pine forests. Kirirom is also home to a wide array of wildlife, including gibbons, leopards, deer, monkeys and birds.
It’s quite unusual to see pine trees in Cambodia, as it’s tropical jungle that usually thrives. However, Kirirom National Park sits at an elevation of about 2,200 feet — significantly higher than most of the country. The high elevation and lower temperatures enable pine to grow.
The park offers excellent hiking via the forest’s winding trails. Keen hikers should take the 14km (8.7-mile) trail up Phnom Dat Chivit, where particularly impressive views across the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains await.
Southern Cardamom National Park
Boasting over 4,000 square kilometres of pristine rainforest, Southern Cardamom is the largest national park in Cambodia. While much of Southeast Asia is at the centre of the global extinction crisis, Southern Cardamom remains mostly unfragmented. In fact, this national park and its surrounding mountains make up Southeast Asia’s largest surviving rainforest.
Its vast expanse of wilderness is home to over 50 animals listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including sun bears, elephants, pangolins, gibbons and clouded leopards, although you’d be very lucky to spot one. The park is protected by the Wildlife Alliance, which is striving to keep this untouched rainforest wild.
Expect verdant scenery of wild coastlines, winding rivers, rainforest-clad mountains and hidden waterfalls on a visit to Southern Cardamom National Park.
Virachey National Park
Virachey National Park is an excellent option for hikers travelling in Cambodia, as it consists of more than 3,300 square miles of pristine wilderness. Located on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam, much of the park is unexplored by man, making it a safe haven for Asian elephants, clouded leopards and sun bears.
Due to its unique natural resources and incredible biodiversity, Virachey was designated as an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2003 in a bid to protect its ecosystem. As such, tourists can only visit Virachey via organised treks booked through the park’s Ecotourism Information Centre.
The organised treks arranged by the ecotourism programme range from two to seven days and are led by the park’s rangers. The Phnom Veal Thom wilderness trek is a seven-day expedition that will take you deep into the park’s grasslands, where sightings of bears, sambar deer, gibbons, and langurs are common.
Botum Sakor National Park
Botum Sakor National Park is a paradise for nature lovers and eco-travellers. Spanning 1,700 square kilometres, this spectacular region on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand contains an array of distinct landscapes: evergreen woods, tropical grasslands, coastal mangroves and swamps.
With such an immense area comes a vast array of wildlife endemic to Cambodia; from thoughtful elephants to mystical king cobra, a visit to Botum Sakor will leave you in awe. Throughout the national park, you will encounter stunning creatures like gibbons, hog deer and fishing cats, as well as 45 species of fascinating mammals, including the Bengal slow loris and the Indochinese tiger.
Botum Sakor National Park is also home to several exotic birds and reptiles, including the brilliantly blue pitta and colourful flying lizards. You’ll also find dozens of rare orchids, medicinal plants and other interesting flora as you explore this diverse national park.
Kep National Park
With its lush green hills and pristine wilderness, Kep National Park is a true paradise. Located on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, this unique national park spans an area of 50 square kilometres, making it one of the smallest parks in Cambodia.
Don’t let its small size fool you, though: Kep National Park has plenty to explore. Hiking and trekking trails wind through the park, taking visitors past stunning mountain views, verdant valleys and crystal-clear lakes.
The Phu Quoc and Bokor Ranges can be seen from many vantage points within Kep National Park, while the nearby coastline is home to various wildlife. In addition, the park offers visitors a variety of recreational activities, including swimming on nearby beaches.
Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary
The Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, situated on the coast of southwestern Cambodia, is one of the guards of some of Southeast Asia’s most intact and unblemished mangrove forests. Rich in marine and migrating bird species, the sanctuary’s mangroves are essential in protecting the coastline from erosion while providing a haven for wildlife.
Home to the rare Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise, the sanctuary is a great attraction for both local and international tourists, who marvel at its stunning natural beauty. You can explore the many bays and channels that wind through its islands or relax and admire the natural splendour of this precious ecosystem.
In addition to its awe-inspiring wildlife, the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary offers visitors a variety of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities, including hiking through its forests and swimming in its rivers and beaches. With so much to see and do in this majestic sanctuary, you’ll feel inspired and invigorated by nature.
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in the western corner of Cambodia, the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is a stunning protected area spanning nearly 3,000 square kilometres. Boasting an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, the sanctuary is home to many unique and fascinating species, including black-shanked doucs, southern yellow-cheeked crested gibbons, wild elephants, bears and cats.
As one of Cambodia’s most extensive and ecologically rich and protected regions, the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary offers visitors a rare glimpse into this beautiful and unspoiled wilderness.
You can hike, explore, and camp in the sanctuary, immersing yourself in its incredible natural beauty and gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of wildlife conservation. The dedicated and knowledgeable staff at the sanctuary are always happy to share their knowledge and help you discover this incredible natural treasure.
Phnom Kulen National Park
For history buffs, Phnom Kulen is perhaps the most interesting national park in Cambodia, as it is the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire. It was here on the summit of Mount Kulen itself that King Jayavarman II proclaimed himself a god-king and announced Cambodia’s independence from Java.
This sacred mountain and the dense forests that surround it are rich with archaeological relics from the Khmer Empire. Beneath the jungle canopies, you’ll find the ruins of the ancient capital city Mahendraparvata, as well as the 16th-century reclining Buddha statue of Preah Ang Thom.
Not only this, but the park is also home to the iconic waterfall that’s featured in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie, as well as various species of wildlife including black-shanked doucs, crested gibbons, elephants and bears. Community-based ecotourism projects enable tourists to go on trekking excursions within this fascinating national park.
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