For those with an adventurous spark, the notion of finding a forgotten or unexplored corner of the world remains a powerful catalyst for imaginations in young and old alike. Who hasn’t dreamed of staring down into an isolated valley full of exotic animals, or sailing up to a forgotten island with strange-looking trees and the promise of adventure?
Few people will ever experience such an exploratory rush, but those in the know – that’s you, dear reader, in case that wasn’t clear – can scratch this itch in Cambodia. In a zoo in Phnom Penh, you ask? Pshaw, we would never do something so banal. From the back of a pickup truck driving through a nature preserve? No way, too easy.
Instead, imagine making your way through a jungle so quiet that the only things louder than your footsteps are the birds yelling at your guide – who lives around these parts – to keep it down. There are no highways here, no Starbucks-es, no terrible techno music from the travel bros at the next campsite. Just you and the jungle – and of course, the hundreds of species of animals that you came to see, including exotic birds, deer, and monkeys.
What’s that? You can’t see them just yet? Well, they can probably see you, patiently wondering what you could possibly find so interesting among all these boring trees and eddying streams.
Indeed, this excursion is no mere hike along a well-worn trail where locals greet passing groups of curious foreigners with “Yeah, yeah.” This trip into a forgotten corner of Cambodia’s Virachey National Park is carefully planned and controlled to offer the purest, most rewarding eco-adventure. Every dollar you spend goes directly back into keeping the forest a spiffy place for future adventurers to, er, adventure in.
With local guides who know the land, the people, and the customs of this area intimately, guests will use feet, bikes, and boats to make their way from the remote village of Veun Sai to the local station of Conservation International (CI), which is working with the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and Smiling Albino’s country manager Nick Butler to protect the 21,000+ hectares of mixed forest that this adventure takes place in.
Education is a big part of CI’s mandate, giving you lots of opportunity to ask questions and learn about the geography of the area, how local plants are used in medicines, and the history of the indigenous Kravet people. Meals await you at the end of your hikes and rides, while waterfalls gurgle away as you paddle past in your kayak on your way down the O’lalai River, fuel for another story to bring back home.
Speaking of bragging rights, the stars of the trip are undoubtedly the rare northern buffed-cheeked gibbons, which you’ll get to see swinging above you and watching you from the treetops. We’re going to bet you’ve never been woken up by the whooping calls of primates, but trust us – it’s a better alarm than a rooster could ever hope to be.
And if you think this remote location comes at the expense of a good night’s sleep, think again. Your tent is a cozy little house with canvas walls, complete with mattresses, camp chairs, and most importantly – a supply of cold beer.
Thankfully, tourist boards and travel companies are coming around to the place that Smiling Albino has been for years: only by educating visitors with ground-level experiences can the benefits of eco-tourism be conveyed to skeptics who only see parking lots and tour buses.
When done right, eco-tourism pushes boundaries and expands comfort zones, but need not be a sleeping-bag-on-a-dirt-floor experience. We believe that the best way spread the word is still person-to-person, and the more impressed our customers are, the more likely they will go into the world, one more ambassador for the power and beauty of eco-tourism.