Cardamom and Elephant Mountains
Cardamom and Elephant Mountains is a region of Cambodia and includes the provinces of Battambang, Koh Kong, Pursat, Kampong Speu (or Kampong Spoe), Kampot, Kep, Pailin and Sihanoukville.
One of the least developed regions of the country, the mountain areas suffer from poor infrastructure and remain heavily mined. The coastal areas around Sihanoukville are being actively developed for tourism but as yet remain largely unspoilt and still offer peaceful beaches.
The region is linked to Phnom Penh by 3 paved roads;
The region is linked to Thailand by 2 paved roads;
Reaching the northern mountainous region from Koh Kong is possible but represents more of an adventure than a transport connection. Expect tough conditions, even for a dirt bike.
The Areng Valley consists of a matrix of evergreen forest, grasslands, swamps and lakes, rivers and associated riparian forest, interspersed with small indigenous communities. These local families, many of which have lived in the Areng Valley for centuries, live in harmony with nature. Land cleared by the Khmer Rouge for rice cultivation has since been returned to their natural marshland habitat that abounds with wildlife. These villagers are the original protectors of the valley’s habitats and wildlife. Their sacred forests abound with some of the largest trees in southwest Cambodia and teem with animals, and the traditional conservation beliefs of the villagers are the main reason why the world’s largest population of one of the world’s most endangered crocodiles, the Siamese Crocodile, has managed to survive where almost all other populations have been driven to extinction.
The Areng Valley is threatened by plans to build a hydroelectric dam that will inundate nine villages, 1500-2000 ha of indigenous lands including sacred forests covering over 500 ha, and at least 39 faunal species that are globally threatened or nationally protected. Unlike other dams proposed for the region, this dam will flood a broad, flat valley that is densely populated and includes the richest agricultural land in southwest Cambodia as well as some of Cambodia’s rarest and most threatened wildlife. The environmental and social damage relative to the amount of power generated is therefore disproportionately high.
The effects of this dam on the downstream biome will also be extremely severe. Changes to the flow regime of the Areng River will stop the annual freshwater flush of the brackish and saline water that enters the river system during the dry season. This has the potential to drastically reduce rice yields in approximately 1500 ha of paddy in the coastal zone. This will directly affect the livelihoods of at least 1800 people. Reduced wet season flooding will also reduce the fish production, which depends on spawning in the seasonally inundated swamp forests in the lower Areng Valley. These forests also support populations of many globally threatened and nationally protected species which will be locally extirpated if the dam is built. Within the mid-reaches of the Areng River, alterations to flow regime will have devastating effects on a unique fish fauna due to disrupted breeding cycles and alterations to the turbidity, salinity and oxygen content of the river.
The Wild KK Project
The Wild KK Project is a social enterprise created by Mother Nature, a Cambodian ecological movement, and the local communities living in the Areng Valley. It was created in November 2013 with the main mission of create a viable community-based tourism project that can help promote the beauty, uniqueness, and threat that loom over this majestic area. The Cambodian government will ultimately be lobbied by the communities and Mother Nature to suspend all future hydroelectric dam projects and help develop the potential of the valley and the surrounding Cardamom mountains as a hub for quality tourism and research.
Mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, and cultural activities are offered in tours that last at leas four days and which have to be booked in advance. Their web site is www.wildkkproject.com