WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

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Top spots for watch­ing wildlife

LEAVE THE AIR CON­DI­TION­ING AND COM­PLI­MEN­TARY ROBES BE­HIND AND SOAK UP CAM­BO­DIA'S BREATH­TAK­ING NAT­U­RAL EN­VI­RON­MENT

Ele­phant Val­ley Project

Built on the premise that ele­phants be­long in the wild rather than in cap­tiv­ity, the Ele­phant Val­ley Project in Mon­dulkiri is a sanc­tu­ary for over­worked ele­phants that have been re­tired from lives of labour. Vis­i­tors shadow the ele­phants through the jun­gle and learn their his­to­ries from lo­cal ma­houts, who also re­veal the cul­tural rites and prac­tices of the in­dige­nous Bunong peo­ple of Mon­dulkiri. Shave $30 off the $85 cost of a day-long visit by vol­un­teer­ing on the farms that keep the ele­phants fed. True ele­phant en­thu­si­asts can spend up to a week vol­un­teer­ing around the sanc­tu­ary, with both back­packer dorms and pri­vate bun­ga­lows avail­able.

Grasshop­per Ad­ven­tures cy­cling

From the hid­den trails of Angkor Wat to the time­less Silk Is­land on the Mekong, Grasshop­per Ad­ven­tures' cy­cling tours of Cam­bo­dia of­fer trav­ellers hid­den glimpses of a coun­try that can some­times get lost be­hind a world of room ser­vice and rooftop rev­elry. Set off on a one-day ride along the aban­doned rail­way lines to the old cap­i­tal of Oudong, or push your­self with a week-long trip from Angkor to the coast with Grasshop­per's wide range of tour styles. Prices start at about $65 for a half-day trip.

Koh Kong trekking

For those not con­tent hol­i­day­ing from a ham­mock,

Rit­thy Koh Kong Eco Ad­ven­ture Tours of­fers trav­ellers a chance to bush­whack through the un­tamed jun­gles of Cam­bo­dia's south­west. Would-be wanderers can choose a day-long river­side trek or up to four days camp­ing in the Car­damom Moun­tains in Koh Kong prov­ince. Camp is set up near a wa­ter­fall where trekkers can cool off after ex­plor­ing the jun­gle with their guides, who also pre­pare the evening's bar­be­cue. Both op­tions re­quire a min­i­mum of two peo­ple and range from $20 per per­son for a day trek to be­tween $35 and $130 per per­son for a longer trip.

Sarus Crane bird­watch­ing

The tallest fly­ing bird in the world, the ma­jes­tic sarus crane has be­come a rare sight across South­east Asia. Tak­ing its name from the San­skrit word for ‘courtship', in­spired by its el­e­gant mat­ing dance, the sarus crane has had its habi­tat dev­as­tated by the ex­pan­sion of the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try. A day's drive from Siem Reap, the Ang Tra­paeng Th­mor Sarus Crane Re­serve is home to more than 300 cranes in the dry sea­son, though up­wards of 200 other species of bird can also be found. Bird­watch­ing trips can be or­gan­ised through the Sam Veasna Cen­tre, which of­fers lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties a sus­tain­able in­come through eco­tourism. Visit be­tween Jan­uary and May for the best chance to catch a glimpse of the elu­sive crane.

Yeak Lom lake

A place of wor­ship for lo­cal hill tribes in north­east­ern Ratanakiri prov­ince, Yeak Lom lake lies in the crater of an an­cient vol­cano 5km from the provin­cial cap­i­tal of Ban Lung. An oa­sis of pris­tine seren­ity, Yeak Lom is ideal for an af­ter­noon of bathing and re­lax­ation, al­though the 2.5km walk around the lake's edge of­fers splen­did lo­cal scenery for those who can tear them­selves away from the wa­ter. Be sure to talk to lo­cals for a chance to learn more about in­dige­nous cul­ture and the spir­its that watch over the lake and its sur­rounds. Nearby mar­kets also of­fer hand­wo­ven scarves, mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and other na­tive arts and crafts.

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