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Community ecotourism in Cambodia's Cardamom rainforest

It's no secret that we're in love with the whole of Cambodia, but the Cardamom Mountains are especially gorgeous. Picture a craggy mountain landscape covered in swathes of rainforest and tangled woodland, snaked with broad, gentle rivers and swirling rapids.

Disappear into the Cardamom Mountains rainforest to spend time out in an array of ethical properties, from ultra-luxe eco at Shinta Mani Wild to hands-on homestays in forest communities. Support local people while you stretch your legs and breathe deep in this lush corner of Cambodia.

The Cardamom Mountains habitat has been preserved to an extent rarely found elsewhere. The result? Excellent community-based ecotourism that offers true hope for the future of this rare expanse of unspoilt green. Scientists spent the early 21st century documenting the region's elephants, bears, tropical birds, butterflies, and hundreds of previously unknown insects, all of them dependent on the Cardamom habitat.

Don't get too excited about the idea of adding in an elephant-spotting safari, though - a trip to the Cardamoms is very much about leaving the wild animals to do their thing while you support their habitats by visiting community-based tourism projects. The Cardamom rainforest is, happily, still big enough for animals to disappear in it, so there's no guarantee you'll even catch a glimpse of them.

It's the sort of place where you spend the morning following an ex-poacher through the jungle to a hidden waterfall with its own natural pool, then indulge in a spot of wild swimming and a picnic on the rocks. Perhaps meet the locals in a forest village, or spend some otherworldly time in the tropical butterfly sanctuary?

The Cardamoms boast several truly inspiring community-based properties, including excellent homestays and locally-guided light adventure in Chi Phat. In collaboration with the Wildlife Alliance, this traditional village makes a living from ecotourism, which has allowed them to turn away from environmentally unsustainable practices such as animal trafficking.

Enjoy early morning riverboat trips, overnight camping in thatched forest huts, and mountain-bike treks through the jungle, all the time keeping an eye out for birdlife and animal tracks. A number of local women have trained as cycle tour guides, while others teach cookery, prepare meals for visitors, and host guests in their village homes. It's all very down to earth, but that's precisely what we love about it. And if you’re eager to experience a night or two of ground-breaking eco-luxury, there’s always Shinta Mani Wild

Our tip: if you’re keen on a sustainable holiday which includes a wildlife project, combine the Cardamom Mountains with an elephant sanctuary visit in Cambodia's north east.

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