Photo: On the river.


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An idyllic Cambodian village between a mountain and a river offers a relaxed, welcoming base from which to explore a special part of the world. Tucked into the southeastern front of the Cardamom Mountain range, Chi Phat is a pretty, prosperous two-street village. Dusty red roads are flanked by palms and sandalwood trees, handsome wooden houses perch on stilts and there’s a thriving community-based ecotourism (CBET) operation, established by conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance.

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For a long time conservationists worked on the basis that the best way to protect the environment was to get people, and their bad habits, as far away from the areas sought to be protected as possible. That thinking started to change in the 1980s and ’90s, and the idea has since taken root that actually the people who have long lived on and worked and intimately known the land may in fact be its best stewards. However, they needed something to replace the livelihoods that they derived from practices such as hunting, poaching, logging, resin-tapping and non-sustainable agricultural practices. Thus the idea for CBET was found.

Big palms. Photo taken in or around Chi Phat, Cambodia by Nicky Sullivan.

Big palms. Photo: Nicky Sullivan

Adopting the principle of “poacher turned gamekeeper” through CBET programmes not only gives people a replacement for incomes lost, but gives them a deeper incentive to protect the areas around them, and dependent wildlife, as their own wellbeing becomes entwined with that of their furry and feathered neighbours.

Community members benefit from CBET initiatives in a number of ways. Whether they’re hosts in homestays and guesthouses, waiters, guides, trip organisers, handicrafts manufacturers, offering culturally-based experiences or shopkeepers, the opportunities can be found. This not only helps to spread the benefits brought by tourism, but it also enhances visitors’ experiences as they are brought into closer, more genuine contact with the community.

It should be noted that real ecotourism is always linked with conservation goals. It has become something of an empty cliche within the travel industry as operatives have realised that tourists do care about the impacts they have when they travel. Thus any nature-based excursion is dragged under its banner. But operations like the one established at Chi Phat offer a genuine opportunity for travellers to support communities who are working to protect their ... Travelfish members only (Around 2,000 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Chi Phat.
 Read up on where to eat on Chi Phat.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Chi Phat.
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