Photo: Do it!

Ream National Park

Our rating:

Without leaving the mainland, Ream National Park is our favourite part of Sihanoukville.

The national park, though somewhat gnawed away at the edges, retains a core of well-preserved forest, extensive mangroves and winding creeks rich in flora and fauna while you’ll still find pristine white sand beaches lined with casuarinas and palms rather than pizzerias and pub quizzes. Much of Cambodia’s coastline used to be like this until relatively recently.

Ream has a tree or two. Photo taken in or around Ream National Park, Sihanoukville, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

Ream has a tree or two. Photo: Mark Ord

Just 17 km from central Sihanoukville, Ream National Park is easily accessed by town for day tours—either organised or under your own steam—while the exceptional Monkey Maya provides a great base if you want to explore the area in more depth. The park was formally inaugurated in 1993 (the first national park in peace-time Cambodia) and incorporates 210 square kilometres of salt-water mangroves, fresh-water wetlands, coastal rainforest, beaches, coral reefs and seagrass beds as well as the nearby islands of Koh Thmei and Koh Seh.

Even the park authorities are rather vague about what animal species are actually found within the park boundaries with certain reports unconfirmed and others perhaps previously true but no longer valid. Rhesus and crab-eating macaques are certainly around, as are several deer subspecies, but we find both leopard and sun-bear claims—while not impossible—somewhat implausible. Otters are found in the creeks and both Irrawaddy and bottle-nosed dolphins are regularly sighted in the estuary though we’re not sure of the status of dugongs which, at least until recently, inhabited the seagrass beds around Koh Thmei.

Beach scenes in Ream. Photo taken in or around Ream National Park, Sihanoukville, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

Beach scenes in Ream. Photo: Mark Ord

The park is particularly good for birdlife with some 190 species reported. Common ones include brahminy kites, various kingfisher species, painted and Asian open-bill storks, spot-billed pelicans and several heron varieties. Rarer sightings could be of woolly-necked or milky storks, sarus cranes, lesser adjutants and greater hornbills. Do be careful when you’re hiking though as both pythons and king cobras are confirmed and non-endangered residents too.

If you’re just out there for the day or morning then head to the park office, right opposite the entrance to the airport, where you’ll find a deceptively ramshackle old building housing maps, clear English language information and very helpful English speaking staff. Your main options are to sign up for guided hike with a park ranger or rent a boat for a tour through the mangroves and estuary of the nearby Prek Toek Sap River. Official park ranger rates are a very cheap $2 per person per hour and though his language skills may not be up to an in-depth conversation they will know the small park very well as well as being knowledgeable on its flora and fauna. (If that’s the case then he probably deserves a bit of a tip on top of that $2.)

Spectacular wet season scenery. Photo taken in or around Ream National Park, Sihanoukville, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

Spectacular wet season scenery. Photo: Mark Ord

The boat trips are very good and the price includes a transfer by tuk tuk or pick-up from the park HQ to the Prek Toek Sap ranger station (off National Highway 4) from where the boats depart. The size and price of the boat depends on number of passengers and chosen destination with various trips to explore the estuary or offshore islands on the menu. An estuary tour including short hike to a nearby beach (Koh Sam Pouch) goes for $25 and takes around 5 hours. Koh Kchong fishing village or Koh Thmei visits both involve similar sailing times with equivalent prices while a full day tour including the estuary and a couple of island beaches goes for $40 or $52 for a large boat for 5 persons and up. Otherwise, prices are for small boats suitable for 1 to 4 persons and you’ll need to add on an extra $5 if you prefer to be accompanied by a ranger. (Probably worth it.) Prices are all indicated on the park headquarters wall and don’t forget to take water, snacks and sunscreen. All these programmes are very good value and remember that your money is helping to supplement the park authorities meagre financial resources.

For now the best bet, if you want to discover Ream in more depth, would be to stay a few days at Monkey Maya. This small resort offering budget and flashpacker accommodation is located on the edge of the park by Ream Beach. They can organise guided hikes in the park ($8 for 2 hours) or indicate trails you can take yourself for birdwatching or visiting a local fishing village. There are kayaks available for exploring the coastline costing between $5 and $15 per hour or day respectively. A two-hour boat trip through the mangrove swamps sets you back $35 and can accommodate up to 8 people. Both chalet balconies and the restaurant area already provide wonderful coastal views and the surrounding dense forest is a hive of avian activity. The national park headquarters isn’t far so you can also organise day activities with rangers without needing to go all the way back to Sihanoukville in the evening.

Keep your eyes peeled. Photo taken in or around Ream National Park, Sihanoukville, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

Keep your eyes peeled. Photo: Mark Ord

Note also that Koh Thmei, just offshore at the mouth of the estuary, is also part of the park and offers accommodation with facilities for exploring the area too.

Both legal and illegal development plans threaten the pristine coastline, and the mangroves risk being turned into prawn farms while under construction or planned resorts menace the unspoilt beaches. Illegal logging and over-fishing are additional problems. Responding to and managing these issues is a huge task, for which the responsible authorities are greatly underfunded, but tourism is an important part of it. Emphasising Ream’s importance as a tourist attraction in its current form will help to ensure its future and can also provide valuable income replacement strategies for the communities that depend upon it.

Monkey Maya Ream National Park, Ream. T: (078) 760 853.
Ream National Park Park HQ, Opposite Sihanoukville Airport, Ream. T: (016) 328 882. Open Mo–Su 07:30–11:30 & 14:00–17:30
Koh Thmei Resort Koh Thmei. T: (097) 737 0400, (089) 897 830.

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