Community based tourism is fast becoming a great way for travellers to experience a unique type of travel while also making a positive contribution to an often economically marginalised community. I recently had the opportunity to visit the rural Cambodian community of Chi Phat situated in the Cardamom Mountains of Western Cambodia. The village is located about 25 kms outside of Andoung Tuek and most of the buses travelling through Cambodia can drop you there. You will have to get a Moto Taxi ($7) from Andoung Tuek into the village of Chi Phat as the road is not suitable for cars and you also need to cross a small river before you arrive.
Chi Phat was once a community well known for it’s illegal logging and poaching practices. As a poor community many of its residents relied on this trade, as it was all they had to produce any kind of income. In 2007, with the help of Wildlife Alliance, the community was turned into an eco village and the residents were educated to be able to start making their money from tourism rather than illegal logging and trafficking. The village now offers a variety of accommodation, a range of restaurants, as well as various activities including trekking, kayaking and mountain biking. Due to its ideal location at the foot of the Cardamom Mountains the area is also a prime place for wildlife spotting. You can hear about my 2 and a half-day trek in the forest here.
While I was visiting I opted to stay in one of the guesthouses. If you’re feeling more adventurous you can sleep in a traditional homestay, or if you’re after a bit more comfort you can stay in a more modern bungalow. There is also an option for fair-share accommodation meaning that you are placed in accommodation on a fair-share basis for the community. This is available at a discount of $1 and helps to ensure that people in the community receive an even income all year round. My guesthouse was cosy with a mosquito net and western toilet. Electricity is turned on from 5 – 11am and from 5 – 11pm to maintain a more sustainable footprint and comply with the eco values of the community.
The Visitor Centre located in the middle of the village is where you have access to Wi-Fi. Friendly staff are available all day to assist you with booking any activities or to answer any questions you may have. There is no ATM in the village and the place does not accept EFTPOS so be sure to bring your cash with you when you arrive. The Visitor Centre also has a bar, a place to refill your water and provides daily meals with all money going back into the community.
For me, Chi Phat told a beautiful story of how a community can evolve from such harsh practices to such admirable ones. Since it opened in 2007 the number of tourists has increased from only 400 per year to over 3000 per year and there is still plenty of room for more. By visiting the Chi Phat community you are helping to provide income to many of the resident chefs, guides who used to be poachers, families who share their homes and much of the Chi Phat community as a whole. The community has been able to thrive through tourism and in doing so has learned to protect the forest that surrounds it as well as the wildlife that reside there.
For more information about the Chi Phat Community Based Eco-Tourism Site you can visit their website here and find out about how visiting this slice of the real Cambodia can help to preserve our natural environment while contributing to the wellbeing of this growing community.