How eco-tourism saved this stunning Cambodian valley and is key to attracting visitors back after Covid-19

One of the leading eco-tourism locations in Cambodia, the Areng Valley is home to animals hunted to near extinction elsewhere in the country.

“Mind your head, you are too tall!” warns Rin Rith with a big grin as we dodge another low-hanging branch, the motorbike he is driving skidding along a forest path made muddy by a rain shower. We are hurrying to the base of Mrech Kongkep Mountain, to set up camp. In the fading light, flashes of orange break the dense green of Cambodia’s Areng Valley forest.

Cambodian monks, like monks in Thailand, have sought to save what remains of their forests by tying religious observance to protection and have wrapped orange robes around large tree trunks. The trees that remain in this area of Koh Kong province – a five- to seven-hour drive west from the capital, Phnom Penh – point to some success, but with Cambodia having lost an estimated 1.6 million hectares of forest since 2001, the scale of the problem is stark.

One way to limit the overexploitation of Cambodia’s forest resources, be it flora or fauna, is through effective eco-tourism, where a monetary value is attached to preserving nature that is higher than that which comes from exploiting it.

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