phnom sruoch district, Kompong Speu province – About 60 guests joined villagers on the northeast border of Kirirom National Park Saturday to celebrate the inauguration of a new community-based eco-tourism project.
The project, initiated by the Mlup Baitong NGO in partnership with the Ministry of the Environment and villagers in Chambok commune, is intended to preserve the environment and reduce local poverty by offering guided walks and ox cart rides to a 40-meter waterfall and a cave full of bats.
Tay Hong, a rice farmer and project subcommittee member from Beng village, said 16 villagers have been trained as guides. Vendors, who will pay a 300 riel daily tax, will sell refreshments at specified locations. Income generated will go into a local public coffer.
Speaking before he cut the ribbon across the newly built trail, Ministry of Environment Undersecretary of State Thouek Krouenvutha said the project will be managed for two years by a local nine-person subcommittee.
“If the committee can’t manage well and does not follow the forestry laws, the Ministry of Environment will return the project to the national park,” he said.
Local optimism ran high, though.
“It’s certain [the project will succeed]. If they ask for it back, then we will ask for it back,” Tay Hong said.
The project’s success will largely hinge on the behavior of locals, and that will mean refraining from pursuing traditional means of sustenance such as harvesting timber and aloe wood or trapping game.
“We are a bit worried. But we have cracked down [through education programs]. But yes, people do rely on it,” subcommittee vice chief Kam Key said.
Entrance to the eco-tourism site will cost foreigners $3 and Cambodians 1,000 riel. Ox cart rides will cost 6,000 riel uphill and 5,000 riel for the ride back down. All entrants will be accompanied by a guide, who, besides offering information about the area, will try to ensure that the trail remains free of litter.