Where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia, from luxurious safari-style lodgings and tented camps – including a resort that floats on a river – to atmospheric boutique hotels set in traditional Khmer timber houses overlooking a serene lake.
Where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia isn’t such a tough decision to make, as options are limited in the destinations best located for experiencing Cambodia’s ethical wildlife encounters. What accommodation there is just happens to be some of the most special lodgings in Cambodia, meaning you’re in for some truly memorable stays.
If you’re going to do Wildlife Alliance’s behind-the-scenes tour and spend time with the sun bears, moon bears and other animals rescued from wildlife traffickers at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, it’s easily visited on a day trip from the capital, so you check into one of our recommended Phnom Penh boutique hotels.
Likewise, Siem Reap’s beautiful boutique hotels are where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia’s northwest, such as bird watching tours to Prek Toal Core Bird Reserve in the Tonle Sap Biosphere with the Sam Veasna Centre or an excursion to the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity to see pangolins, palm civets and gibbons, at the base of Phnom Kulen, site of the ‘lost city’ of Mahendraparvata.
For more off the beaten track wildlife experiences in Cambodia, such as walking with the elephants at the Elephant Valley Project in the Mondulkiri jungle or spotting the Irrawaddy Dolphins on the Mekong River near Kratie, you’ll need to check in somewhere close by and allow a minimum of an overnight stay although we recommend at least two or three days.
Better yet, create your own Cambodian wildlife watching themed holiday and check into all of these atmospheric stays.
Where to Stay for Wildlife Watching in Cambodia
These are our picks for where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia based on the location, character and creature comforts, as well as opportunities to experience Cambodia’s wildlife.
Shinta Mani Wild – Bokor National Park with Kirirom National Park
Shinta Mani Wild, above, will become the place to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia when it opens in late 2018. Owner-designer Bill Bensley is building Cambodia’s first luxury tented camp in a gorgeous 400-acre river valley that was an unprotected wildlife corridor connecting Bokor National Park and Kirirom National Park.
The private nature sanctuary will host a wild elephant research station, natural history museum and community outreach and education centre. The area’s pristine estuaries, mountains and rainforests represent some of Cambodia’s last remaining habitats for wild elephants, gibbons, bears, tigers, and myriad other species, and efforts will focus not only on conservation and protection of threatened wildlife and habitat, from poaching, mining and logging, but also on developing sustainable opportunities for the traditional people of the land.
The initiative is a collaboration with the Cambodian Government, Wildlife Alliance, Fauna and Flora International, and Royal University of Phnom Penh, which means guests will get to do guided tours with rangers and research students, checking camera traps and monitoring wildlife, as well as explore the lush waterways on expedition boats.
The luxury tents, peppered along a 1.5 kilometre stretch of river and waterfalls, will be furnished with antiques, including claw-foot bathtubs and vintage suitcases, while the Landing Zone Bar and Waterfall Restaurant, perched on the edge of dramatic cascades, will offer locally inspired food and drinks with ingredients foraged from surrounding forests. Shinta Mani Wild will be also self-sufficient with its own organic farm and solar power.
Note: Shinta Mani Wild will open in late 2018; it’s not possible to book yet, but watch this space.
4 Rivers Floating Lodge – Tatai River
Cambodia’s first tented camp on water may no longer be the most luxurious when Shinta Mani Wild opens, but the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, an over-water resort located on the pristine Tatai River at the base of the Kravanh and Cardamom Mountains in the wilds of northwestern Cambodia, is very comfortable, rather special and has been Cambodia’s most unique accommodation until now.
The floating bungalows, built from hardy safari tents imported from South Africa, are super-spacious, with big comfy beds, living areas, and separate bathrooms. Guests spend their days discovering the tranquil waterways by boat and exploring the luxuriant forests on foot with experienced guides and rangers. The wide range of activities include sunrise jungle hikes, excursions to the Tatai Waterfall, a trek through the lush rainforest of Ta Kiev Mountain, and a serene sunset cruise.
After dark, you can enjoy four-course meals at the 4 Rivers Restaurant, where the menu showcases the best of Cambodian cuisine and highlights its Indian, Chinese and French influences, before falling asleep to the sound of water lapping against the pontoon of your floating bungalow. Bliss.
Book 4 Rivers Floating Lodge online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Rajabori Villas Resort – Koh Trong, Kratie
Solar panels provide power by day, a generator picks up after sundown, the water takes a while to heat up, and there’s no air conditioning, just one fan per room. Nor are there televisions and the Internet often doesn’t work. To arrive, you take a boat, a moped, then tuk tuk or horse cart. Yet beautiful Rajabori Villas Resort on the idyllic island of Koh Trong off the riverside town of Kratie is a true hidden gem.
Atmospheric accommodation is spread across 13 traditional Khmer wooden houses, handcrafted by skilled local craftsmen who have drawn upon centuries of know-how passed from generation to generation. Interiors are decorated with antiques, vintage furniture and everyday objects from the countryside, from claw-foot bathtubs to rattan chairs. Spacious balconies entice you to relax with a good book and inhale the scent of frangipanis wafting in from the tropical gardens.
This is where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia if seeing the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins is on your list. This part of the Mekong River is famed for the handsome dolphins, distinguished by their round heads and short dorsal fins. Slow swimmers and playful, they were once easy to spot, but now are increasingly difficult. Recent estimates suggest there are as few as 90 left. Still, Irrawaddy dolphin spotting is the most popular thing to do in Kratie.
This section of the river also hosts some of the world’s largest freshwater fish, including giant catfish, giant carp, giant turtles, and giant stingray. Once you’ve done your wildlife watching, you can explore this gorgeous little car-free island, where time seems to have stopped, on foot or bicycle, bask on its sandy beaches, swim in the river, take a cruise, or do excursions to visit craft villages that weave silk kramas, cotton sarongs and traditional mats.
Book Rajabori Villa Resort online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Terres Rouges Lodge – Banlung, Ratanakiri
Terres Rouges Lodge is where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia if wildlife watching means gibbon spotting. Set on the banks of peaceful Lake Boeung Kansaign in Banlung, Ratanakiri, the Red Land Lodge is spread across traditional Khmer style buildings constructed from Cambodian precious woods, including the former home of the provincial governor. The timber bungalows with polished wooden floors, high ceilings and whirring fans are surrounded by a lush tropical garden filled with banana plants, palm trees and pandanus.
Nearby Virakchey National Park is home to elephants, Asian brown bars, sun bears, and abundant birdlife, from eagles to hornbills, although most travellers come for some gibbon spotting in the 55,000-hectare Veun Sai Siem Pang Conservation Area, which hosts one of the world’s largest populations of yellow-cheeked gibbons and eight of Cambodia’s 16 most endangered land species, including leopards and the Siamese crocodile. Banlung is also home to indigenous tribes such as the Tampouns, Kroeungs, Jarais, and Katchas, as well as Chinese and Laotian communities.
Aside from gibbon safaris, guests can trek through forest, cashew and rubber plantations to waterfalls, do some mountain biking, and go camping. There’s an inviting swimming pool that you’ll appreciate after a day exploring – the lodge is named after the rust-coloured laterite dust of the dirt roads and bush tracks that floats in a gentle haze across Ratanakiri during dry season and creeps into the pores of your skin.
At the small spa, you can book the spong, a Cambodian hammam, for a scrub and massage. Come sunset, the spot to settle is the sweeping veranda of the restaurant and bar for panoramic lake views and evening breezes. A Cambodian menu features Khmer and Chinese dishes, while the European menu offers French favourites, reflecting the colonial history, such as duck foie gras with a grilled baguette, coq au vin and duck confit.
Book Terres Rouges online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Book a Wildlife Watching Tour or Activity
So that’s where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia as far as we’re concerned. Have you been wildlife spotting in the more remote parts of the country? We’d love to hear your tips and would welcome your recommendations for where to stay for wildlife watching in Cambodia in the comments below.