After years of bloodshed and oppression under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia is moving beyond its troubled past, emerging as a destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers who come to discover some of the largest remaining wilderness areas in all of Asia.
Writes travel author Christopher R. Cox in the latest issue of Audubon Magazine: “Not long ago Cambodia was an unrelenting nightmare: the Khmer Rouge, the killing fields, the unexploded ordnance scattered across the countryside. But with the collapse of Pol Pot’s rebel movement in the late 1990s, the kingdom slowly grew more stable and secure. In 1998 Cambodia counted 290,000 foreign tourists; 10 years later, 2.1 million. The undeniable attraction is Angkor Wat, the monumental ruins of a civilization that dominated Southeast Asia a millennium ago. Lying just three miles north of Siem Reap, the ancient temple city’s exquisitely carved lintels and bas-reliefs and its vaulting lotus-bud towers are a paragon of exotic world travel.
Cambodia also boasts some of the largest wilderness areas remaining in Asia. The brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which in 1975 drove the entire population into centralized slave-labor camps, had an unintended environmental effect: huge swaths of diverse habitat, including such birding hotspots as the Northern Plains’ savannah and the Tonle Sap’s seasonally flooded forest, essentially became uninhabited. “There were enormous expanses with very few people,” says Mark Gately, Cambodia program director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “Wildlife was basically left to prosper.’’”
Cox and photographer Martin Westlake travel to some of Cambodia’s most remote and rugged corners in search of the country’s rich and stunning birdlife, including two of the avian world’s rarest, most elusive species: the giant ibis and the white-shouldered ibis. To read the full story, click here. Then explore a bonus birding adventure to Angkor Wat, with tips for how to create your own nature adventure in Cambodia. For more great Audubon stories about green travel destinations, click here.