We highly recommend jungle trekking in Cambodia! Here’s everything you need to know, including where to go, what to pack, and how to make the most of hiking in Cambodia.
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But there’s a wilder side to Cambodia that should definitely be a part of your Cambodia itinerary. Large parts of the country are wrapped in dense jungle where wild animals reign and humans are just an afterthought. The best way to experience the wild side is to go trekking in Cambodia.
Trekking in Cambodia is nothing like trekking in Europe or North America, so if you want to know what to expect, here’s…
Everything You Need to Know Before You Go Trekking in Cambodia
Best Places to go Trekking in Cambodia
Though there are plenty of places to go jungle trekking in Cambodia — like Kirirom, Kulen National Park, and Bokor Mountain — if you want the true wilderness experience, there are only two places I recommend:
- Head north to Banlung and trek in Ratanakiri Province.
- Go southwest towards Thailand and trek in the Cardamom Mountains.
The choice between trekking in Ratanakiri, Cambodia and in the Cardamom Mountains really comes down to your itinerary.
If you’re planning on exploring Laos and Cambodia, then Ratanankiri trekking makes the most sense. If you’re going to visit Thailand and Cambodia, then hike the Cardamom Mountains.
If you’re only visiting Cambodia, then the choice is yours! Use our Cambodia itineraries to decide which one fits your travel style the best.
Cardamom Mountains Trekking
This spectacular wilderness in the southwest corner of Cambodia makes a great escape from civilization.
The best jumping-off point for a trek in the Cardamom mountains is Chi Phat Village, where an eco-tourism project run by Wildlife Alliance has transformed the lives of the locals. The project provides an alternative income for villagers who used to rely on wildlife poaching and illegal logging to earn a living.
Now, tourism brings money to the village and Chi Phat tourist activities are all eco-friendly. You can go trekking in the jungle and spend a night in the forest, take a kayaking or mountain biking tour, or just enjoy sunset from a boat on the river.
We only spent a single night in the village on our 2014 bicycle tour, but we wish we’d left more time to enjoy everything Chi Phat has to offer.
In Ratanakiri Province, which shares a border with Vietnam and Laos, you can spend a few nights in the jungle, cool off in waterfalls, and eat jungle soup! You might even get to build a bamboo raft and ride it downriver.
Most of the treks in the province start and end in Ban Lung, Cambodia, which is a remote town in the country’s northeast corner. Use our Cambodia Adventure Itinerary to help plan your route!
There’s no need to book your Banlung Jungle Trek ahead of time. Just show up in town and ask at your hotel or at one of the many tour agencies in the town centre. You can usually bargain on price depending on how many of you are going and the time of year.
I trekked with Mr Pov who runs the Bamboo House homestay where I stayed when I was in Banlung.
What I loved about trekking in Cambodia
Sleeping under the stars (or a tarp). The first day of my trek in the Cambodian jungle, in Ratanakiri Province, it rained for most of the day. Sleeping in a hammock in the pouring rain would never be my first choice! Even so, climbing into my hammock just after sunset (once it was dark, there was nothing to do but go to sleep ), I just kept thinking over and over:
OMG! I’m sleeping in a hammock in the middle of the Cambodian jungle!!
A very cool experience.
(Don’t miss: Want to avoid sore muscles after trekking? Do our series of easy yoga poses for trekkers) →
Jungle soup. As we trekked through the jungle, our guides hacked down pieces of bamboo and other plants. Once we made camp, they collected all the edible herbs and veggies and concocted a local speciality, which they called jungle soup. It was one of the best meals I ate in Cambodia.
Swimming in a waterfall. OK, so it was pouring rain and kind of cold. That wasn’t going to stop me from jumping in the campsite waterfall! My adventurous spirit was contagious, and soon many other campers, who had been huddling miserably under a tarp, followed me into the water.
Bamboo coffee cups. In the morning, our guides made jungle-style coffee. Large pieces of bamboo were the coffee pots and cups were made from smaller bamboo stalks. The stir-stick you see in this picture was supposed to be a chopstick – but when I used it for the wrong purpose, the guide just splintered another chopstick off of a big piece of bamboo. Talk about eco-friendly dining!
Boat ride on the Mekong. One of the best parts of jungle trekking in Ratanakiri was the hour-long boat ride along the Mekong. It was great to sit back and watch the thick green jungle spill out over the sides of the river.
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What I didn’t love about Cambodia trekking
Trees trees trees. Jungles, by definition, are dense. For most of our trek there was not much to see except trees and more trees. When you’re trekking in Cambodia, you’re going to walk through a lot of jungle. So don’t expect Alpine-style views!
Weather misery. In the wet season, the Cardamom Mountains and Ratanakiri get walloped with rain – that’s why the jungle plants grow so well. We trekked in light rain for a full day and after we hit camp, the rain started to bucket down. If you trek Cambodia in dry season, it gets unbearably hot. No matter what season you visit, be prepared to tangle with the Cambodian climate.
No facilities. When you’re sharing a campsite with 15 people and the only place to pee is squatting at the side of the trail, with god-knows-what crawling through the long grasses and the forest behind you, you might learn to hold it. Ladies, this would be an excellent time to make use of your She Pee!
Leeches!! I have trekked in plenty of places with leech warnings but I’d never actually seen a leech until went hiking in Cambodia. Even though I was wearing long pants and socks pulled right up to my knees, those tricky little bloodsuckers managed to sink their creepy teeth into my skin. Fortunately, Cambodian leeches are tiny and weren’t nearly as disgusting as I’d anticipated. Still though, yuck!
What to Pack for Trekking in Cambodia
Long socks and pants. Leeches, my friends! Need I say more? Tuck your trekking pants into your socks and hope for the best. If you do get a leech on you, hold either end of a long blade of grass in each hand, and then swipe it down your leg, neatly detaching the leech without touching it!
Or you can do it the Bear Grylls way!
Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses. If you’re lucky enough to get good weather, it’s liable to be painfully hot during your trek. Any time of year, it’s a good idea to wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses – even on our rainy trek, we did have hot periods when the sun came out to cook our skin.
Waterproof raincoat. A lightweight waterproof jacket is a Southeast Asia travel essential. I bought mine for $8 in a market in Vietnam, and though it has no technical fabric and doesn’t breathe, it’s completely waterproof! It has kept me dry on treks from Cambodia to Canada. If you want something a little better, try one of these rain jackets.
Warm clothes. If you read the Cambodia trekking reviews on TripAdvisor, you’ll find that one complaint comes up again and again: it is freezing cold in the hammock at night. Luckily, I brought a big scarf and a thick sarong to add to my bedding. Along with the blanket provided by the guide, I was toasty warm in my hammock all night.
Ear plugs. Jungle sounds can be creepy when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. The snores of your camp-mates are just plain irritating. The solution? Bring a good pair of earplugs, snuggle down in your hammock, and sleep like a baby.
Toilet paper and a plastic bag. If you want to be able to wipe after squatting in the jungle, toilet paper is a Cambodia trekking essential. Please please please don’t leave your used toilet paper lying on the jungle floor! Instead, bring a baggie and carry out what you carry in! Also, if you’re leaving (ahem) solid waste behind, make sure to bury it. It’s better for the environment and will keep your fellow campers from getting a shoe-full.
Mosquito repellent. The mosquitos in Cambodia are not like the ones where I grew up in Northern Canada (hummingbird-sized creatures from hell). Instead, they are tiny menaces who specialize in stealth biting — you won’t notice them until you start scratching. Also, they carry nasty diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Having had both, I can highly recommend being diligent with your repellent!!
Gratitude and laughter. The weather might suck, you’ll probably be leeched, and your guides may not be the polished pros you were expecting. Plus, there’s no health code, so you don’t have the luxury of being squeamish about food. Your bed is a hammock and you’ll sleep next to sweaty, snoring trekkers. So keep on laughing and be grateful that you get to have the experience of trekking in Cambodia at all!
Where to Stay on Your Cambodia Trekking Experience
Sleeping in the Cambodian jungle
If you do an overnight trek, you’ll stay in very basic jungle accommodation.
The typical sleeping quarters when trekking in Cambodia are army-style hammocks hung from a basic wooden frame. They come equipped with mosquito nets (which we didn’t use – but since I came down with malaria a couple of weeks later, we probably should have)! If it rains, a tarp over the hammocks will keep you dry(ish).
For some treks in Chi Phat you’ll stay in simple huts in a forest camp. Still not luxury, but a little more comfy than a hammock.
Choosing a Ratanakiri Hotel
If you visit Ratanakiri Province, you’ll need to stay in Banlung, Cambodia. Most of the accommodation in Banlung is in simple home stays. I stayed at Bamboo House homestay, where I got to know Mr Pov and his extended family. If you want to learn about the hardships of Cambodian life – including money and family struggles – stay with Mr Pov who will tell you all about it! At $4 per night, it certainly won’t break the budget.
Booking Accommodation in Chi Phat Village
In Chi Phat village, all accommodation is organized and booked through Wildlife Alliance. Everything is owned and operated by the local people, giving them an eco-friendly source of income. You can choose a home stay, guest house, or your own private bungalow. Wildlife Alliance recommends that you book ahead for your first night’s accommodation.
Photo courtesy of Cardamom Tented Camp.
You can also stay in a very cool Cardamom Mountain resort which just opened at the end of 2017. Run by the Wildlife Alliance, this tented camp is another great opportunity to support ecotourism in Cambodia. Next time I head to Cambodia, this place will definitely be on my itinerary.
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♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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