Check the Koh Kong chapter for information on the fried from Koh Kong to Pailin, which cuts through the Cardamom Mountains on the western edge of Pursat province. The Cardamom Mountains of Koh Kong and Pursat provinces are said to be the most pristine wilderness area remaining in Southeast Asia. This ride takes you through the area.The Cardamom Mountains are located in southwest Cambodia. The western edge of the Cardamom region abuts the Thai border, while the easternmost part ends about sixty miles northwest of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The region’s area is 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares). The highest point in the range (and in Cambodia) is Mount Aural, at 1,813 meters (5,946 feet). There are five main rivers that run through the Cardamoms, creating dozens of waterfalls. About 25,000 people live in this region, some of whom are ethnic minorities, such as the Porr.
There are two wildlife sanctuaries in the Cardamoms, both of which were decreed by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1993 solely on the basis of aerial photographs. Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is in the western part of the range, and Mt. Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is in the east. These are “paper”parks only: they exist only by law, with none of the active management necessary for a wildlife preserve.Khmer Rouge guerrillas retreated to the Cardamoms after losing power in 1979, and for the next twenty years, no one wanted to enter that area for fear of the KR and the mines they placed in it. As a result, the region remained untouched and undeveloped. Thousands of Cambodians left the country before and during the KR holocaust by walking over the Cardamoms into refugee camps in Thailand.Today, the Cardamom Mountains region is the largest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, preserving a remarkable number of species that are endangered (and in some cases extinct) elsewhere in the world. However, without proper conservation and protection, this area and its inhabitants are now at the mercy of logging interests, as well as poachers.
Densely covered with lush virgin rainforest and rising to it’s highest point at over 1,770m, the Cardamoms extend over an area of 4,420,000 hectares (10,922,060 acres) covering a large portion of SouthWestern Cambodia. The Cardamoms are considered to represent Southeast Asia’s greatest natural resources in terms of virgin forest and wildlife habitats that have never been fully explored and/or catalogued. In 2000, Fauna and Flora International, Conservation International, and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Protection Programme conducted a joint survey that covered only a small part of the vast expanse of unexplored land. Despite the minimal area under observation the survey identified 30 large mammal species, 30 small mammal species, more than 450 birds, 64 reptiles, 30 amphibians, and many other plants and insects. To name just a few of the animals indigenous to this area would include elephants, tigers, clouded leopards and a variety of other mammals such as the Malaysian sun bear, pleated gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles all of which are high on the endangered species list and the only significant population thought to exist anywhere.
Fauna & Flora International was the first to conduct extensive field surveys in the Cardamom Mountains of south-west Cambodia. These established the area as one of the last forest wilderness areas in mainland south-east Asia. Isolated by their remoteness and rugged terrain and forgotten during years of conflict in Cambodia, the Cardamoms have at their core a virtually undisturbed forest covering over 10,000 square kilometres. The Cardamom Mountain Wildlife Sanctuaries Project, a joint venture of Fauna & Flora International and Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, aims to ensure the long-term conservation of a landscape of global importance and its biodiversity while reducing poverty and ensuring essential national development. The focus is to establish and maintain management systems in two protected areas in south-west Cambodia: Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary.The Cardamom Mountains are now known to contain almost all the country’s known mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. This is partly due to the very high diversity of habitats, some of which occur nowhere else in Cambodia, such as large expanses of fire-regulated ferns, upper montane forest, high elevation marshes and blackwater rivers.