Empower Rural Communities and Help Protect Forests

by Wildlife Alliance
Marnet (right) and her sister
Marnet (right) and her sister

In November, two members of the Chi Phat CBET Committee were able to travel to Japan to attend a training for young leaders in the tourism industry in Cambodia.  The Japan International Cooperation Agency provides aid and support to promote economic and social development in developing countries.  Thanks in part to support from Transat and JICA, CBET Deputy Chief, Ms. Min Marnet was able to participate in the JICA training and learn new strategies for improving operations back in Chi Phat.  She came back with ideas on how to improve the existing waste management system as well as the development of traditional handicraft enterprises in the village.  It’s truly amazing to think how becoming a member of the CBET has transformed her life in only a few short years.

Before joining CBET, Marnet was a student who often had to skip school in order to help her parents harvest rice at their small farm or to collect fruit from the jungle.  Her family’s income was $20 per month.  Marnet chose to become involved with the CBET because the income her family made on rice farming was not enough.  She was unable to continue her studies because she needed to work to help her family.  Starting as a mountain bike guide and working her way to CBET Committee Deputy Chief, she now averages $120 per month on her own.  Marnet explains, “The CBET controls the forest and wildlife.  With my CBET income, I don’t need to go into the forest anymore to collect fruit.  I bring more income to the family which means my parents do not need to continue illegal slash-and-burn farming, but have enough income with their small paddy field.”  She also recognizes what CBET does for her community at large: “CBET develops the village; it helps people have jobs and get more income; it protects natural resources.  Without trees around Chi Phat, the weather will just get hotter and hotter.”  Best of all, working at the CBET has provided her opportunities she never would have had otherwise.  It allows her to practice English and work to fulfill her dream of one day attending university.  It has already allowed her the opportunity to travel to a foreign country.  And through this fantastic opportunity, she has been able to increase her knowledge and training and improve the CBET for its visitors and for Chi Phat community members.

Wildlife Alliance attended the 3rd World Ecotourism Conference in Sihanoukville, Cambodia at the beginning of this month.  With its focus on “Charting the Future of Ecotourism in Asia,” it was a perfect opportunity to showcase our community-based ecotourism projects in Chi Phat and Trapeang Roung.  The event attracted over 300 government officials, tourism ministers, ecotourism specialists, and business.  Cambodia’s growing emphasis on ecotourism and Chi Phat’s current status as the #1 ecotourism destination the country, the conference served as an incredible referendum on the work we’ve been doing there.

During a session on “Local Community Challenges & Success Stories,” Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett gave a very well-received and well-attended presentation on how to develop attractive, sustainable and successful community ecotourism projects.  With the opening of the Trapeang Roung site just this summer, Wildlife Alliance continues to be a standard bearer on the burgeoning ecotourism scene in Cambodia.  While Suwanna presented our philosophy, project manager Harold de Martimprey and the CBET committees from both Chi Phat and Trapeang Roung prepared and manned a booth in the exhibition hall.  With the support of Wildlife Alliance, they were able to present their products to an international audience and continue to spread the word to an already-increasing number of tourists.  We were also able to reveal our newly redesigned ecotourism website.  Check it out at www.ecoadventurecambodia.com and come visit us soon!


The morning of August 5, 2011 dawned cool and misty in Trapeang Rung commune in southwestern Cambodia.  But a buzz permeated this normally sleepy village along Road 48. Representatives of government authorities, the private sector, and Wildlife Alliance gathered around the commune’s new community-based ecotourism (CBET) office to celebrate the opening of Trapeang Rung to visitors. 

Trapeang Rung is located in the heart of the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, which Lonely Planet featured as one of the top ten regions in the world 2010. The corridor is now a “must-see” locale on any Cambodia traveler’s itinerary, and The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and The Sydney Morning Herald all have highlighted the jungle and coastline’s natural wonders and biodiversity.

Wildlife Alliance has been working with villagers to foster and drive the growing international interest in the Cardamoms as a green tourism destination since 2007. Based on the success of community-based ecotourism in Chi Phat, we began work in Trapeang Rung in 2008 to ensure the conservation of the natural wonders in the areas, allowing the community to benefit from the protection of it. Before we began work in the commune, its residents had few options other than illegal hunting and slash-and-burn farming that was destroying the rainforest. Tourism offers them the chance to work legally as guides, chefs, and guesthouse operators - earning a sustainable living, providing for their families, and building valuable business skills while preserving the environment around them.

Today marks the day that Trapeang Rung CBET is officially “open for business” with a formal ceremony with participation from the Ministry of Tourism, the Koh Kong Provincial Governor, the Commune Chief, Wildlife Alliance, and other tour operators in the region. As Wildlife Alliance Program Manager, Lesley Perlman, said in her speech, “Today Wildlife Alliance joins with Koh Kong province in celebrating our mutual goal of promoting the beauty of this amazing province and opening its doors to national and international tourists. “

Visitors to Trapeang Rung can enjoy trekking through remote jungle, rough-and-ready mountain biking tours, visits to 500-year-old burial jar sites, swims through magnificent waterfalls, wildlife and bird watching, evening boat rides, and nighttime fishing for river lobsters.  Bring your sunscreen and sun hats!

Interested in an adventure and exploring Trapeang Rung, Chi Phat, and the rest of the Cardamoms? Learn more at EcoAdventureCambodia.com!


Wildlife Alliance’s Community-based Ecotourism Program (CBET) in the community of Chi Phat in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province has been a great success, with visitor numbers increasing substantially each year and major publications like the New York Times and the UK’s Guardian taking notice. Also paying attention to Chi Phat’s growth is the Cambodian Tourism Ministry who turned up recently with a delegation headed by Minister of Tourism Thong Khon.

Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon is shown a display of the Chi Phat CBET by Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett during the minister’s recent visit to Chi Phat.The minister was presided over the opening ceremony for the Chi Phat CBET in 2008 and was returning to see the progress that had been made since that time. He toured the village, spoke with guesthouse owners and local entrepreneurs, and even went out on a nighttime prawn hunt along the river. Addressing a crowd of CBET members, the Minister praised Chi Phat, calling it a model for community-based ecotourism in Cambodia.

Following his tour, the Minister was kind enough to sit down for a short interview with Wildlife Alliance communications officer John Maloy to share his thoughts on Chi Phat and the future of ecotourism in Cambodia:

Why have you decided to visit Chi Phat?

This our second time here and this visit is important for our planning concerning the World Tourism Conference. Chi Phat could be the model for our community-based ecotourism and therefore part of the presentation we will be giving at the World Tourism Conference.

What is special about Koh Kong province that makes it an attractive destination for tourists?

So like I mentioned in the meeting earlier this morning, we have ecotourism potential not only in the Southwest [of Cambodia, where Koh Kong province is located] but also in the Northeast and other areas…. Koh Kong, and especially Chi Phat, has been supported by Wildlife Alliance, who have assisted the government to develop [the province]. Also [Koh Kong] lies along the coastline of Cambodia, and our bays have just been recognized as some of the most beautiful bays in the world. Cambodia has now become a full member of the Club des Plus Belles Baies du Monde—the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club.

So Koh Kong’s bays are a most beautiful area and they directly connect to the forests of the Cardamom Mountains. That’s why Koh Kong is an important area for sustainable tourism development, just like in the Northeast. And obviously I was overjoyed and enthusiastic about the government’s decision to halt the operation of the titanium mine which could have affected Chi Phat. Our biggest concern over the ecotourism potential [of Chi Phat] is now gone. This outcome was the result of our leader Prime Minister Hun Sen who made a wise decision focusing on the effects [of the mine] on generations to come.

How important is ecotourism to the tourism development plans of your ministry?

Ecotourism is a sustainable form of tourism that can also have an impact in combating global warming. Recently it has become obvious that ecotourism is playing a vital role in poverty alleviation at the community level….

Ecotourism is a form of tourism that combines economy and ecology. So when people benefit from tourism they will continue to support these efforts and will protect and conserve our natural resources in and around their community. For instance, in Chi Phat there is no more wildlife hunting or illegal logging and former illegal hunters have new jobs. So in Cambodia ecotourism is key to sustainable development.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon speaks with a shopkeeper as he tours the village of Chi Phat, which he called a “model” for community-based ecotourism in Cambodia.The government focuses on ecotourism in two forms: small-scale and large-scale. Small-scale means ecotourism developed within a community. To be successful these communities must have the four “P’s”: (1) Public [Sector]; (2) People; (3) the Private Sector; and (4) Partnership…. Chi Phat has the four P’s so it is in a position to promote itself as a viable CBET. You can see through the development of the local businesses in Chi Phat the interrelationship between the local community, the park [i.e. the surrounding forest], and the tourists.

By large-scale we refer to developments along the beach or in potential ecotourism areas that utilize high-end technology. By high-end technology I refer to the use of methods or devices that enable environment sustainability. Tatai [in Koh Kong province] is one such key place that uses high-end technology developed in Australia and we are looking to make use of the same form in Ream [National Park in Sihanoukville] and also on Koh Sangsa island [off of Sihanoukville] which is being developed by Australian investors. So we appeal to all investors and developers [operating] at beach and ecotourism sites to utilize very good partners and designs, particularly architectural designs, in order to avoid negative environmental impacts.

Can you give some examples of the high-end technology you are talking about?

One particular investor, for example, has operated in Malaysia, using advanced designs to attract upscale tourists. The practices used in Malaysia will be applied in Cambodia…. [Here the minister showed off some artist renderings of upscale ecotourism sites now in development in Cambodia. The technology he was speaking of was primarily in terms of design, creating high-end resorts that, for example, would be build around trees rather than clearing them or that found innovative ways to incorporate natural materials and surroundings. “This is made of bamboo,” he said of the intricate elevated bungalows at one proposed resort, “and not a single tree will been cut.” The idea in all these future sites is to reduce the footprint left by the resort on the surrounding forest or coastline. “Cambodia will be a paradise,” the minister said of these high-end developments.]

But these lessons can also be applied to small-scale community projects. REDD [the UN’s carbon credits program] will become an important means for generating revenue through the protection of natural resources. Communities can incorporate green energy sources such as wind power or solar panel systems. Even the boats used for prawn fishing [in Chi Phat] could use solar systems to power their lights at night….

How important is Chi Phat to the Ministry of Tourism’s plans?

It is wonderful to see in coming here that there has been much progress since my last visit. This development is one that can be said to be proceeding in a sustainable and responsible manner. This can be attributed in part to the equitable division of revenues. When you have equitable sharing the community will participate. We already spoke with people here and they have told us they are happy to participate in ecotourism—and before there were only 160 participants but now there are over 200. It’s like the CPP [the ruling party of Cambodia, to which the minister belongs], which started out with only 60 people and now has 5 million [members]. People respond when you do things the right way, when you have the right policy. More and more people will participate in this project. It is a clean village and an excellent tourist destination….

To promote Chi Phat among Cambodians, the Ministry of Tourism has commissioned a song to be written about the natural beauty of the area. These performers accompanied the minister to Chi Phat for the filming of the song’s karaoke video, which will be distributed across the country.It is much nicer, and even more beautiful [in Chi Phat] now than when I last came. And now you also have the Sothoun Island Ecolodge which is a beautiful addition. And now that the threat of the titanium mine has been removed we hope that it will allow the ecolodge project on the river to continue [construction was halted on this project last year after the titanium mine was announced]. We know that investors were concerned about the mine, but now that the concern is gone we hope it can continue. And as I said, there has been obvious progress in lifestyle improvement in the community and it is positive to see more members of the community joining the project. The project enjoys the support of the community and obviously they love Wildlife Alliance.

[The Ministry] will continue its support and we must continue our cooperation. I love Nature. I came from a poor family and Nature helped me; now I want to help Nature.

Dear friends,

I am delighted to share advance word of a major article in this weekend's New York Times Travel Section featuring Wildlife Alliance and its work: "In Cambodia, Koh Kong Emerges As Eco-Tourism Destination."

I encourage you to read this article to learn about the magnificent forests, beaches, and wildlife of Southwestern Cambodia, and about Wildlife Alliance's efforts to preserve the region - fighting threats like illegal logging, poaching, and industrial development. Our Community-Based Ecotourism program is heavily featured as one of the driving factors in Koh Kong's transformation from a backwards area known for wildlife trafficking and illegal logging, into a leading destination for sustainable development and conservation.

As the article says,  "Chi Phat was once infamous for its abundant poachers, loggers and slash-and-burn farmers, who were forced to turn to illegal practices to make a living. That began to change in 2007, when the conservation group Wildlife Alliance started to work with the community on a project that would turn hunters — who knew the forest’s hidden gems better than anyone — into tour guides, and local families into guesthouse owners."

Also this week, the Sydney Morning Herald highlighted our work in a broad piece called Coast on the Cusp about Ecotourism in Cambodia. 

Thank you for your support and interest in our Community-Based Ecotourism program and for your generous contributions.



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Wildlife Alliance

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.wildlifealliance.org
Project Leader:
Sheena Thiruselvan
Development Officer
New York, NY United States

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