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Koh Kong 

Our last stop is Koh Kong. Four of us split a taxi and squeeze ourselves in for the five- or six-hour, £45 ride. 

Until recently, residual fighting and poor infrastructure meant Koh Kong remained largely untouched by tourists. Now new roads and bridges have allowed eco-tourism projects to flourish and help protect the area by giving
a wage to locals who have historically logged the rainforest or poached to survive. 

We’ve opted for Rainbow Lodge, a solar-powered cluster of bungalows wedged in a verdant corner between the Tatai river and the edge of the Cardamoms – an expanse of rainforest containing some of Asia’s most endangered species: Malayan sunbears, clouded leopards and Irrawaddy dolphins. Janet, Rainbow Lodge’s British owner, sends a boat to meet us at the bridge where the taxi drops us and take us down river to our bungalows. 

Koh Kong is a great spot for energetic travellers, and we’re pretty busy over the next few days. We bike to a tangled, otherworldly mangrove swamp. We kayak up the Tatai river to a waterfall. (I’ve never seen so many butterflies.) On a day-trip to Koh Kong Island, which has painfully beautiful beaches, deserted but for a few yawning Cambodian soldiers, a pod of dolphins frolics in the wake of
our boat. And, somehow, we also manage to spend a decent amount of time lying in hammocks, cold Angkor beer in hand, listening to gibbons holler and whoop in the trees, as though at a raucous party. I willfully push thoughts of returning to the city out of my mind.

On our penultimate night, we take Janet up on the offer of a night in the jungle. I love the outdoors, but remain a reluctant camper, having one too many grim childhood memories of a wet holiday spent pathetically needling my sisters to play cards with me. But this is no dank Welsh hillside. At the spot we reach, after a few hours of trekking through the jungle, the river snakes and flattens out into
a wide, tranquil pool, and the vista opens up to reveal
clouds settling over an adjacent peak. We dive into the water. Our guides pitch shelter and set up a barbeque. Despite the jungle’s cacophony, I sleep like a baby, well-fed and exhausted.

It strikes me, lying here, that so many come seeking Cambodia’s history that they miss out on what might be
a short-lived heyday for these quiet areas. This could be
a tipping point – political stability and growth have allowed access to these remote regions, but that access has yet to
be exploited in full by aggressive economic interests. 

Last April, prime minister Hun Sen withdrew permission for a titanium mine in the Cardamoms after a campaign by conservationists. It’s a win, but it’s hard to say if this sudden eco-consciousness will last – the decision came as a surprise
to many here, and his track record elsewhere hasn’t been great, to say the least. 

But for now, this part of Cambodia remains enchanting and feels a world away from the crush of Angkor and Phnom Penh’s museums. Come see it while you can. 


A holiday in Cambodia - TNT scopes out the Cambodian coast
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