Network of 500km of Hiking Trails Planned for the Kingdom

A total of 500km of hiking trails are being developed throughout Cambodia as part of a $55 million project to position the country as a world leader in ecotourism
Phnom Kulen waterfall in Siem Reap province. Kiripost/Marissa Carruthers
Phnom Kulen waterfall in Siem Reap province. Kiripost/Marissa Carruthers

The first of a 500km network of trails that snake through Cambodia’s precious Cardamom Mountains, sacred Phnom Kulen, Kirirom National Park and other natural treasures is slated to open in May as part of a massive drive to develop ecotourism in the country.

As part of the $55 million Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Ecotourism Project (CSLEP), headed by the World Bank, the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Rural Development to transform Cambodia into a global ecotourism leader, more than 500km of hiking trails are being developed across the country in the next three years.

This will predominantly focus on three protected areas: the Cardamom Mountains National Park, Kirirom National Park and Aural Wildlife Sanctuary. Other plans include developing a Trans-Cardamom Trail to bridge the ‘missing link’ between Kampong Speu province with Koh Krong province via Khnong Phsar and Khnong Krapeau.

For the first phase, key trails on the sacred mountain of Phnom Kulen are undergoing redevelopment, with the first trail slated to open in May. “These routes are the first in a series of trails that will be developed in Cambodia, designed and built to international best-practice standards,” said Khin Mengkheang, Director of the Department of Ecotourism of the Ministry of Environment.

“These new trail corridors are designed to provide visitor-friendly information and safety tips, provide an enriched trail experience and be accessible year-round in the face of weather-related environmental conditions.”

Reclining Buddha at Phnom Kulen, Siem Reap province. Kiripost/Marissa Carruthers
Reclining Buddha at Phnom Kulen, Siem Reap province. Kiripost/Marissa Carruthers

To ensure the trails comply with international standards, two experts have been flown in to help with training and planning. Galeo Saintz, former founding chair of the World Trails Network, and experienced US-based trail builder Kevin Simpson have been running training courses in Siem Reap and Phnom Kulen.

The trails will then be designed and built by certified Cambodian trail builders and auditors. In the coming months, the ‘National Trails Guidelines for Cambodia’ will be published to help set standards. The trail management aligns with the World Trail Network’s Green Flag Trails certification process. Cambodia aims to be the first Southeast Asian country to offer Green Flag-certified trails.

“Cambodia has long relied on the temples of Angkor to draw international visitors, but as back-to-nature experiences took off during the pandemic, it is time to show another side of the Kingdom,” said Mengkheang. “In the domestic market, ecotourism activities such as trekking and cycling boomed, ensuring Cambodia is in a strong position to benefit from both domestic and international ecotourism market moving forward.”

The current trails at Phnom Kulen take in a mix of culture and nature experiences. They pass through waterfalls and ancient archaeological sites. Routes include trails that take in key attractions, such as the River of a Thousand Lingas and the Reclining Buddha. There will also be the chance to camp overnight at community-based ecotourism campsites.