Geography in Cambodia
Cambodia is located on the Indochinese Peninsula in Southeast Asia. In the north, its 180,000 km² national area is bordered by Thailand and Laos, in the east and south Vietnam frames the country, while the south-west of Cambodia borders the Gulf of Siam with a coastline of 443 kilometers, which is also called the Gulf of Thailand and forms part of the South China Sea. The territory of Cambodia also includes 64 islands, the largest of which is the island of Kaôh Kŏng, located near the Thai border. Other larger islands are Koh Rong off the coast of Sihanoukville, Koh Thmei on the border with Vietnam and Koh Samit, Koh Tang and Koh Tonsay.
The Cambodian basin with the Tonle Sap lake, which is up to 10,400 km² in the wet season, extends over two thirds of the country in the north. In an easterly direction, the basin, located between 5 and 30 m above sea level, drains into the Mekong Delta, which is already part of Vietnam.
The Cambodian Basin borders in the north on the up to 756 m high Dongrek Mountains, which merge into the much higher Annamite Cordillera to the northeast. This mountain range, which frames the Indochinese peninsula in a south-easterly direction and is up to 2819 m high, is only a small part of Cambodia. In the south of the Cambodian basin lie the cardamom and elephant mountains, which are only separated from the sea by a narrow coastal plain.
The north-western mountains drain via rivers such as Sreng and Sangke into Lake Tonle Sap, which supplies its excess water to the Mekong via the Tonle Sap River, while the precipitation from the eastern mountains via the Kong and other rivers directly into the Mekong, Cambodia runs through from north to south and ultimately leads all precipitation in the country to the South China Sea.
Due to the low gradient in the interior of the Cambodian Basin, the Mekong’s water masses back into the Tonle Sap Lake during the monsoon season and swell it, together with its inflows and outflows, to the largest lake in Southeast Asia with a water surface of up to 20,000 km².
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Flora and fauna in Cambodia
About 60% of the land area of Cambodia is covered with forests. Where the lowlands are not used for agriculture, monsoons and dry forests dominate, which lose their foliage when there is no rainfall. Floodplains are occupied by extensive swamps and wet savannas. Mangrove forests extend along the coast. Tropical rainforest can be found on the precipitation-rich western slopes of the mountains, which merges into evergreen mountain forest above 700 m. In Cambodia there are still stocks of tree species that have become rare elsewhere, such as the blackwood tree, the ebony tree or the rosewood tree.
About 630 protected animal species live in Cambodia. The dense forests of Cambodia away from civilization and the higher mountains are populated by Indian elephants, tigers, leopards, fruit bats and various bear species. A specialty of the Cambodian animal world is the Kouprey, a wild cattle with a height at the withers of almost 2 m. The bird and reptile world is particularly rich in species; In addition to the king cobra, which can be up to 5 m long, there is also the highly poisonous krait in Cambodia, which belongs to the group of snakes.
The Tonle Sap lake, with its flood zones, provides a suitable habitat for numerous water birds and other aquatic animals, including more than 850 species of fish. A number of rare animal species live in the Angkor National Park in the north of the lake, such as the small Muntjak deer, which only reaches a height at the withers of 65 cm. The last retreats of the Irrawaddy dolphin and the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle are in the lower reaches of the Mekong.
National parks and nature conservation in Cambodia
As one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to be active in nature conservation, Cambodia established the Angkor National Park around the temple complex of the same name as early as 1925. By 1969, there were six more wild animal retreats, especially large mammals. The facilities fell into disrepair during the civil war. From 1993, however, 23 new protected areas and further protected forest areas were designated, partly on areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge, which today cover around 43,000 km², around 25% of the total area of Cambodia. However, there are still access problems in many protected areas even after the withdrawal of the Khmer Rouge. However, nature conservation in Cambodia also creates conflicts of interest with the increasing need for settlement areas and the demand for animal organs for traditional medicine.
Bokor National Park
The approximately 1500 km² large Bokor National Park is located in the province of Kampot and extends from the south coast of Cambodia into the Elephant Mountains. The largest and most touristic part of this national park consists of tropical rainforests with lots of wildlife. There are also some beautiful waterfalls to see while exploring the scenic park. The mountain station on the top of Mount Bokors, which dates back to the French colonial era, offers a fantastic view of the jungle green of the national park. Trekking tours into the original rainforest of Cambodia are offered in the park. Individual travelers can rent scooters or small motorbikes to explore the park on their own.
Ream National Park
The park, officially called Preah Sihanouk, is a coastal park located southeast of the city of Sihanoukville, which has extensive jungle areas, beautiful beaches, small islands with lagoons and coral reefs as well as an impressive river delta and mountain landscape ready for visitors interested in the landscape. A large area of the approximately 150 km² national park is surrounded by mangrove forests. You can discover the untouched natural landscapes of the Ream National Park by boat, by bike or motorbike as well as on foot. The trekking tours and boat trips offered in this park are highly recommended as part of a tour of Cambodia. The tours can easily be booked through a tour operator in Sihanoukville.
Virachey National Park
The Virachey National Park is located in the Ratanakiri province in the border area with Vietnam and Laos. It is one of the largest and most developed national parks in Cambodia. With a little luck you can see elephants, leopards, tigers, gibbons and even sun bears. The highlights of the Virachey National Park include the waterfalls located in the middle of the jungle, especially after the rainy season. Interesting trekking tours with ecological standards can be booked through the approx. 3500 km² park. Travelers can find more information in the national park’s own information center.
Phnom-Kulen National Park
The Phnom Kulen National Park, northeast of Siem Reap, protects both the sacred temples of Angkor and the impressive landscape in the Phnom Kulen massif. The almost 400 km² landscape park is known not only for the archaeologically significant remains from the Angkor period but also for its impressive waterfalls.