Sam Veasna Center (SVC), Cambodia
Super Tour 2017
19 day Itinerary + 4 day Extension 25th Jan – 12th Feb 2017 (16th Feb 2017)
A nineteen-day super tour is planned for 2016: January 25th to 12th February, with an optional extension (13th - 16th February) to Mount Aural. The itineraries will take in all the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) sites that Sam Veasna Center (SVC) visits including a new destination where WCS is currently working, Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in Mondulkiri. These tours will offer a unique chance to go after most of the Cambodian critically endangered bird species. The tour is limited to 8 participants to ensure a quality experience.
Day 1: Arrive Siem Reap, hotel check in; dinner with all participants.
Siem Reap is unrivalled for its choice of hotels and guesthouses, which serve tourists flocking to see the temples of Angkor. SVC has contracts with a number of Boutique level hotels, individual in style and offering excellent value. We can always add a pre or post trip extension to the Super Tour allowing you more time to explore Angkor and enjoy your stay at the hotel and dinner with traditional khmer cuisine.
Overnight at hotel in Siem Reap.
Day 2: Birding and temples in Angkor Great Park
Angkor Wat. Photo © Phil Gregory
Angkor Wat, the main attraction of the Angkor Archaeological Park is surrounded by mature dry forest and undergrowth, offering habitat for common species and the odd rarity: Oriental Darter in the moat, Hainan Blue, Taiga and Asian Brown Flycatchers, White-throated Rock-Thrush, Black Baza, Blue Rock Thrush, Forest Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Asian Barred Owlet, Coppersmith Barbet, Ashy Minivet, Yellow-browed and Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler, raucous Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeets and White-crested Laughingthrush. Your SVC Guide, who is also a licensed temple guide, will combine the trip to Angkor Wat with birding in the surrounding forest, a short distance from Siem Reap. Sunset can be enjoyed amongst the temples and dinner in town.
Overnight at hotel in Siem Reap.
Day 3: Visit the Core Bird Reserve of Prek Toal on the Tonle Sap Great Lake close to Prek Toal floating village, for Greater Adjutant and large water bird colonies.
Spot-billed Pelicans in Prek Toal Core Reserve. Photo © Jan Mathhysen
In Cambodia and throughout South East Asia, Prek Toal is unmatched for the number and population of endangered water birds it supports during the dry season. Large numbers of cormorants, storks and pelicans are virtually guaranteed from January to May along with herons, egrets and terns.
The sanctuary harbours seven species of global conservation significance: Spot-billed Pelican, Milky and Painted Storks, Lesser Adjutant, Greater Adjutant, Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter and has a globally significant population of Grey-headed Fish Eagle. Since the Core Reserve was declared in 2002 and came under the protection of Ministry of Environment as advised by WCS, the numbers of all the above species have increased dramatically.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 4: Visit the Sarus Crane Reserve at Ang Trapaeng Thmor (ATT)
Sarus Crane at ATT. Photo © Eleanor Briggs
Ang Trapeang Thmor is a Sarus Crane reserve -- over 300 of these magnificent birds congregate to feed in the dry season along with another 198 recorded bird species, 18 of which are globally threatened. By February the dry season will be well underway and a few pairs of Black-necked Storks frequent the site along with many of the large water birds seen at Prek Toal; Black-headed Ibis, Milky and Painted Storks, Spot-billed Pelican, Oriental Darter Asian Openbill and Greater and Lesser Adjutants.
A few pairs of Bengal Floricans breed here during the dry months though they are wary and may be a rare treat. Other grassland specialists including Red Avadavat, Blue-breasted Quail, and 3 species of lark occurring in Cambodia. Six species of duck, 4 of which are resident including Comb Duck, can be seen along with birds of prey, rare in the rest of the country, such as Black Kite, Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers. Numerous waders, rails and shore birds can be found in the marshy belts of aquatic habitat. Herds of the critically endangered Eld’s Deer can be seen from February to the start of the rains in May on most SVC visits to the site.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 5: AM birding to Florican Grassland; PM birding to Prey Veng Village
Bengal Florican in IFBA. Photo ©Jonathan Eames
The critically endangered Bengal Florican and many waterbirds are found in the grasslands around the Tonle Sap Lake. Finding the florican is usually easy, as they display by leaping above the grassland. The peak times for display are between dawn and 9 a.m. and then again between 4:30 p.m. and dusk.
The Manchurian Reed Warbler is a winter visitor, found in the tall grass away from water. Greater-spotted and Imperial Eagles winter in the area in small numbers. There are Eastern Marsh Harriers and a few wintering Pied Harriers, along with a limited Black Kites and Peregrines; Oriental Plover pass through in March.
After visiting the Florican grasslands the group will head towards Prey Veng village passing Beng Melea and Koh Ker temples. If time allows we will break the journey with some birding at these temples.
Overnight accommodation is in a commuunity managed lodges on the shores of the baray shaded by clumps of bamboo, set up by the village eco-tourist committee with hot and cold shower. Cooks have been trained by SVC to provide simple Khmer meals in a community managed restaurant on the banks of the ancient reservoir.
Day 6: Full day birding around Prey Veng
Prey Veng Village is a seductive attraction for SVC trips regularly yielding 150 species including 3 key birds; Giant Ibis, Greater Adjutant and White-winged Duck. Our Lodge is located on a Baray (Angkorian reservoir) surrounded by thick forest giving cover for the birds during the day and providing a feeding site at dawn and dusk. White-winged Ducks roost in trees within the Baray. A riparian corridor of mixed deciduous forest lines the Steung Sen River flowing a few kilometers from the site, which together with the deciduous forest, forest paddys and the baray marshland make up a variety of habitat to support a diversity of bird and animal life. We can expect to see a range of species typical of Cambodia’s dry forest, including Black-headed Woodpecker, White-browed Fantail and White-bellied Woodpecker.
An exciting diversion from birding is an Angkorian Temple a few hundred metres from the lodge area on a scale and significance with Beng Melea, unknown to tourists due to its remote location.
Overnight in Prey Veng Ecolodge.
Day 7 - 8: AM birding around Prey Veng; PM birding to Tmatboey Overnight Tmatboey Lodge winner of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Award.
Giant Ibis in Tmatboey. Photo © Martin Hale
Tmatboey is a remote Khmer village of 220 families situated in the centre of the Northern Plains of Cambodia, within the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, the country’s largest protected area. Tmatboey is one of only two known nesting sites for Giant Ibis, which use large trees in the forest away from the village. We can expect to see them at their roost trees or foraging at seasonal pools. White-shouldered Ibis are found closer to the village where they are reliant on the grassland clearings amongst the dipteropcarp forest. Daily sightings are virtually guaranteed. Woolly-necked Stork is relatively common and can be seen in flocks of over 40. Indian Spotted Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and White-rumped Falcon occur at low densities. The Pale-capped Pigeon is another highlight along with an amazing diversity of woodpeckers. Our local guides have made a special effort to find owls on their night roosts, allowing comfortable daytime viewing of Brown Fish Owl, Spotted Wood Owl and Brown Wood Owl. Night walks regularly yield Collared and Oriental Scops Owl.
Black-headed Woodpecker (c) Johnny ORN
After settling in to your accommodations, we will do a couple hour birding through the open forest to some species like Spotted Wood-Owl depends on your guide. The next day will start early, around 4 or 4;30 a.m., with a quick cup of tea or coffee, and packed breakfast then a drive and a walk to less disturbed areas of forest where Giant Ibis have been located. We return around noon for lunch at the Lodge.
The group can discuss with the SVC Guide how they wish to spend the day, outside the sunrise and sunset birding. The village of Tmatboey is remote and self-sufficient. SVC organises an optional village tour, which takes in local trades as well as the school, a market garden, a still for sugar palm wine and points out the projects that the visitors’ conservation contributions have assisted.
White-rumped Pygmy-Falcon (c) Johnny ORN
The Tmatboey Ibis Site is a conservation project set up by WCS together with the Cambodian Government and Tmatboey village. Once it was realised that the site had potential for bird watching tourism a local committee was elected to build guest accommodation and, with training from SVC, provide services for the bird watching groups that visit. In return for the income that this brings, the villagers have signed no hunting and land conversion agreements.
Overnight in Tmatboey lodge. The Lodge is comprised of a central recreational dining building and 4 surrounding bungalows, each with 2 double en-suite rooms with solar powered electricity. The accommodation is basic but comfortable.
Day 9-10: Transfer to Okoki for White winged Duck. Overnight Okoki
White-winged Duck at Okoki Photo © Ashish John
After a last morning’s birding and breakfast at Tmatboey the group will make their way to the village of Dongphlet (in the Chhep Protected Forest) to the campsite at Okoki, where pools in a line of mixed evergreen forest following a water course provide habitat for White-winged Duck and Coral Billed Ground Cuckoo. This is one of the most pristine parts of Cambodia -- its limited population gives us the possibility of seeing mammals. Gaur are sometimes seen and in 2009 Asian elephants passed nearby the campsite during the rainy season. Pileated Gibbon are regularly heard and occasionally seen and there are signs of Banteng, Sambar, Wild pig, Red Muntjac, Long-tailed macaque, Fishing Cat and Asian Jackal.
The group will stay here for 2 nights, rising early to walk through the forest to arrive predawn at hides constructed next to the pools favoured by the duck. Bird watching throughout the day could produce a plethora of dry-forest specialists including Green Peafowl and White-rumped Pygmy-falcon. In the gallery forest we can find a different suite of birds including Bar-bellied Pitta, Banded Broadbill and Banded Kingfisher. On our night walks we are likely to encounter Oriental Bay Owl and Blyth’s Frogmouth.
Overnights are once more spent in safari-style tents; with drop toilets crowned with porcelain lavatories. A cook will travel with the group and necessary supplies of beer can be organized before leaving town.
Day 11: AM Okoki. Transfer to vulture restaurant at Veal Krous. Overnight tented accommodation Veal Krous.
Vultures at feeding station Veal Krous photo © Johnny ORN
The morning will be spent birding around Okoki, for another opportunity to see the enigmatic White-winged duck or to go after the large number of other species present in this vibrant area.
In the afternoon, the group will move on approximately 30 km to Veal Krous by the village of Dongphlet in the Chhep Protected Forest. Tents will be set up for the night by the Dongphlet Village Ecotourism Committee members. Here is another example of WCS helping promote conservation through economic incentives; the influx of visitors help reinforce the importance of preserving habitats and wildlife.
Overnight at Veal Krous.
Day 12: AM birding Vulture Restaurant. PM transfer to Kratie
Mekong Wagtail at Kratie Photo © Phil Gregory
The Vulture Restaurant is a feeding program set up by WCS to help sustain the 3 critically endangered species of vulture: Red-headed, White-rumped and Slender-billed Vultures. The world’s population of these vultures have suffered from Diclofenac poisoning which has caused a drastic decline in their numbers. In Cambodia cattle are not given this drug, however the lack of food is a problem for the vultures.
For some, this the highlight of the whole itinerary: before dawn the group will make their way to a hide positioned not far from the vulture restaurant. Up to 70 vultures maybe present, often competing for the carcass with Golden Jackal.
In the late morning we leave from Veal Krous to Kratie arriving late afternoon. We will stop at a small marsh near Kratie, where we should see large numbers of weavers including Asian Golden and Streaked Weaver and other wetland birds.
Overnight at hotel in Kratie. The hotel is clean with en-suite hot showers, aircon and good Khmer food.
Black-shanked Douc © Robert William Martin
In the early morning we will board a boat on the Mekong River, where we will look for the Mekong Wagtail, which is restricted to channel island habitats; we will also enjoy the pod of Irrawaddy Dolphins that frequent this part of the river. After breakfast we will drive 2 and a half hours to Seima.
We will have two full days and two half days to experience the birds and mammals of this spectacular forest. Top of most birders wish lists is the Orange-necked Partridge, a species which went missing for much of the last century, only to be rediscovered in the 1990s. We have a good success rate with this species and there are many other spectacular species to keep our interest during our time here, including Green Peafowl, Germain’s Peacock Pheasant, Red-vented Barbet, Scaly-breasted Partridge and Pale-headed Woodpecker, all of which have been seen on the trails close to the WCS station.
Cambodia maybe the best place in the world for woodpeckers. The largest woodpecker in the world, the Great Slaty can be seen at forested sites throughout the trip and is particularly easy to see in Seima. We’ll also aim to see White-bellied, Laced, Heart-spotted and Black-and-buff Woodpeckers here. We’ll make a special effort to seek out fruiting trees because these often hold in Hill and Golden-crested Myna as well as a range of barbets, pigeons and hornbills.
Seima is home to the largest population of Black-shanked Douc in the world, along with Northern Pig-tailed and Long-tailed Macaque and Yellow-cheeked Crested Gibbon, all of which are regularly seen on our tours. Very lucky visitors have seen Gaur close to the headquarters. If we take a night drive there is the possibility of more mammals including Common-palm and Small-toothed Civets, Giant Flying Squirrel, Lesser Mouse-Deer and Pygmy Loris. Spot-bellied Eagle Owl has also been seen here.
Overnight at hotel in Sen Monorom.
Day 16: Transfer to Kampot, enroute stop at Cambodia Tailorbird
Cambodia Tailorbird © Senglim Suy
After the last morning of birding at Seima we will begin the nine-hour trip to Kampot, where Bokor National Park is located.
We will make a stop along the way to locate the newly discovered species of Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), which was described to science by WCS. This species is only found in the floodplain wetlands where the mighty Mekong river meets the Tonle Sap and Bassac Rivers. This area is also excellent for open-country species such as Plain-backed Sparrow and we often see large waterbirds such as Oriental Darter and Painted Stork. In the scrub in which the tailorbird is found we should also see a range of winter visitors, such as Black-browed Reed-warbler, Brown Shrike and Siberian Rubythroat.
Overnight at hotel in Kampot, our base for 2 night, arriving late evening in this small town to get ready for the cloudy and chilly mountain of Bokor the next day.
Day 17-18: Visit Bokor National Park
Chestnut-headed Partridge at Bokor National Park Photo © Robert William Martin
Bokor National Park was an historical hill station situated at 1,081 meters above sea level with jungle, a waterfall (Popokvil), rivers, and ruins. It is located at the southern tip of the Elephant Mountains near the Vietnam border. Though the part is now being developed as a major tourist destination, the bird species can still be found, surprisingly undisturbed, so far.
As we ascend through the evergreen forest to Bokor we will start to notice species not found in other parts of the country, and by the time we reach the top of the escarpment we will be in refreshingly cool, stunted montane forest, a welcome relief from the steamy-hot lowlands we have left behind.
Our key bird targets at Bokor are the near-endemic Chestnut-headed Partridge and Silver Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, Indochinese Green Magpie, Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon. We have recorded over 60 bird species here.
Packed lunches will be brought from Kampot Town.
Overnight at hotel in Kampot.
Day 19: AM visit Saltpan near Kampot; PM to airport
On our last day morning we will visit the saltpans where we hope to find some shorebirds to add to our list. A trip to this area in 2013 produced Nordman’s Greenshank and a host of other waders such as Whimbrel, Sandpipers, Little-ringed Plover, Red-necked Phalarope.
After that we will transfer to Phnom Penh airport for departure.
EXTENSION – Trip to Aural Mountain
Aural Mountain is an area quite off the beaten track and offers a great opportunity to see some really interesting species that are not seen on the rest of the tour. As access to the area is less well established we have to be a little flexible with the schedule below, but we have allowed for plenty of time to be spent birding.
Day 19: A.M. visit Saltpan near Kampot; P.M. transfer to Kampong Speu
After a visit to Saltpan for shorebird sighting (see above), we will continue to Kampong Speu where we will spend the night before the climb up Mt. Aural.
Overnight at hotel in Kampong Speu.
Day 20-21: Birding and climbing up Aural
Today we will start early again and drive to the base of the mountain where we will proceed the remainder of the way on foot. On the climb up the highest mountain in the Cardamom range we hope to see the Cambodian Laughingthrush. We will spend 2 nights and 3 days on the mountain.
Cambodian Laughingthrush (c) Johnny ORN
As there is no camp or village up there we set up our own campsite. Porters will bring all the necessary gear: hammocks, stools, food, water, and other basic necessities (only). They can carry some of your personal gear as well if requested.
WARNING: Climbing a mountain in Cambodia can be tough due to the hot climate. Even though you can have your bags carried up the mountain you should still have a good level of fitness and be prepared to sweat! At night the temperature drops down to 10-14 degree celcius so sleeping bag or warm clothes is recommended to bring along.
Our key bird targets at Aural are: Cambodian Laughingthrush, Chestnut-headed Partridge, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue Pitta, Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Green Cochoa, Mountain Scops Owl and other high elevation species.
We will make a special effort to see White-tailed Robin and Blue-winged Minla, both of which are represented here by highly distinctive subspecies that are endemic to higher elevations in the Cardamoms and are likely future splits. Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo and Bay Owl are regularly heard around our campsite.
Overnight at camp.
Day 22: A.M. Descend Mt. Aural, transfer to Phnom Penh
It’s our last birding day today. We will make our way down to our vehicles waiting for us at the village, and then we travel to Phnom Penh hotel for rest.
Overnight at hotel in Phnom Penh.
Day 23: Transfer to airport for departure
The SVC guide will accompany you to the airport where we wave goodbye.
US$ 4,370 per person (main tour)
US$ 920 per person (extension tour)
The maximum group size is 7 and minimum 4
$390 (main tour)
$70 (extension tour)
Group Size: 8
Available Space: 8
Note: Single supplement is not valid for Prey Veng, Tmatboey, and Veal Krous, however if there’s room available at these places then we will arrange it for you without extra charge.
Inclusive of: all guides fees, airport transfers, and all transfers to sites, all accommodation, all meals, drinking water, soft drink, all park entrance fees and all Conservation Contributions.
Not included in price: drink, tips (tipping in Cambodia has no rule and people normally tip according to their satisfaction over the provided services and people who work in tourism industry expect tips from their clients), personal expense, trip insurance, international flights, visa, airport tax, laundry. Transport from hotel to town for free-time is the responsibility of the guest.
Siem Reap – TBA (Boutique hotel)
Prey Veng – Prey Veng Safari style tents
Tmatboey – Tmatboey eco lodge
Veal Krous – Veal Krous safari style tents
Kratie – Oudom Sambath Hotel
Mondulkiri – Mondulkiri Hotel
Phnom Penh (extension) – Anise Hotel
A Few Notes on Cambodia
Accommodation & Food
A huge variety of hotels, B&B’s and restaurants are on offer in Siem Reap dependent on budget and taste (SVC generally books clients into ‘Boutique’ accommodation in comfortable well run hotels that incorporate Khmer culture). Accommodation at the other sites is as described in the text. Food outside Siem Reap is generally Khmer and for the most part safe. Bottled water is carried with the SVC transport and available everywhere.
Things to Bring and What to Wear
Most SVC trips occur in the cool dry season from December to March. This is the best time to visit Cambodia when the daytime temperatures are low thirties and the heat is dry. Nighttime temperatures are typically in the low twenties though occasionally a cold snap will drop to 13 or 14. By the end of February / beginning of March the temperature has started to climb both day and nighttime reaching a peak in April / May.
Loose natural cloth clothing (with a hat) is most comfortable giving protection from the sun and mosquitoes. Most things are available in Siem Reap usually cheaper than in Europe or America but if your schedule allows little time the usual items for hot country countryside will help make your trip enjoyable; sun cream, mosquito repellent, a torch and earplugs.
During the course of the itinerary SVC Groups encounter a range of different habitat; ATT – marsh, dry paddy, grassland and lake. Prek Toal – Semi submerged forest, flooded scrub and open lake. Florican Grasslands – Natural grassland and paddy on floodplain. Tmatboey – Deciduous dry dipteropcarp forest (DDF). Okoki and Vulture Restaurant – DDF with pockets of mixed evergreen and forest trapaeng (pools). Seima Protected Forest – Southern Annamitic forest of mixed evergreen, DDF and bamboo. Kratie – Riverine habitat. Bird watching is from the car, by boat and on foot. Hiking boots, which give ankle protection against the small risk of snakebites are recommended for the forest walks. SVC has a couple of scopes, which it will try to allocate if the group has not brought one however in peak season they may have already been taken.
Health & Insurance
Necessary immunizations should be discussed with your own Doctor but from an expatriates point of view malaria is present in the forests where we visit and dengue fever occurs in the city’s though is much less prevalent during the dry season. Numerous stomach bugs are widely available though tend to be more of a challenge to those living in Cambodia rather than visitors who are usually more careful about what they eat and drink. In general food is cooked to order so food poisoning especially in the cooler less humid dry season is unlikely. The provision of emergency health cover while improving is still limited and in case of serious accidents, illness or snakebites it maybe necessary for you to be airlifted out of the country, you must have health insurance to cover this eventuality. We would like to recommend our trusted partner Global Rescue (www.globalrescue.com/samveasna).
Cambodia is a developing country with a limited though rapidly changing infrastructure, which together with the incredible seasonal changes as exemplified most graphically by the Tonle Sap Lake means that schedules have to have a degree of flexibility. The rapid pace of development mean that Cambodia will change irrevocably over the coming period and the next few years maybe the last chance to catch a country that is an anomaly in the 21st century.
SVC’s itineraries take in the WCS Conservation sites across Cambodia where because of its partnership with WCS SVC has exclusive access to environmentally sensitive areas of special biodiversity. These sites by their very nature are often in remote areas where local communities have limited exposure to other Cambodians let alone foreigners. This cultural gap is bridged by the multi lingual SVC Guide but sometimes what seem like the simplest tasks can become very complicated so please have patience.
A Few Tips
- Cambodia is a noisy country with amplified weddings and funerals even in the most remote villages so earplugs can greatly assist sleep
- As with all sub & tropical climates the sun is fierce and can quickly burn those from more temperate climates so a high factor sunscreen is recommended
- Most of our trips occur during the dry season when mosquitos are reduced in number but it is always advisable to carry repellent and wear long light loose clothing which also gives protection from the sun
- Cambodia is a hot country even in the relatively cooler dry season and your water intake will need to increase accordingly together with rehydration tablets (an excellent local rehydration product Royal D is cheap and widely available)
- Most things are cheaper in Cambodia so unless your schedule prevents it you can save money and baggage allowance by buying most drugs, sun screens and clothing including hats in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh though note that some pharmacies may sell counterfeit products so check with the hotel for outlets selling the genuine article (A reliable chain of pharmacies called U Care are open in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh)
- US dollars are interchangeable with the local currency Riel (approx. 4000 Riel / 1 USD) and accepted at all outlets though it is helpful to have plenty of one dollar bills for tips in the towns and low cost items in the countryside. Change of less than a dollar will be given in Riel
- ATM’s are widely available in Siem Reap giving USD against most credit and even debit cards though a fee is incurred for using an international card
- Cambodia and Siem Reap in particular are relatively safe for both person and belongings despite the disparity in wealth between tourists and Cambodians. The usual common sense rules apply, don’t flaunt expensive items or cash especially late at night
- Tipping in Cambodia has no rule and normally people tip according to their satisfaction over the provided services and people who work in the tourism industry expect tips from their clients.