The mystical temple complex of Angkor Wat, which served as the capital for the powerful Khmer empire in the 12th century, is Cambodia’s most iconic destination and the world’s largest religious monument. While the UNESCO World Heritage Site and jewel of Khmer architecture cannot be missed, Cambodia is more than its impressive historic temples; it is also the mighty Mekong River winding past rural farming communities, the French colonial architecture of buzzing capital Phnom Penh, tropical islands with 70 species of coral in the South China Sea, and the jungles, mountains, and community homestays that support a burgeoning ecotourism market. Khmer people comprise 95% of the country’s population, with cultural traditions including the royal ballet of Cambodia and Sbek Thom Khmer shadow theater. Part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, Cambodia’s varied flora and fauna includes Asian elephants, three species of gibbons, and upwards of 8,000 plants found in six terrestrial ecoregions, including a network of seasonal tropical forests. The Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve is an ecologically important wetland area that expands dramatically in season, supporting many rare and endangered species; its fisheries also provide more than 60% of the country’s protein. Though small in size, Cambodia offers a glimpse into its past cultures, authentic rural life, and it's natural biodiversity and its hospitable people welcome visitors eager to learn about this unique country.
Community-based ecotourism development is diversifying Cambodia’s travel destinations beyond Angkor Wat, allowing visitors to experience more of the country’s varied natural and cultural riches in a way that benefits rural populations. In addition to the promotion efforts of NGOs and the private sector, Cambodia’s Tourism and Environmental Ministries have announced collaboration on a future national policy that will support ecotourism growth. The country also hosted UNESCO’s first International Conference on Sustainable Tourism and Heritage Cities in 2017. The Wildlife Alliance works with government rangers and local communities to tackle the country’s destructive deforestation and illegal wildlife trades with a Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team that has saved more than 65,000 live animals, arrested more than 3,100 traffickers, and was named the Best Wildlife Law Enforcement Unit in Asia by the United Nations in 2015.
Sustainable Cambodia is an empowerment organization that works to help Cambodians achieve sustainability and self-sufficiency. For example, one organization launched a fair-trade sewing business, to teach young women to sew and develop products for an artisanal craft fair in Siem Reap. The organization looks to accomplish their goals through a unique participatory model, providing resources, assistance, training, and education to the members of the community.Why the Tiger Ranking?