The eco-lodge empowering Cambodians to protect their own paradise

Posted on: August 4, 2017 | Cambodia

Sponsored: In providing economic opportunities to locals, Koh Kong’s 4 Rivers resort offers an inspiring model for sustainable tourism

4 River’s Chea Roda

It didn’t occur to Chea Roda when he was growing up that he was on an island in the middle of one of the world’s great rainforests – a place so breath-taking that it would inspire a couple to build a floating lodge there and invite visitors from around the world to come bask in its beauty.

Chea was still hunting wild boars, deers and civets – taking whatever odd jobs he could find – when a friend mentioned that a new resort called 4 Rivers was looking for workers to help with some off-season repairs.

After three months, he decided to stay on, fascinated by the foreigners who would come and explore the Cardamom mountains and tropical rivers in Cambodia’s north-eastern Koh Kong province.   

“Before I worked at 4 Rivers I didn’t care,” Chea said of the lush forests and abundant wildlife he grew up around. “I never thought about the protection of the forest. I was a hunter.”

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A decade later, Chea is a face of the future in this pristine province. After becoming a boat driver, he was determined to learn English so that he could communicate with guests, learning about their lives and teaching them about his.

As the head tour guide for 4 Rivers, he is the link between the local communities who have lived here for generations and visitors who are discovering this corner of paradise for the first time.

He is symbolic of an economic future for Koh Kong in which villagers capitalise on conserving nature rather than destroying it – realising the potential of eco-tourism to lift up their communities.

“I think all the villagers who live there they can earn more money and their families will be better off than before,” he said. “Our grandparents still do not know, but their children’s children can do a lot more than them because they have schools and knowledge.”

At 4 Rivers, hiring local villagers and supporting the communities living on the surrounding islands is central to the mission of protecting the area’s biodiversity and providing a model for sustainable tourism.

Chea can tell guests everything they want to know about the lush land around 4 Rivers, from the types of fish and reptiles that populate the rivers to the history of the people who have long lived along them.

By getting to know him, visitors can also start to see a bright future for the people who call this place home.