I did 2 Birding Trips with the Sam Veasna Centre. The first one was a 1 day Birding Trip to Ang Trapaeng Thmor and Sarus Crane Reserve. Kunthea, the guide came by my hotel the evening before just to introduce herself and confirm the details which really impressed me and also reassured me as I had not communicated with the Centre since I had left home. Kunthea was waiting for me at 5:30 AM sharp and off we went. I was very comfortable in a SUV with Kunthea and the driver. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the sun come up and people beginning their daily activities. It was really interesting to see the non-touristic countryside. As for birds, I could not have wished for more. Thanks to Kunthea, we saw close to 50 species, a lot of them Lifers for me. After considerable effort, we also saw the Elds Deer. Kunthea was the perfect guide for me: she was incredibly passionate and really attentive, and although she hadn't been guiding for long, she was very knowledgeable and knew her birds, including all the names in English. Her English, by the way, was excellent. I had my binoculars but she also had a scope which was great. I also liked the fact that as we went along, if we came across a local who had questions, she would educate them as to why it was important to protect the birds.
When we arrived at our birding destination, we also picked up a local guide and a ranger who accompanied us in that area. This way of operating provides employment and also gets the community involved in protecting the birds. And what really impressed me was not only how knowledgeable the local guide and ranger were but also how hard they work to monitor the birds and their habitat in their area.
We stopped for a nice breakfast in the car: I had a croissant and lovely bread from the Blue Pumpkin in Siem Reap which Kunthea had picked up. I'm a difficult eater so she had arranged to have the cook at the WCS ( where we stopped for lunch) prepare a wonderful meal with vegetables and rice. Throughout the day, she would periodically check to see if I had any requests etc. It was a very long day (I got back about 6:30 PM) but an extremely satisfying one.
I also did a 1/2 day Birding Trip to the Florican Grasslands to see the Bengal Florican which was fantastic. We did manage to see a couple of males (the females, because they sit on the ground, are practically impossible to see) as well as another 18 or so bird species, half of which were Lifers for me so that was great. We again picked up a local guide as well as the community activities director and once again, they were extremely knowledgeable. They have been monitoring the area for signs of any land development that might endanger the birds and their habitat.
In addition to the birding, which I had emphasized in my emails was top priority, we did make a couple of brief stops (very brief) during each trip which enabled me to see some silk weaving and taste this really interesting sticky rice that is cooked in bamboo.
I was extremely happy to have chosen the Sam Veasna Centre. No, they're not cheap but as far as I'm concerned, my trips were worth every penny. I should also mention that a small tip is very much appreciated by the local guides in the birding areas. The meals are included in the trip price. I should also mention as well that March is a good time for birding in northern Cambodia.
I enjoyed these trips so much that I would love to return to do more, and I would definitely choose Kunthea as my guide again: for her passion, knowledge and just great company.
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