Ratanakiri Province is a melting pot of Cambodian, Laotian and minority people, that in total speak 12 languages. This diverse region is home to Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park, however the jungle is quickly disappearing and being replaced with rubber plantations and cashew- nut farms. Nick and I headed to  ‘Dey Krahorm’ (Ban Lung), which means red earth as dusty red dirt engulfs the town.

From Ban Lung we took a ride in a truck bed, on a ferry and on a motorbike through the jungle to reach the national park base camp.

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Sketchy motorbike bridge into the jungle
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Handmade ferry engine

The community-based ecotourism project (CBET) offers guiding, motorbike and cooking jobs to local poachers and loggers in hopes of preserving the environment. Two rangers, two researchers and a handful of workers were stationed at basecamp and this is where we spent two days trekking through the jungle in hopes to see Gibbons.

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Basecamp
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Dengue and Malaria proof jungle accommodations
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Basecamp generator (on between 6-9pm)

On our first hike we saw a wild pig, monkey, and spider the size of my hand. We watched our guide burn a tree to demonstrate how locals extract essential oil and glue. We thankfully avoided all pythons, although commonly spotted.

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Burned to extract essential oil and glue

As the sun began to set we heard chainsaws echoing through the forest. Logging is a huge issue in this area and the 2 rangers did not have the capacity to enforce the law. There are 3 species of trees that are valuable and all are now extremely rare. They are worth tens of thousands of dollars and sold to China for furniture. At basecamp, we saw hundreds of confiscated chainsaws and enormous slices of valuable wood.

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Illegal cut worth $10,000 USD

On the second day we woke up at 3am and began our hike to see the Gibbons. Researchers have been following a particular group of Gibbons for 7 years, therefore have created a non-interactive relationship with them. Around 5:30 am we began to hear various groups of Gibbons call, however the group that we were waiting for did not call. Gibbons call in order to claim their territory and they call 6 out of 7 days. This was the second day in a row that this group did not call and it was clear our guide was concerned for their health. He told us that he would bring a group of researchers and locals together to find the Gibbons and check on their wellbeing the following day. Although we didn’t see any Gibbons, one of the highlights of the trip were the conversations we had with our guide.

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Waiting for the Gibbons to call

Cambodians have been through so much tragedy, and the majority of people are fighting for basic rights. Our guide said that all the people want is a country without corruption, a fair election and education. While traveling through Cambodia, it is hard to travel a block without seeing a Peoples’ Party propaganda sign. In the photo below you can see three signs on block. The Cambodian Prime Minister has been in office for over 30 years and the locals say it is obviously a rigged system. As an American, I see corruption in our political system, I can see improvements in our education system, however not having these basic rights is incomprehensible.

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Cambodian People’s Party