Cambodia Trip Report

On October 24, 2012, I took Silk Air MI636 to Siem Reap for a week.  Silk Air currently flies to Siem Reap everyday of the week, but on some days there is one stop in Da Nang, Vietnam.  This was one of those days, but still it was a pleasant flight and I got to see a bit more from the air.

Landing at the new Siem Reap airport was at about 5:30 pm.  We were at the hotel just after 6 pm as the airport is just a few kilometers from town and customs clearance was efficient.  Cambodia is one hour earlier than Singapore so it was already dark when we checked in.  For the days we stayed in Siem Reap, the Asia Happy Villa hotel would be our home.

Asia Happy Villa

I had last been to Cambodia in late November 2000.  At that time the Hollywood movie, Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie was being made.  There was still a Hollywood set at Angkor Wat.  Talk in the hotels was of the cast.  It was an eventful time, there had been an armed clash in Phnom Penh on the day we arrived.  It was just 2 years since Pol Pot had died.  We visited the infamous S-21 Tuol Sleng.  The roads were terrible, my nickname for Cambodia was “Land of Bumpy Roads.”  And the tourist flood had just begun.

Now 12 years later I could not recognize Siem Reap.  The tourist dollar has brought tremendous development to the city together with many NGO’s and foreign aid.  The bumpy roads are gone and replaced by good paved roads.  Restoration works on several temple ruins has progressed and is still being carried on.  More places to go have opened up both because the road network has vastly improved but also because more areas have been completely demined.  Twelve years ago I visited to see the temples, this visit was for the birds.

The next morning we headed to Tmatboey, a village in the northern plains close to the Thai border.  Located in a large wildlife sanctuary the habitat is deciduous dipterocarp forest.  This type of forest used to exist at this latitude from India through Thailand, but due to human activities has been cleared in those countries making what remains here even more important.  It’s a rather open woodland and used to be kept open by herds of elephants and gaur.  It is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the critically endangered Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis.  We stayed for two nights in accommodations built by the Wildlife Conversation Society and now operated by the villagers with support from Sam Veasna Center.  Part of your ecotourism dollar goes directly to the villagers which encourages them to support conservation, instead of poaching ibis eggs!

Entrance to resort

As it was just after the rainy season and you need 4WD to get in as the accommodations are off the main road.  The rooms below are quite nice and each bed has mosquito netting, although we encountered few mossies.  Each cabin has two rooms and there are four cabins, so with double occupancy they could handle just 16 tourists, so if you come during peak season, book ahead!  The rooms have solar heated hot water and solar electricity which is on in the evenings.  There is a central mess hall and the food is good, all of it is brought up from Siem Reap and prepared on site.


On our first evening in Tmatboey we got to witness 30 or more White-shouldered Ibis coming in to roost on their favorite trees, together with a few Asian Openbills.  And the next morning we set off into rice fields where the Giant Ibis were reportedly feeding.  This turned out to be true, and we got to see a flyby of a family of three.  This was pretty lucky as not everybody gets to see both species of ibis.

In the photos below, first is a temporary living quarters for a family tending the rice field.  Next the rice itself, nearing time to harvest.


Besides the rare ibis, Cambodia has about 23 species of woodpeckers, and in the Northern plains there are five species you can’t see in peninsular Malaysia.  We managed to see four of these five which is quite good.

During our second evening in Tmatboey, the local guide took us to a spot where an Oriental Scops Owl might be seen, and sure enough it flew in with little prompting, in fact a pair!  While we were waiting for it to get dark enough for the owls, we could hear Chinese Francolin, but they are quite shy and refused to show themselves.

Below is a photo of a tree being harvested for resin.  The locals burn a hole in the tree, which fills with resin, which can be sold adding to their income of growing rice.

 On our last morning in Tmatboey, birded the forest around the guesthouses in the early hours, and then on the way back to Siem Reap we stopped a the temple complex at Koh Ker and birded the forested areas around the temple.  This would have been one of places off limits during my year 2000 visit, as it was only demined in 2003.

The next day we set off from Siem Reap to the Prek Toal bird sanctuary on the Tonle Sap.  Before reaching Prek Toal village we encountered an area where a large number of egrets, cormorants, pelicans and other birds were feeding.  The boat was big and spacious and allowed easy birding under the shade.  Normally a two hour boat ride to Prek Toal village, we stopped for probably an hour to watch hundreds of large water birds.  One of the more interesting birds seen was a Comb Duck.

Prek Toal village is a floating village, although a few of the larger buildings look to be set on piles.  Of course the economy of the village is all about fishing.  But ecotourism is becoming a more important part.  After dropping our luggage at the Prek Toal Core Area Management Center (our guesthouse for the night) we head out another 8 kilometers or so into the heart of the flooded forest.

The Tonle Sap is certainly one of the most amazing ecosystems you can encounter anywhere on the planet.  The largest freshwater lake in SE Asia and a UNESCO biosphere site.

The water level changes up to about 9 meters from wet season to dry season.  Here at the end of October we are just only a foot or so off the peak water level.  The large supply of fresh water and abundant fish were surely major reasons the Khmer civilization at Angkor was so successful.

Interesting species of trees that can flourish although being flooded part of the year are endemic to this area.  Vast numbers of birds use this area for breeding including a number of birds that are threatened: Spot-billed Pelican, Milky Stork, Painted Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Greater Adjutant, Black-headed Ibis, Oriental Darter.

In a fascinating and interwoven sequence each species has it’s own breeding season.  We happened to arrive just as the pelicans were taking up their places.  The darters already had chicks that looked almost ready to fledge, and the Indian Cormorants had just begun building nests on the lower portions of the trees the darters nested in.

 We spent two days there, just as the pelicans were arriving, and we could see a large increase in their numbers on the second morning.  Due to impoverishment the nesting colonies used to be poached for chicks and eggs.  In a very successful project the Wildlife Conservation Society and other NGO’s working with the Cambodian government have converted these same poachers to be rangers and established a series of 25 or more tree houses to watch the nesting sites and intercept any future poachers.  There is good empirical data that the bird life has rebounded dramatically.  We visited ranger station #24 which was easily accessible by boat, but in just a few weeks hence the water level will have dropped preventing access by boat.


The day we left Prek Toal we had lunch in the floating village.  Then we headed back to Siem Reap for some late afternoon birding near a prison on the outskirts of town with a view of Phnom Krom in the distance.  We had heard there was a Common Ringed Plover sighted there and perhaps we heard one fly over, but not well seen.  At least we got good views of a Red-throated Pipit.  That evening we went to dinner in the night market area which has developed as a major tourist scene.

Lunch in Prek Toal village

Left to right: Con Foley, Sophoan Sanh (our guide), Danny Lau

View of Phnom Krom

Night Market

The next day we got some morning birding around the Angkor temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The protected status is effective, the secondary forest is well established and birding is good especially the migrants.  Here we got many Hainan Blue Flycatchers including the male variant with white throat patch that Danny wanted to see.  Next up the temple complex at Ta Prohm and the most photographed tree on the planet growing out of the ruins.  Next over to Angkor Thom and the enigmatic faces of Bayon and some of the fascinating stone carvings.  Capping the journey, a visit to Angkor Wat.



Stone carvings

Unfortunately a restoration project was using a blue-green plastic tarp to cover their work which rather spoilt the photo opportunities.  There were some apsaras (celestial dancers) for photo opportunities too!

Angkor Wat

Celestial Dancers

On our last morning we had a rather dramatic sunrise at a location enroute to the floating village near Tonle Sap, Chong Kneas.  Hoping for some rare birds, we got a nice rainbow and a Dusky Warbler.  After the morning’s birding and a nice lunch at The Blue Pumpkin we retreated to the Happy Asia Villa hotel for a shower and then the ride to the airport.  Amazingly our tuk-tuk to the airport was able to hold all our luggage!  Departing for Singapore on SilkAir MI636 at about 6:30 pm and this was a 2 hour direct flight home.

Birding in the morning

On the way to the airport

We’d like to thank our guide and Sam Veasna Centre for a great trip. 🙂

Some bird photos from the trip below, more can be seen at

Discussion:  Our trip at the end of October is not the traditional time of year to bird Cambodia.  That would be more likely be during the dry season from January through April, or at least November – December onwards.  As we visited just at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season it was too wet to get access to several places such as Ang Trapeang Thmor (Sarus Crane Reserve), Chhep (Vulture Restaraunt) and Kompong Thom Grasslands (Bengal Florican).  If you go during the dry season you can visit more habitats and chances are see more species.  On the other hand, we got to see the Tonle Sap at high water which was quite a sight!  And were lucky to see both species of rare ibis, which doesn’t always happen.  So absolutely no regrets on our timing and as it turns out we had great weather throughout our visit.

Our trip was entirely organized by Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation, so please contact them at their website for your trip planning!

Lastly here is the list of birds we saw on our trip.

No English name Latin name Status

Date First Seen

1 Lesser Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna javanica 31
2 Comb Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos 28
3 Indian Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha 29
4 Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus 27
5 Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans 25
6 Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus Vulnerable 25
7 Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis 28
8 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 28
9 Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger 28
10 Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster Near-threatened 28
11 Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis Near-threatened 28
12 Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis 31
13 Gray Heron Ardea cinerea 28
14 Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 28
15 Great Egret Ardea alba 28
16 Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia 28
17 Little Egret Egretta garzetta 28
18 Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis 25
19 Chinese Pond-Heron Ardeola bacchus 25
20 Striated Heron Butorides striata 25
21 Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis   melanocephalus Near-threatened 29
22 White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni Critically endangered 25
23 Giant Ibis Pseudibis gigantea Critically endangered 26
24 Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus 25
25 Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus 28
26 Gray-headed Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus Near-threatened 28
27 Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus 27
28 Crested Serpent-Eagle Spilornis cheela 26
29 Shikra Accipiter badius 27
30 White-rumped Falcon Polihierax insignis Near-threatened 25
31 Collared Falconet Microhierax caerulescens 25
32 Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 28
33 Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus 25
34 Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva 29
35 Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 29
36 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 29
37 Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus 28
38 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 29
39 Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 29
40 Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 29
41 Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida 29
42 Rock Pigeon Columba livia Introduced species 30
43 Red Collared-Dove Streptopelia   tranquebarica 25
44 Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis 25
45 Zebra Dove Geopelia striata 25
46 Thick-billed Pigeon Treron curvirostra 25
47 Yellow-footed Pigeon Treron phoenicopterus 26
48 Green Imperial-Pigeon Ducula aenea 25
49 Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria 30
50 Blossom-headed Parakeet Psittacula roseata 25
51 Red-breasted Parakeet Psittacula alexandri 25
52 Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii 26
53 Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus 31
54 Asian Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris 30
55 Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis 28
56 Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis 28
57 Oriental Scops-Owl Otus sunia 26
58 Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides 30
59 Spotted Owlet Athene brama 27
60 Asian Palm-Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis 25
61 Crested Treeswift Hemiprocne coronata 25
62 Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 25
63 Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis 30
64 White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis 25
65 Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata 28
66 Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis 29
67 Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus 28
68 Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti 27
69 Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis 25
70 Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 25
71 Oriental Pied-Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris 25
72 Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata 25
73 Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala 30
74 Gray-capped Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus 25
75 Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopos mahrattensis 25
76 Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperythrus 26
77 Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus 28
78 Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus 27
79 Black-headed Woodpecker Picus erythropygius 26
80 Common Flameback Dinopium javanense 26
81 Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus 26
82 Common Woodshrike Tephrodornis   pondicerianus 25
83 Large Cuckoo-shrike Coracina macei 25
84 Indochinese Cuckoo-shrike Coracina polioptera 26
85 Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike Coracina melaschistos 25
86 Swinhoe’s Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis 30
87 Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus 31
88 Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus 26
89 Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus 25
90 Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 31
91 Burmese Shrike Lanius collurioides 25
92 Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 25
93 Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus 25
94 Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 25
95 Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus 26
96 White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola 26
97 Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica 28
98 Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 25
99 Blue Magpie Urocissa erythrorhyncha 26
100 Rufous Treepie Dendrocitta vagabunda 25
101 Racket-tailed Treepie Crypsirina temia 28
102 Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 26
103 Indochinese Bushlark Mirafra erythrocephala 25
104 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 29
105 Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica 29
106 Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea 26
107 Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis 26
108 Sooty-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus aurigaster 25
109 Stripe-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus finlaysoni 30
110 Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier 28
111 Streak-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus blanfordi 27
112 Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 30
113 Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes 30
114 Oriental Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 31
115 Dark-necked Tailorbird Orthotomus atrogularis 28
116 Brown Prinia Prinia polychroa 25
117 Rufescent Prinia Prinia rufescens 26
118 Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 31
119 White-crested Laughingthrush Garrulax leucolophus 26
120 Pin-striped Tit-Babbler Macronous gularis 27
121 Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 26
122 Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis 28
123 Hainan Blue-Flycatcher Cyornis hainanus 30
124 Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 25
125 Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 30
126 Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius 28
127 Stonechat Saxicola torquatus 25
128 Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata 25
129 Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa 25
130 Common Myna Acridotheres tristis 25
131 Vinous-breasted Starling Acridotheres burmannicus 25
132 Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis 26
133 Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis   cochinchinensis 25
134 Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons 25
135 Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum 27
136 Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis 25
137 Plain-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis 25
138 Purple Sunbird Cinnyris asiaticus 25
139 Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis 25
140 Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava 31
141 Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 29
142 House Sparrow Passer domesticus 29
143 Plain-backed Sparrow Passer flaveolus 31
144 Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 27
145 Two-barred greenish warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus 27
146 Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 31

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One Response to “Cambodia Trip Report”

  1. Johnny says:

    It’s a great report! Thanks for your visit to Cambodia and I hope you’ll keep sharing the information of Cambodia to your friends about Cambodia.

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