UNWTO on the Ground / Cambodia: Protecting the Mekong River

The Mekong, one of the world’s great rivers, flows through China, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, connecting the six countries to each other and the rest of the world.

Besides being an important trade route, the Mekong basin is also one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world, only surpassed by the Amazon. However, the Mekong boasts the most concentrated biodiversity per hectare of any river, and its rich flora and fauna provides an important source of income for millions of people living along its banks.

The Mekong Discovery Trail is an ecotourism destination in north-east Cambodia launched in 2007 as a result of a project implemented by UNWTO with support from the UNWTO ST-EP Foundation, the Netherlands Development Organisation SNV, the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation for Development (AECID), and the Government of Cambodia.

Mekong River DolphinUsing sustainable tourism development to generate jobs and alleviate poverty in the provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng, the Discovery Trail also aims to help protect and raise awareness of the importance of the Mekong to well-being of the region. Besides being essential to the survival of the many communities along the river, this particular stretch of the Mekong gives home to the Mekong Flooded Forest, a unique aquatic eco-system recognized as a conservation area of international interest by RAMSAR. It also inhabited by a number of endangered species, such as the Mekong River Dolphin and Cantor’s Softshell Turtle, the world’s rarest and largest freshwater turtle. Well managed ecotourism is part of the solution to increase their value to local communities and ensure their long-term protection.

The Mekong Discovery Trail links a series of local and regional attractions, offering a number of nature-based activities along the route, such as dolphin-viewing, mountain biking, forest trekking, and kayaking. UNWTO has assisted in the planning and development of the 180 km long trail, including development of infrastructure and sustainable tourism products, and capacity building with local stakeholders in the areas of hospitality, tour guiding and English language skills.


Estimations show that by 2017, tourism will employ some 4200 people in Kratie and Stung Treng, some of the poorest regions in Cambodia. In addition, the Mekong Discovery Trail continuously contributes to the conservation of the environment, helping to create a sustainable future for communities and wildlife alike.


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