Going Wild at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

If there’s anything I’ve learned about Southeast Asian zoos, it’s that you can get ridiculously close to the animals compared to anywhere else in the world where they have all those pesky “rules” and “precautions.”. That’s never been truer than at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. About 40 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, the first area of the zoo has monkeys running wild in a large forested pond area. Then there are deer following you around at the same time. At one point – I kid you not – my family saw a monkey riding a deer. Madness. I didn’t get a photo but I swear it happened.


The rest of the wildlife rescue center is less interactive but features a number of rare animals that seem to be treated well by the nonprofit Wildlife Alliance. There were gibbons, Siamese crocodiles, adorable otters, many birds and then the big mammals like elephants and tigers. One of the elephants had lots parts of her leg from a trap but was has been given a nifty prosthetic and enjoyed walking around the pen.


The zoo isn’t rundown but it isn’t exactly first-world, as there are a number of dusty roads leading nowhere. One modern area that would look good in just about any country was the enclosure for the bears. Free the Bears, a partner nonprofit of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, cares for more than 100 bears (mainly sun bears and Asiatic black bears). These bears had previously been kept as pets or orphaned when their parents were killed by poachers. There’s a bunch of informational displays that’s sometimes lacking in other parts of the zoo. This was a far cry from the troubled Kampot zoo on the southern coast of Cambodia.

We all had a pretty good time here and it seems sparsely visited. More people should check it out.

Phnom Tamao is a rough, dusty two-hour tuk-tuk ride that should cost around $25-$30. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to pay more for a rented car instead. Tonle Bati, a popular lake area near an Angkorian temple, is nearby and can be stopped at as well. Tickets to the Phnom Tamao cost $5. 





I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?