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Six-thousand acres of wandering lanes, wooded open enclosures and more than 1,200 rescued animals from across Cambodia, Phnom Tamao is a wonder to explore and easily worth the short hop down from Phnom Penh.

All the animals here have been rescued from markets, poachers, hunters and zoos — the latter being responsible for the unexpected presence of lions. More than 100 species represent the wild array of animals that call Cambodia home. They including leopards, gibbons, tigers, deer, bears, elephants, otters and a huge, technicolour collection of birds, including the iconic giant ibis. The centre is also home to the world’s largest collection of Malayan sun bears.

Run by Wildlife Alliance and Free the Bears, the centre tries where possible to rehabilitate the animals back into the wild. Noticeably, over the last few years, bands of gibbons have been released into the forests around Angkor. The rest are taken care of as well as can be, thanks to donations and visitor fees.

You can roam the enclosures by foot, bike or car. Though walking simply feels more natural and the shaded trail ensures your comfort. This is an extraordinary opportunity to get up close to some of Cambodia’s most beautiful and elusive wildlife — including some you might not wish to bump into wandering along an open forest trail.

The centre is a short 40km hop down Route 2 if you’re travelling on your own, or you can book a tour through Wildlife Alliance’s website. For $150, the tour includes feeding the female elephants and seeing their reward-based training. There’s also a visit to the rehabilitation area for an intimate look at animal care as well as a chance to feed baby macaques. Wildlife Alliance will organise the pick-up and drop-off with a tasty Cambodian-style lunch.

Check out more images below:

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