Spreading north of Voen Sai, the Virachey National Park covers more than three thousand square kilometres of remote, mountainous countryside running north to the Laos border and east to Vietnam, comprising a mix of landscapes from dense jungle lowlands through to montane forests and rolling upland savannahs. It’s also the largest “protected” area in Cambodia, although exactly what kind of protection it’s currently receiving is a moot point – local reports suggest that as much as sixty percent of the park has already been earmarked for future logging.
Virachey’s outstandingly rich wildlife is yet to be fully explored or understood. The world’s largest population of rare northern yellow-cheeked gibbons in the Veun Sai–Siem Pang Conservation Area adjoining the park weren’t discovered until as recently as 2010, while a couple of other entirely new species – the iridescent short-legged lizard and Walston’s tube-nosed bat – have also recently been unearthed for the first time. Other forest inhabitants include elephants, pig-tailed macaques, douc langurs, sun bears, the rare giant ibis and clouded leopards. Rumours of tigers and Javan rhinos living deep inside the forest also occasionally surface, although the alleged sightings may contain rather more fiction than fact.
Visiting the park, the most challenging and rewarding expedition is the week-long trek to the remote grassland wilderness of Phnom Veal Thom, with spectacular views over the mountainous hinterlands bordering Laos and Vietnam. Shorter treks include the overnight trek to Yark Koung Kreav mountain and the three-night trek to Yark Kea waterfall.