Koumai Road (adjacent to Charles de Gaulle), Siem Reap
Monday to Saturday: 8:30am – 5:30pm (last tour at 5pm)
Washroom On Site: Yes
Rodents Of Unusual Size sniff out more than just garbage and are working toward a mine-free Cambodia in the future.
When driving back from a sweaty day of templing, you’ve probably passed the APOPO Humanitarian Demining Centre several times without realising it. A single-storey building almost hidden behind a fence, this nondescript location is where you can observe how mine-sniffing rats are slowly but surely making Cambodia a safer place for all. If your tuk tuk driver doesn’t know where this is, you will have to keep an eye out for the white APOPO sign on the fence in front of the building (it will be on your right side if you’re heading South from Angkor Park).
When you arrive, an employee will come out to greet and inform you of when the next tour will start. You can’t just pop in and walk around without a tour because everything interesting to see requires an employee. You can book a time beforehand on their website if you’re on a rigid schedule, but walk-ins won’t have to wait more than fifteen minutes for a tour. In the meanwhile, you can read up on the APOPO program in their outdoor gallery.
The tour begins with a brief overview of all the documented landmines in Cambodia and the small section of the country that has been completely cleared. Nearby, there will be a few samples of the different mines that exist and your guide will describe what each one is for and how it is used. Your tour guide will be much more than just a student collecting a part-time wage. They are very well-informed, so definitely ask questions at any time.
Following this is the mine-detecting rat demonstration. Two handlers will bring out an enormous rat the size of a cat. When they’re regular-sized, rats are pretty horrifying, but now that I’m presented with a larger version, it’s surprisingly cute. These are APOPO’s HeroRATs, giant African pouched rats found only in sub-Saharan Africa and trained in Tanzania before being shipped to Cambodia to work. You can take as many non-flash pictures as you like, but this one rat costs more than your car insurance for the year, so you are not allowed to touch it.
The handlers, with your guide explaining the process, will demonstrate how the rat identifies mines in the field, and how they are clever enough to not be fooled by decoys. The rat can clear the demonstration area in five minutes – a testament to human inefficiency compared to something we once considered vermin.
After a job well done, it’s back to bed for the nocturnal rat and you will be escorted to an open-air cafe. You’ll watch a short video that goes more in-depth about the APOPO initiative in Africa. Later, you can come back here, enjoy a drink and use the washroom.
The final stop is a gloriously air-conditioned room with various statistics about landmines: injuries, deaths, what percentage of accidents involved women, etc. As you move along to read these information boards, you will eventually come to the gift shop and exit. At the register here is where you’ll pay the admission fee of $5 per person.
Your visit here will probably take less than an hour, assuming you don’t grab a drink at the cafe. Consider dropping by if you’ve finished your templing in Angkor Park a bit early. APOPO gets its funding from corporations, donations and this very visitor centre. The admission fee, as well as any merchandise you buy, directly supports the APOPO program so you can feel good about giving your money to a good cause without it feeling like charity.