Cam­bo­dia’s largest and least pop­u­lated Prov­ince

Cambodia Insight - - CONTENTS -

A world apart from low­land Cam­bo­dia, Mon­dulkiri Prov­ince is the orig­i­nal Wild East of the coun­try. Cli­mat­i­cally and cul­tur­ally, it’s also another world, which comes as a re­lief af­ter the heat of the plains. Home to the hardy Bunong (Ph­nong) peo­ple and their noble ele­phants, it is pos­si­ble to visit tra­di­tional vil­lages and to learn and study about ele­phants in their nat­u­ral el­e­ment at the Ele­phant Val­ley Project.

The land­scape is a se­duc­tive mix of pine clumps, grassy hills and windswept val­leys that fade be­guil­ingly into forests of jade green and hid­den wa­ter­falls. Wild an­i­mals, such as bears, leop­ards and es­pe­cially ele­phants, are more nu­mer­ous here than else­where, although sight­ings are usu­ally lim­ited to birds, mon­keys and the oc­ca­sional wild pig.

Mon­dulkiri means ‘Meet­ing of the Hills’, an apt so­bri­quet for a land of rolling hills. In the dry sea­son it is a lit­tle like Wales with sun­shine; in the wet sea­son, like Tasmania with more rain. At an av­er­age el­e­va­tion of 800m, it can get quite chilly at night, so carry some­thing warm. Mon­dulkiri is the most sparsely pop­u­lated prov­ince in the coun­try, with just four peo­ple per square kilo­me­tre. Al­most half the in­hab­i­tants come from the Bunong mi­nor­ity group, with other mi­nori­ties mak­ing up much of the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. Hunt­ing re­mains the pro­fes­sion of choice for many mi­nori­ties.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists have grand plans for the prov­ince, cre­at­ing wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies and ini­ti­at­ing sus­tain­able tourism ac­tiv­i­ties, but are fac­ing off against spec­u­la­tors and in­dus­tri­al­ists queu­ing up for nat­u­ral re­sources.

Sen Monorom is the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal and doesn’t show up as a typ­i­cal Cam­bo­dian town, while it is the only town the prov­ince has to speak of. With ap­prox. 7500 in­hab­i­tants, 20 guest­houses, 12 restau­rants, 3 bars and no post of­fice it is of­ten com­pared to Amer­i­can Wild West fron­tier towns. Con­cern­ing the quiet­ness and beauty of Sen Monorom peo­ple from other parts of the coun­try move here and there­fore the land price dou­bled from 2006 to 2007. The town of Sen Monorom is the best base camp for trav­ellers who want to ex­plore the sur­round­ing ar­eas. A quiet but beau­ti­ful town nes­tled into the hills; it has a lot of po­ten­tial to de­velop into a cen­tre for non-in­tru­sive eco-tourism. At present, it’s very un­de­vel­oped, which gives you a feel­ing of go­ing some­where off the beaten tourist trail. Add to that the com­mu­ni­ties of hill tribe peo­ple, who are not af­fected by mass-tourism, as they are in neigh­bour­ing Thai­land, and you have an area that is at­trac­tive to the adventure trav­eller.

A real Asian fron­tier town, Mon­dulkiri’s re­cent log­ging and plan­ta­tion boom has even pro­duced some mod­ern im­prove­ments in the down­town area. A ba­sic im­prove­ment was that the street lights came on for the first time in Jan­uary 2012.

Wooden and rel­a­tively old shop houses are spread a civilised dis­tance apart in the sleepy cen­tre of town, and at night, ev­ery­thing goes very quiet and very dark -- a re­fresh­ing change from the non­stop light and ex­cite­ment of Cam­bo­dia’s larger cities. Ameni­ties for tourists have im­proved some­what since the new road was fin­ished a cou­ple years ago, although there still isn’t much in the restau­rant or shop­ping de­part­ment.

Also in­ter­est­ing is the va­ri­ety of lan­guages be­ing used: Kh­mer, hill tribe lan­guages, Vietnamese and Lao. 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in Mon­dulkiri is made up of ten tribal mi­nori­ties, with the ma­jor­ity of them be­ing the Chunchiet from the tribe of the Ph­nong. The re­main­ing 20 per­cent are Kh­mer, Chi­nese and Mus­lim Cham. Most of the pop­u­la­tion lives off the land, plant­ing rice, fruit trees and a va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles. Other tribal mi­nori­ties grow cof­fee, straw­ber­ries, rub­ber and cashew nuts.

More and more houses are built in the typ­i­cal Kh­mer style. Vis­it­ing the hill tribes you still can find the tra­di­tional Ph­nong houses. In the houses you can find tra­di­tional gongs and big jars, whereby the last ones are said to be more than a thou­sand years old. There are var­i­ous sorts of gongs used for dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. Jars and gongs are among the most valu­able pos­ses­sions in an in­dige­nous com­mu­nity, whether in tradi-

tional, spir­i­tual or ma­te­rial terms. Dur­ing the Kh­mer Rouge Regime those ob­jects were buried in hid­den places in the jun­gle and in many cases they still wait in the ground. Land­scapes more rem­i­nis­cent of high-al­ti­tude America than low­land Cam­bo­dia de­fine the Mon­dulkiri re­gion, with flat grass­lands and red earth giv­ing way to steep hill­sides, lovely wa­ter­falls, and lush trop­i­cal jun­gle.

With a small pop­u­la­tion and an equally small pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, tourism re­volves around the out­doors with its stun­ning nat­u­ral beauty and mul­ti­ple wa­ter­falls lo­cated not too far out of town. Most tourists come for adventure ac­tiv­i­ties or to vol­un­teer at one of the many NGOS op­er­at­ing here.of great ap­peal is the weather, which gets down­right chilly at night in the colder months of the dry sea­son, and of­fers a re­fresh­ing change from the heat and hu­mid­ity of Cam­bo­dia’s low­lands. Be­cause of this weather sweaters are es­sen­tial here for the cool evenings.

Tourist agen­cies of­fer ele­phant rid­ing (which is grow­ing more con­tro­ver­sial), na­ture treks, mo­tor­bike tours to re­mote wa­ter­falls, and cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences with the in­dige­nous Bunong peo­ple, a tribe that has been pushed to the mar­gins by the dom­i­nant Kh­mer. Vis­i­tors who do make it out here will be pleased to find a prov­ince pop­u­lated by gen­uinely friendly peo­ple, with su­perb

high-al­ti­tude weather and a wild, if en­dan­gered, beauty.

Mon­dulkiri used to be ex­tremely re­mote, a des­ti­na­tion only favoured by adventure trav­ellers and the un­com­monly sturdy, but with the 2009 open­ing of a well­paved new road from the cap­i­tal city of Ph­nom Penh and an ever-in­creas­ing ar­ray of bus, minibus and taxi ser­vices into the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of Sen Monorom, get­ting here is eas­ier than ever. Eleven mini-suites spread over 3 floors pro­vide a con­nec­tion with na­ture and a green re­treat away from the hec­tic hus­tle of city life.

The Angkor Trop­i­cal Re­sort is a warm and pleas­ant home away from home. Each unit comes with a sep­a­rate and equipped kitchen/din­ing room. Avail­able for the day, week, or month. Con­ve­niently lo­cated close to Phsa Leu, the large lo­cal mar­ket.

Bou Sra wa­ter­fall

Ele­phant Trekking

Mem­bers of the Ph­nong Hill Tribe

Sen Monorom wa­ter­fall

Rub­ber plan­ta­tion

Rope bridge

Credit: Trav­, Tourism­cam­bo­

Lo­cal trans­porta­tion

Siem Reap King­dom of Cam­bo­dia

Tel: 855 12 453 723 book­ing@angko­rtrop­i­cal­re­


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