Experience: exploring the Cambodian wilderness - Cambodia holidays are usually aimed at the more discerning traveller, keen to experience new places and see new things. Cambodia has a sad and shocking history but is now free from the terrible regimes of the past and is happily getting to grips with tourism. It’s rightfully proud of its unspoilt wilderness and the wealth of culture, flora and fauna within.
The north east of the country is definitely the wildest of the country and this is where I ended my South East Asian journey. The provinces of Monulkiri and Ratakakani are mountainous jungle country inhabited by many ethnic people and extraordinary wildlife such as tigers, elephants, eagles, gibbons and leopards. Waterfalls tumble into fast flowing rivers and tribes go about their business in mountain villages.
In Mondulkiri, the capital Sen Mororom is little more than a village, with a few guesthouses and bars to cater for the tourists who are beginning to be a more permanent feature of the region, albeit in small numbers. Guesthouses are simple but spotlessly clean and owners speak excellent English and have partnerships with a local eatery to provide you with a comfortable stay.
Sen Monorom’s main attraction is its centre near the main elephant trekking areas of the region. Just 45 km away is the Elephant Valley Project, part of the Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment. The town’s tourist office can organise a trip to the project, which is expanding all the time and taking care of the regions working elephants. A visit includes a tour of the project, then visitors are instructed on the creature’s body language and offered some short ‘test’ rides. If you then feel confident enough you can take a longer ride out to a local waterfall and after a dip in the water you can help wash the elephants down.
If this whets your appetite for more time with these amazing animals Sen Monorom’s tourist office will also arrange trips out to neighbouring villages Phulung and Putang for elephant trekking at around $30 per day, including lunch, transport and the trek itself.
To see more of the flora and fauna, the neighbouring province of Ratanakiri offers several opportunities. Not to be missed is the Vicheray National Park. Home to some of the remotest tribes in Cambodia, the jungle here is inhabited by tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, and colourful wild parrots, hornbills and other birdlife. A knowledgeable and approved guide is vital as in the right hands you may catch a glimpse of some of the more dangerous creatures!
Another natural wonder of the region is the Yaklom Crater Lake. This circular crystal clear lake is 800 meters across and up to 40 meters deep. Swimming is a must here and the atmosphere is peaceful, tranquil and simply stunning. You should combine a visit here with some of the walking and trekking available through the jungle surrounding the crater.
Treks to visit the villages of the incredibly diverse tribes of the region can take you closer to the real Cambodia than anything else. Not only will you get a chance to see the ways they have lived for thousands of years, but the welcome you are given will ensure you will leave a piece of your heart in Cambodia for ever, I know I did!
Exploring the Cambodian wilderness was written by Linda. Linda is a freelance writer and bookseller who, following 19 years in IT for a large airline, loves to write about the places she has visited. She also adores her other job as a bookseller in a local bookstore.