The Elephant Trek

To get to Sen Monorom, we departed on a minibus which seemed to double up as a delivery service delivering both live chickens and parcels alike. After 6 hours of speeding, cruising over to the wrong side of the road & overtaking on blind corners we finally made it to the sleepy town of Sen Monorom.

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The start of our jungle trek involved riding in the back of a truck with 6 other people, up and down the steepest hills you could imagine, full speed just to get to the base (we went with the Mondulkiri Project). Upon arrival we were greeted by our tour guide and given a talk about the company; as a charity they hire the land of the Banong tribe people to stop them from logging (Cambodia has one of the highest logging problems in the world). Instead, by providing tourist treks through the jungle they provide the locals with jobs so there’s no longer a need to log. They hire and buy the elephants from the Banong people who keep them for spiritual reasons but unfortunately don’t look after them very well and other elephants are bought from tourist companies who use them for elephant tours (especially in Angkor Wat); this can cause their backs to break and they are often not fed properly to keep them week so they don’t fight back. It’s a sad truth that when used in this business their life expectancy dramatically drops to a couple of years. In Cambodia there are only 250 – 500 elephants left, mostly because the Khmer Rouge killed a lot of them. Whilst being kept in this sanctuary they are allowed to roam freely and are never treated badly. They are domestic elephants with good temperaments which means you are able to feed and wash them in the water. As we trekked down a steep hill into the jungle, arms filled with bananas we spotted our first elephant stomping towards us waiting for us to feed her! It was an incredible sight, as one by one, each elephant appeared and you could get so close to them, it was an amazing sight, to be so close to these peaceful yet powerful animals.

That night, we were based in a hut with the most beautiful view overlooking the jungle. For dinner we were given bamboo soup & rice (if your wondering, it tastes like grass…) and played card games with our new tour guide, Mr Grim. Mr Grim is from the Bunong tribe and speaks Bunong (they have their own language!),  Khmer & English. He leads tours a few times a week across the jungle, as well as being a master of the bamboo (he is amazing at weaving baskets, making furniture & even cups, all out of bamboo!) as well as running a small farm where they grow and sell fruit. By 19:30 it was time to go to bed in our hammocks (they really love their hammocks). They don’t stay up watching TV or playing on their phones, its a weird feeling, but kind of liberating to be free of those distractions, something I should probably welcome more… Time will tell… (When does Celebrity BB start again?)

In the morning we were up early for day 2 of our jungle trek. Before departing, we were casually looking out at the view when we saw a monkey swing from the top of the trees. A few minutes later we saw another 2! It was such a rare and beautiful sight, monkeys aren’t often seen in the Jungle because people hunt them to sell to tourists as food. After 3 hours of trekking up steep ascents through farms and jungle we finally reached our first waterfall! It was like a small piece of paradise where we swam and jumped into the water. A short walk away we reached our second waterfall; after a steep and slippery climb to the bottom we were rewarded with the most beautiful sight – no photo could do it justice! Our third and final waterfall was not as big but equally impressive as you walked behind it and peered into the bat caves. A short walk later we came across another, small but wide waterfall which little did I know, we were going to be crossing! With one slow, careful step at a time trying to find each rock in the water I let out a sigh of relief as we finally made it to the other side. From there we had another long and steep ascent until we reached one of the Banong villages! It was like walking into another world; as we walked through the dusty red road, we passed a few thatched roof huts (this is how the Banong people used to live before the Khmer people started moving there and building modern, stone houses). With pigs, cows, dogs and cats roaming about the road a child, probably about 10, zoomed past on a motorbike with 2 even younger children on the back! We finally reached Mr Grim’s house and met some of his family before traveling back to our lodge!

Our final day in Sen Monorom was a chilled one (we needed it!). We caught up on much needed cake, internet, TV, phones, pizza I could go on.. (I’m only joking, we didn’t fall back into the habit that quickly… It took another day…) Our accommodation is called ‘Nature Lodge’ but it’s more like ‘Nature in my Lodge’, we’ve had to share our room with a lizard, 2 very scary spiders and a bird hiding somewhere in the room (all yet to pay their fair share!). Despite this, the accommodation is beautiful, the sky turns pink as the sun goes down and there’s no light pollution so at night you can see more stars than I’ve ever seen before.

A photo of Mr Grim, bamboo birds he made & his daughter holding the family cat

To get into town you have to hire a taxi, only here, the taxi’s are in the form of motorbikes, so on we got, with no helmets, up winding, dusty dirt tracks. (That was my first experience on a motorbike, and maybe the last…) We visited the number 2 (out of 3) rated restaurant on Trip Advisor. When there we bumped into Sen Monorom’s most famous part time expat Mr Lee (there’s only 1 expat) who helped to set up the Mondulkiri Project (he was our tour guide on day 1) and had lunch together. A few hours later he pulled up on the side of the road where he offered us 2 beers and a soursop fruit (google it) which tasted liked champagne!

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Culture shock moment: When a women working at the Mondulkiri Project had a bad tooth so instead of going to the dentist (the company provide all their staff with western medicine and treatment) she knocked her tooth out on a tree…

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