18.07.2012 30 °C
We left Kratie a few days ago and quite a lot has happened since. The morning of our departure we left our guesthouse with six tickets booked for the minivan to Sen Monorom. This was our first experience of a Cambodian minivan and little did we know that it bore little relation to the Laos version. In Laos a minivan is full when the fourteen or so seats are sold, in Cambodia the minivan is full when you cannot physically fit any more people into it. And so we left for Sen Monorom, full to the brim with one lady practically sitting on the drivers lap and an hour and a half later than advertised. The journey was not the worst we've done but it was none too pleasant either. The five hour journey bore dramatic witness to the slash and burn approach to agriculture in Cambodia. Thankfully the scenery changed as we headed deeper into the Mondulkiri province and approached our destination. We got our lodgings in fairly speedy fashion, it was certainly the biggest room we've stayed in thus far and the beds were massive (and more thàn likely made from the forests we'd seen cut down). There isn't a whole lot to Sen Monorom itself, it's a quiet enough spot, two streets and a medieval style market.
The following day we ventured out to the Elephant Valley Project, a sanctuary for rescued elephants which is run by an English guy named Jake. It's situated in a protected forest about 20km outside of the town and it truly is a wonderful settîng. We had debated about going on an elephant trek or taking this ethical option, in the end our conscience won out. We we're picked up early in the morning along with a couple of Danish girls and an Italian couple, Christopher and Giulia, whom we'd met on our minivan journey from Kratie. The morning we were there, there was an assortment of volunteers on the project - some day trippers like ourselves, others on week-long stints and whoever else was hanging around for a few days.
We made our way with a group of about fifteen to a place called the Edge of Heaven. A few minutes later a male bull elephant called Bob and his female companion, Onion, were being washed by their mahouts in the river. Once they'd finished four other females arrived at the river. We'd spend the next couple of hours in their company - washing, scrubbing, feeding and generally observing them. It was really nice to see them behave in a somewhat natural environment even if it's not their natural wild one. As former working elephants mostly over 40 years old it would be impossible to return them to the wild. This sanctuary is probably the best humans can offer them instead.
The following day we hired a driver to bring us around some of the sights of Mondulkiri. Our first stop was the Bousra Waterfalls, a set of two falls of 18m and 36m respectively. Pretty impressive stuff that generated a mist reminiscent of the one that rolls over Allihies in West Cork from time to time. Next we called to a traditional Phnong village to visit a farmhouse and sample some of their grub. We tried a root vegetable that tasted pretty much like boiled potato but its name escapes me now. Next up we went to a coffee plantation for some lunch which consisted of Khmer crepes, some of the nicest, freshest food I've had in a long time. The guide brought us to a number of other places that were nice but to be honest it was more interesting just getting his slant on the current socio-economic situaion in the country. A little like Laos, it looks like Cambodias natural resources are being sold to the Chinese and Vietnamese for little more than a song.
Yesterday we arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital city, after driving through the flattest countryside I've ever seen. Flat as far as the eye can see. The capital could not be more different from the Mondulkiri region. It's a bustling, cosmopolitan Asian capital - exactly as you'd imagine one really. Its choc-full of foreigners - both ex-pat and tourist alike and the traffic is just incredible to observe. It's like being in a little Bangkok. We'll head for the sights this morning and hopefully see the Killing Fields outside the city although we're still not sure how we'll manage it with the kids.