TREKKING AND ELEPHANTS IN MONDULKIRI
By Pierre Couturier
Getting ready to explore Cambodia
The idea of a trek had been growing with a few friends for many weeks. We wanted to surpass ourselves and discover Cambodian nature at its most beautiful. However, that’s not all. We also wanted to see elephants, and given the abuse of these animals in Asia, we wanted to see elephants in a responsible and sustainable way!
Trekking in Mondulkiri with the Mondulkiri project seemed to us to be the best organization to work with, plus the best to work out physically, this would allow us to take full advantage to enjoy the Cambodian jungle. Mondulkiri is located in the northeast of Cambodia, it is advisable to give yourself time to use transport. We opted for the TCT Mondulkiri Express bus company, which has good reviews. It’s important to note that when travelling within Cambodia, you make sure that the transport company has a good reputation.
The price of the ticket cost us $11.55 on the way there. It is best to allow almost 8 hours of travel, we left at 13:00 and arrived around 21:00. The bus we caught to Mondulkiri had all the necessary comfort and safety features (air conditioning and seat belts). Don’t be surprised if the driver often overtakes multiple vehicles at one time, this is normal in Cambodia. Don’t worry though, the driver who was with us took no unneeded risks.
At the same time as we booked our bus tickets, we also booked two nights at the Tree Lodge hostel which is not far from the final bus stop in Mondulkiri. The price of the Tree Lodge was $15 in total for one night and one day.
The significant advantage of this hostel is that the meeting point for trekking and elephant visits is located there. The Tree Lodge also has good reviews on the internet. You do not have to sleep in this hostel to get to the Mondulkiri project meeting place. We thought it would be easier.
Arriving to Mondulkiri
Arriving at Mondulkiri around 9pm, the increased altitude of the region during our bus trip, meant we were surprised by the difference in temperature with Phnom Penh. It was much colder. It was very easy for us to order a tuk-tuk that accompanied us to the Tree Lodge. We paid $2 per tuk-tuk located about 1km from the bus station and 5 minutes travel time. We were very well received at the hostel. The Tree Lodge serves excellent and varied dishes. There is something for everyone. Rooms at the Tree Lodge can accommodate up to 6 people, so you can come with friends! We slept well, there are all the necessary comforts. We woke up and had breakfast on the terrace of the hostel, the place is very pretty.
Trekking in Mondulkiri
At 9am on Saturday morning, we had an appointment with Mr. Tree to explain the day’s itinerary and give us some instructions. He’s a really funny and friendly man! There were too many people to go and see the elephants on Saturday so Mr. Tree suggested that we go on the trek on Saturday, which we accepted! We were psychologically ready. A pickup truck took us to the trekking meeting point located 10 minutes away. As outlined in the instructions, the trek is at an intermediate level, it is important to be in good physical condition. Nor (Mr. Jungle), the man who guides and accompanies you on the trek is adorable. At the beginning of your trek, he will give you water and take it with him, even if he hardly drinks any. Nor speaks English, is a jungle man who regularly treks.
During this trek, you will have the chance to see the landscapes of Cambodia like you will never see them elsewhere. Mondulkiri has the particularity of having landscapes with views or vistas. Expect during this trek to go down, up, down, up, down, up…
We had some difficulties at the beginning of our trek, but after 2 hours, our body got used to it. We were able to continue our trek without any problems. By 12 noon, we had already completed 9 kilometers. We stopped by a small waterfall for lunch. On the menu, we had a choice: rice, eggs and meat. All you need to give yourself a little more strength before you go back for the trek.
The afternoon was as active as the morning with more climbs and descents under a very hot sun. Nothing was going to prevent us from enjoying Mondulkiri’s idyllic landscapes, breathtaking waterfalls and fields as far as the eye can see, Cambodians are always ready to smile at you too..
Arriving back at 5pm at the Mondulkiri Project hostel, we were able to admire the sumptuous view over the entire jungle. We were almost above the clouds. A fog seizes the whole valley, it’s breathtaking.
A meal with Nor (Mr Jungle) and the other trekkers will be at your disposal. We ate rice and vegetables. It was very good. Actually, we would have eaten anything given the hard afternoon we had spent, we were starving! On site, you will also have the opportunity to refresh yourself with soft drinks: beer, coca etc… After rewarding ourselves with a small rice alcohol digestive for our trek with Nor, we went to sleep in the hammocks of the Mondulkiri Project hostel. The next morning, we woke up around 8 a.m. because we had an appointment at 9 a.m. with a member of the NGO to explain to us how the day would be. You will have the opportunity to take a shower and breakfast at the hostel.
Meetign the elephants
At 9 a.m., we were given a summary of the elephants and the vocation of the NGO. There are 5 elephants you can see and feed. The Mondulkiri project NGO is committed to its responsible image and its willingness to take care of elephants. So, there is NO riding elephants.
You will have to walk a few hundred meters from the hostel to meet them. People who don’t go on a trek come by pick-up from Tree Lodge to the hostel in the middle of the jungle. Before going to meet the first elephant, Soso, we were given some bananas and bits of bamboo to feed the elephants. After seeing all the elephants, we returned to the jungle hostel (Mondulkiri project) to eat. We had lunch with all the elephant visitors. It was a good time to be together.
In the afternoon, we went back to see the elephants in a different light. We had the chance to swim in the river, while feeding the elephants who were very close to us. It was a magical moment that we will not soon forget.
For us, we preferred to go on a trek before seeing the elephants. Seeing the elephants in these conditions was the reward for a long weekend.
For the return trip to Phnom Penh, we booked with the bus company Virak Buntham, which offers a sleeper bus. We advise you to take a sweater, a cap and a mask to sleep in peace. This is because the buses do not turn off the air conditioning otherwise it gets too hot… A blanket/cover will be provided for you. The bunks are a little small so we advise you to bunk with someone you know. If you are a solo female traveler, you have the opportunity to ask to be paired up with another female.
The only downside to the return trip was the bus being 2 hours late, but after such a magical weekend, we would have waited much longer…
- Don’t forget your sunscreen, mosquito repellent and comfortable clothing. Wear a hat to avoid sunburn and keep your head cool. It may be a good idea to include a bathing suit and a sweater.
- Don’t forget to take cash with you, preferably in small notes, you have the opportunity to withdraw money on site in Mondulkiri. However, the ATM could not always be working.
- The 18 km trek is of intermediate level but it is advisable to be in good physical condition and to be psychologically prepared it would be a great pity to have to retire during the day…
(Edited by: Derrick Murray)