MONDULKIRI PROVINCE in eastern Cambodia is the most sparsely populated province in the whole country even though it also the largest province in Cambodia. The province is chock full of natural beauty, with thickly forested mountains, powerful waterfalls and the lush green rolling hills of the western side. Despite growing deforestation and the search for valuable minerals, Mondulkiri has still has some of the largest forests in Cambodia.
Mondulkiri province is situated on the southeast plateau that ranging in altitude from around 200 to 1000 meters. Its capital Sen Monorom is about 375 kilometers from Phnom Penh. The province is bordered by Vietnam to the east and south, Ratanakiri Province to the north, and Kratie province to the West. Beside a bunch of smaller rivers, which grow quite big during the rainy season, there are two bigger rivers crossing the province (the Preaek Chhbaar and the Preaek Te River ). The total area of Mondulkiri is about 14,288 square kilometers.
About 80 percent of the population in Mondulkiri Province 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 and groups such as the Stieng, Kuoy, Tum Poun and Charay people. Most of the population lives off the land, planting rice, fruit trees and a variety of vegetables. Others grow, coffee, strawberries, rubber and cashew nuts. These minorities believe in spirits and have animist beliefs. According to to the 2007 census there are only 44,913 people (22,890 male and 22,023 female) living in Mondulkiri Province. This works out to 3.14 inhabitants per square kilometer.
A variety of languages is used in Mondulkiri Province: Khmer, hill tribe languages, Vietnamese and Lao. 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 in traditional, spiritual or material terms. During the Khmer Rouge Regime those objects were buried and hidden.
The vast majority of the indigenous peoples living in Mondulkiri are subsistence farmers, who are planting some rice and other vegetables, more or less to feed themselves. The production of the province’s famous rice wine is a source of income. Additionally the indigenous people sell handmade products such as bracelets, necklaces, scarfs, Kramas etc. to the few visiting tourists. Vietnam has a big influence on Mondulkiri. Somes signs are in Vietnamese. Lots of Vietnamese products are sold here. Unfortunately in recent years the selling of real estate has became a big source of income due to the fact that international mining companies are buying land to find bauxite.
Mondulkiri province has a climate like the other areas in the country. The rainy season runs from June to October and features temperature above 25 degrees C. The cool season is from November to February, with temperatures above 20 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May. Temperatures then range from 20 degrees to 30 degrees Mondulkiri's average temperature throughout the year is definitely lower than in other areas of Cambodia.
Sen Monorom (375 kilometers from Phnom Penh) is the provincial capital of Mondulkiri Province and really the only town of any size the province has to speak of. It is home to 7500 inhabitants, 20 guesthouses, 12 restaurants, 3 bars and no post office. Due to outsiders moving in prices doubled from 2006 to 2007. A quiet but beautiful town nestled into the hills, Sen Monorom serves as the best base camp for travellers who want to explore the surrounding areas and has a lot of potential to develop into a center for non-intrusive eco-tourism. At present, it's very undeveloped and 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 very attractive to the adventure traveler.
Many of the goods in the market are from nearby Vietnam. It's an all-purpose market, but it doesn't have the feel of the typical Cambodian market, which is probably again due to the closeness of Vietnam and the hill tribe people who come here. There are definitely some nice bracelets, adornments or Kramas made by the hill tribes. You'll find noodle, dessert and fruit stalls at the front end of the market and the moneychangers are in front as well. They change dollars, riel and Vietnamese currency.
Mornings are the best time of the day to hit the town market and stroll about. This is when many people from the various area hill tribe communities come to the market to sell their wares and purchase supplies. It's a good environment in which to unobtrusively observe their attire and with their permission; possibly get snapshots of them going about their normal business at the market.
The two small lakes in town are good spots for hanging out and watching the local's fish and swim. Jump in yourself if the heat of the day is too much. An old wooden temple on the hills at the south end of town is being joined by a new temple next to it. This is where the monks of Sen Monorom teach.
Restaurants in Sen Monorom
Because this is a small and little developed tourist destination, the restaurants don't think about serving tourists. There just haven't been many coming to Sen Monorom. And with the locals usually eating at home, the restaurants don't stock much food. The procedure here is to go one hour before to the restaurant you would like to eat and tell them what you would like to eat. You can leave then, while they go to the market to buy the ingredients and return to the restaurant to prepare the dishes. An alternative would be to stop by in the morning and tell them what you want for lunch or evening meal. It's certainly not the norm at destinations around Cambodia, but here it seems to work out okay. Anyhow there are more restaurants opening during the last 2 years, which serve mostly Khmer or Vietnamese food. You might ask them to combine something for a more European style.
Chom Nor Mondulkiri restaurant is the biggest in town and serving Asian and European foods. Pich Kiri is the oldest accommodation place in Sen Monorom. It serves their guests fresh, tasty and reasonable dishes. It's located east from the market next to the street leading to the centre. Holiday Guesthouse is next to the street leading to the centre, but a bit further away. They have a small restaurant offering quite common Khmer dishes. Arun Reah 2 Guesthouse is 1.5 kilometers from the town center on the main road, which goes to Snoul. It has a small restaurant offering a limited menu.
If you're eager to have some real European food made by a European you'll need to visit the Bananas. The wooden house next to a tiny creek is owned by a German woman named Tanja. She is a cook and cooks on request. The dishes are real good and quite reasonable. It's situated down the hill from the center and then left before you pass the bridge. A restaurant on the corner of a main intersection doesn’t have a name, but it's easy to find. It's a very simple place, but they do a good job concerning the food and they have drinks with ice. The prices are very reasonable. It's right next to the centres round about (two buffalos). There are two restaurants near the entrance area to the market. They double as community entertainment centers; local residents gather outside to gaze at videos on the TV screens inside. They can also serve the necessary karaoke hall function.
Accommodation in Sen Monorom
Mondulkiri Hotel & Restaurant is the biggest hotel in town (tel. 855 (0) 12 777 057, 11/12 22 99 82). Featuring hill top views, it offers 50 rooms including 2 luxurious bungalows. Air-conditioning is available in 16 of the rooms, the rest are provided with fans. There are 23 doubles ranging from $15 to $20 and 27 twin rooms starting at $25 up to $35, alas single rooms are not available. The hotels’ restaurant, located along the river, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Prices for breakfast are approximately $3 and lunch and dinner start at $3 up to $10. There is also a meeting room, with many facilities available. Other services include laundry, car rental and internet. English speaking staff is available.
Oeun Sakona Hotel & Restaurant (tel. 855 (0) 12 950 680, 11 270 026, 17 472 747) is Centrally located. It offers 47 rooms with hot water along with 12 air-conditioned rooms at $20 while the remaining rooms are provided with fans for $12. There are 4 single rooms, all with fans, that cost $5.50. For large families there is one room containing four beds. The hotel also offers discounts to groups that occupy 10 or more rooms. The restaurant serves Asian and Western meals three times a day. The food prices differ from approximately $2.50 in the morning to $4 for lunch and dinner. A meeting room is available, equipped with modern facilities. Other services include laundry, tourist information, tour guides, motorbike rentals and bus tickets.
Long Vibol Guest House and Restaurant. (Tel: (012) 944 647, (012) 823 054) is a nice guesthouse with a lot of bungalows. Situated past the Sen Monorom airstrip, it is oriented more towards the NGO crowd than independent travelers and backpackers. Mr Vibol speaks fine English. The restaurant here dishes up some good food; e.g. the steamed fish looked particularly good, but the preparation of the food takes quite a time. The room rates are from US$8-30, depending on what you want to be included and for how much people.
Pich Kiri. (Tel: (012) 932 102, (012) 316 108) is the oldest accommodation place in Sen Monorom and for the budget traveler it remains the best choice. Rooms are very clean and outfitted with TV, cold-water showers and massive wooden chairs. Motorbikes can be rented here and trekking and elephant riding can also be organised. It's located east from the market next to the street leading to the centre.
Holiday Guesthouse. (Tel: (012) 936606) is also next to the street leading to the centre, but a bit further away. They have a small restaurant offering quite common Khmer dishes. The room rates are around US$8-10. Arun Reah 2 Guesthouse. (Tel: (012) 856667) is a big guesthouse about 1.5 kilometers far from the center on the main road, which goes to Snoul. It has a small restaurant offering a limited menu. They have nice bungalows with wonderful views over the rolling hills. The room rates are around US$10. Nature Lodge is located in a beautiful valley two kilometers above the town and is surrounded by the misty hills of the Mondulkiri highlands. The lodge is for people who like to explore for themselves. Just follow the signs or ask a motorbike driver to take yu and you will find us. The room rates vary so come and have a look yourself.
Getting to Mondulkiri
There are no regular commercial flights to Sen Monorom. The road from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri is in reasonably good condition by Cambodian standards. It takes about 7 to 8 hours to drive in the rainy season. There are many taxi and private transfers available. By bus: Coming from Phnom Penh it will at least take a whole day to manage the trip to Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri. Mostly there are only small buses during the dry season, as the road gets slippery and impassable for buses. By pick up: This is definitely the easiest and fastest method to go to Mondulkiri. There is quite a lot of pick up's leaving Phnom Penh near the Sorya bus station (street #80) to go to Mondulkiri. As they mostly overload the pick up's, make sure you'll have a seat inside or you'll have to join the windy and quite incomfortable loading area. The average price is about US$10-14 for the whole ride. The ride passes by some beautiful and diverse countryside, regardless of which direction you are coming from. Security is not a problem these days.
Kratie to Mondulkiri: If you are coming on the bomb-cratered highway from Kratie, go straight when you get into Snoul town, and when you come to the crossing of the road, which leads to Kampong Cham, there is another one (laterite surface) to Mondulkiri you have to take. After about 7 kilometers you come to a four-way junction, where you turn left to Mondulkiri. Snoul to Mondulkiri is about 130 km, and if you are coming from Kratie the entire trip is about 215 kilometers. The trip is one of the nicest you can make by motorbike in the whole country, but you need to do it during the dry season as the road can get one of the worse during the rainy season. The unpaved dust road is nowadays under construction and will definitely become better in oncoming times.
Kampong Cham to Mondulkiri: Kampong Cham to Snoul turn off (to go to Mondulkiri) is a doable stretch of Highway 7. It's about 143 kilometers to Snoul and 275 kilometers for the entire trip. Just before you reach Snoul town you will notice a police box on the right. The road curves to the right and left, and you go to the right to reach Mondulkiri. About 7 kilometers down you will come to a four-way junction where you turn left for the ride to Mondulkiri.
The road from Snoul to Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri, is a decent, level dirt variety that you can make fairly good time on. This changes during the rainy season when rainfall will make the wet surface as slippery as ice. Food and fuel can be purchased in Snoul town. You’ll have another opportunity to gas up or to buy some food on the half way from Snoul to Sen Monorom as there is a bigger village right before you enter the densely wooded area.
Sen Monorom to Banlung, Rattanakiri: If you want to go by motorcycle from Sen Monorom to Banlung, Rattanakiri, and it is rainy season, read the section entitled The Death Highway or follow this simple advice: don't do it. Even in the dry season, it's a tough trail that will put your riding skills to the test. Make sure you have spate parts for your motorcycle, and plenty of food and drinking water. The trip will take about two days during the dry season and Kaoh Nhek town (near halfway) is the only place that sells bottled water and some food. Fuel is also available. Don't do it alone. It's best to have some help if you have a bike breakdown or a mishap. You are a long way from help in most stretches of this remote trail. It would also be best to bring a Khmer speaker along, as the trail intersects sometimes with other trails and you will want to clarify that you took the proper way when you do come across somebody. It's definitely an adventure, if you try to tackle it, be fully prepared so you have an opportunity to enjoy it.
Tourist Sites in Mondulkiri
Plantation of Pinetrees (6 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is a plantation of pine trees located on the highlands.
Memang Gold Mines Area (45 kilometers from Sen Monorom) takes around 3 hours to reach by car. The journey is beautiful and the trip takes place through winding tracks and sprawling forests. Located near O’Clor Village, the Memang Gold Mines Area is a wildlife reserve and is home to wide variety of flora and fauna.. Elephant trekking tours can be undertaken here. There are also provisions for camping in the place. Travelers can get useful information on the Memang Gold Mines Area from the local tourist office or various travel agents. There are single day tours as well as half day tours.
Phnom Kraol Cultural Resort (111 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Orayes Village, Srè Sangkom Commune, Koh Nhèk District; 3 kilometers away from the town of Koh Nhèk District. It can be accessed by the red pebble path. There are more than 135 families living in the Phnom Kraol area, This resort is managed by the Inter-commune Commission for Managing the Phnom Kraol Cultural Resort. Kraol Mountain is covered by forest provides plenty of opportunities for picnicking and hiking. Its main point of interest is a place of worship on the mountaintop where residents and tourists always visit to pray for happiness and prosperity.
Phnom Nam Lear Sanctury (80 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is a natures and wildlife preserve in the Pichinda District on the border of Dalak Provincein Vietnam. The sanctuary is one of the main wild life reserves in the province and is home to wide species of local birds and animals. It takes around 4 hours to travel from the main town center to the sanctuary by car. The journey is very pleasant as the route goes through winding routes and idyllic forests. Travelers can also camp in the sanctuary or stay in small cottages. The sanctuary is full of beautiful cliffs, small waterfalls, streams and sprawling greenery. Various tours are undertaken to Phnom Nam Lear Sanctuary. There are travel agencies which organize such tours. Trekking tours are also undertaken.
Phnom Prich Sanctuary in Mondulkiri is a part of the initiative undertake by the Cambodian Government to conserve the diverse flora and fauna in the country. The sanctuary forms part of the 1 million hectare of land in the Eastern Plains. The WWF has also helped the government in the undertaking. The sanctuary is home to some endangered species and wide varieties of mammals, birds and reptiles. Some of the protected species in the sanctuary are tiger, Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, jungle cat, and deer and so on. Some bird species include sarus, crane and giant ibises.
Riverside (150 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in at Koh Nhek District. The riverside has red and golden colored sand, and stretches along the Sre Pork River mixing with many small islands. The riverside is the leisure place for the local people of Koh Nhek District.
Pahlung Village (8 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is an hour’s drive from the main town center. Travelers can undertake an elephant trekking trip to the village. The village is on the route to the Bousra Waterfalls. The route is wonderful and takes place through winding tracks, sprawling rainforests and idyllic waterfalls. It's a good idea to come out here the day before (possibly on your way to Bousra Waterfall) to organize elephant trekking so they have the animal ready to go the next morning. You can take a half- or full day trip in the surrounding area. It’s good to wear long pants and bring some mosquito repellent, drinking water and food. To get there, just head north from Sen Monorom. When you get to the fork in the road, go right. People in the small houses on the right can fetch the elephant guy for you. If you go by moto-taxi, the driver can help with the translation of arranging the tour. The guy at the town tourist office, if you can ever find him there and he's not sleeping can also set the tour up for you. But he takes a cut. Figure around US$ 15 for a half day or US $ 30 for a full-day tour.
The village has many traditional houses constructed using old-style methods. Some have interesting designs and decorations. Travelers who visit the village have a feel of the diverse culture of the rural areas in Mondulkiri. Travelers can also buy local artifacts and handicrafts from the village and taste local food. The village is located along a valley which features many natural attractions such as mountains, grass fields, and wildlife. The Pou Lung villagers are predominantly indigenous groups such as Phnong, Krueng, and Stieng.
There are various ways to go to Pahlung Village. Apart from elephant treks, travelers can also hire shuttle cars and taxis to the village. The small village is full of scenic spots. Travelers can have a feel of the local rustic setting in the village. They can see the local huts and houses which are wonderfully designed. The forests which surround the village are also home to different varieties of flora and fauna. There are provisions for camping in the village.
Waterfalls in Mondulkiri
Boo Sra Waterfall (43 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Pich Chinda District and is regarded as the most beautiful waterfall in Modulkiri. It has three stages: The first stage of the waterfall is 15 to 20 meters high in the rainy season, and 18 to 25 meters high in dry season. The second stage of waterfall is 150 meters away from the first stage. The second stage of the waterfall is 15 to 20 meters high in the rainy season, and 20 meters wide and 18-meter to 25- meters high in dry season. The second stage of waterfall is 150 meters away from the first stage. The third stage of the waterfall has stronger flow than the second stage. This stage can not be reached because it is located in the thick forest.
The double-drop waterfall is very popular with the locals who use it as a bathing and picnic spot. Its top level is around 10 meters in height, and the lower level drops down 25 meter to the gorge. It is in a scenic and pristine setting and offers great photo ops. Nearby is the ethnic Phnong village called Pichinda which has a small guesthouse. Some snacks are available at the falls, but bring food if you would like something more substantial. Getting to requires a ride on a very rough road.
Sen Monorum Waterfall (5 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Sen Monorum District near plantations for rubber, coffee and cashew as well. The local people usually meet each other at Sen Monorum waterfall during the holidays and national festivals because it is close to the provincial town. Sen Monorum waterfall has three stages: The first stage has a slow speed, and is one meter high. During the rainy season, the second stage of the waterfall has strong speed, and is six to seven meters high. During the dry season, it is seven to nine meters high and 4-5 meters wide . At the waterfall, there is a large space of resting and enjoying. The third stage is one- kilometer from the second stage. It is only 1.5- meters high.
Rum Near Waterfall (10.5 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Sen Monorum District in and has a good location near plantations for rubber, coffee, cashew, mango and avocado, During the rainy season, the waterfall is five meters high. At the waterfall, there are many big trees.
Chrey Thom Waterfall (43 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Sen Monorum District. During the dry season, the waterfall is 15 meters high and during the rainy season it is 11 meters high. The waterfall is surrounded by the plantation of Sro Lou and there is a big and brandy tree of Chrey.
LA ang Khin Waterfall (26 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Pouyam Village, SÃ?n Monorom Commune, Oreang District. It can be accessed by path. Around the waterfall, most of the residents do farming. During the rainy season, the waterfall is 22-25 meters in height and 7-10 meters in diameter. During the dry season, the waterfall is 28 meters in height and 8 meters in diameter. It is one of the highest flowing-down waterfalls in the Mondulkiri province. At its base, there is a big water reservoir in which tourists can swim. There are also many big trees providing cool shade for them.
Lak Pok Bras Waterfall (13 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is located in Romanea Commune, Sen Monorom District. It can be reached by path. There are more than 569 families living in the Lak Pok Bras area, whose main occupations are farming. During the rainy season, the waterfall is 8 meters in height and 39 meters in diameter. During the dry season, the waterfall is 10 meters in height and 20 meters in diameter. At its base, there is a big water reservoir in which tourists can swim. There are many big trees providing cool shade for them. Next to Lak Pok Bras waterfall is the home of an indigenous ethnic group.
O Taing Laing Waterfall (60 kilometers from Sen Monorom) is surrounded by a beautiful forest and is full of scenic beauty. The route to the waterfall is full of idyllic tracks and small cliffs. There is also a small pool underneath the waterfall where travelers can swim. Trekking tours are also undertaken to Taing Laing Waterfall. Travelers can also camp near the waterfall.There are plenty of travel agencies which organize tours to Taing Laing. The tours are mostly single day trips. Travelers can also hire shuttle cars and taxis which ply between the waterfall and the town center.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020