Our plan had us heading straight to Ban Lung, but instead we decided to head east into the Mondulkiri (lots of beautiful jungle cloaked mountains and plantations, but little else). In Sen Monorom (the regional capital) we scored a cute little bungalow at the Happy Elephant for super cheap – no frills but all the thrills – and headed straight for a waterfall to enjoy the rest of the day. We had heard bizarrely good reports of a pizza restaurant (Mondulkiri Pizza) in the town, so thought we would have a look and after about half and hour of wandering the back streets, in the pitch black being barked at by every single dog, we managed to find it and had an admittedly great pizza while watching the Cambodia v Japan football.
Next up, a very exciting day. We were headed into the jungle to see the elephants the Green House Elephant Program! You can imagine how we might have been very excited!! We could not recommend this fantastic trip enough – it is run by an inspirational Khmer guy who is trying so hard to improve the lives of not only the elephants, but the Bunong people, an ethnic minority living in this part of Cambodia who are desperately poor and isolated hill tribes. The first highlight of the tour was going into the village, learning about their animist (spirit worshipping) culture and meeting some of the old people there, who he is building a home for nearby to replace their small huts and allow them to live in more comfort.
And then………….. ELEPHANT TIME!!!!!
We walked about half an hour into the jungle and waited in a clearing, bunch of bananas in hand, while the local mahouts brought their three elephants for a meet and greet and banana feeding session. Part of the program is rehabilitating working elephants while still providing the mahouts a wage, so they can now earn more through this than using the elephants for illegal logging or as natural tractors. We learned about each of the elephants characters and history – one, a big bull, was over 100 years old.
We left the elephants in peace and went for a short hike through the bush to a waterfall for a wonderful lunch prepared by one of the Bunong ladies in the jungle, after which we were rejoined by the elephants for bath time. The mahouts led them into the waterfall and we readily joined in for a swim and a splash – who wouldn’t!!!
What an incredible day! Definitely a top highlight of our trip so far – ear to ear grins all round!
Our final port of call in Cambodia was then Ban Lung, where we stayed in relative style at the Banlung Balcony, a gorgeous, wood panelled old style hotel with a great bar and brilliant food!
As we had an afternoon, we rented ancient bicycles and cycled to Yeak Loam crater lake for a swim and a chilled afternoon. We thought it was hard cycling the ancient things a short way in the heat, so were embarrassed to meet a pair of English women cycling all around South East Asia doing about 140km a day through the mountains. Fair play!
Next day we had a leisurely morning eating our breakfast, including Abby’s Bor Bor – a traditional and delicious rice porridge soup with onions, garlic and lime. Then, given that we had, at this point, been on the back of at least three different moto taxis we thought we would give it a go ourselves and rented a scooter.
We toured around the town and three beautiful nearby waterfalls (Cha Ong, Ka Tieng, Ka Chang), braving dirt roads, pig slaloms and (fortunately) very little traffic. We are still alive, unhurt and now better at scootering!