Travel Review: Exploring with Elephants (Ethically) in Mondulkiri

Located five hours from Phnom Phen and eight hours from Siem Reap, you need to visit Mondulkiri if you enjoy nature and the company of animals. The Sen Monorom region colours the landscape varied strokes of green and is perfect for trekking – but more so for visiting elephants in their natural habitat. With eco-tourism currently booming, it is important to conduct research on whichever company you choose in order to ensure the best treatment for the elephant(s) that you’re visiting in:

Mondulkiri, Cambodia

How To Get There: via bus from either Phnom Phen or Siem Reap – I arrived from Siem Reap for 18$

Currency: Cambodian Riels or US Dollars – most transactions are in USD but local mini-marts mainly accept CR due to the low prices of items

What To Expect: The Mondulkiri Project was started by Mr. Tree in 2014, with the aim to rescue, rehabilitate, and care for elephants with a traumatic past; not only does Mr. Tree provide the elephants with their natural habitat but he also ensures that visitors remember the fact that they are visitors – so forceful behaviour is not tolerated. Besides that, The Mondulkiri Project employs people from the Bunong tribe while also providing healthcare for them – this is because the forest where the elephants are located belongs to the Bunong tribe.

There are currently six elephants altogether but visitors are only allowed to meet five, the females, as the male elephant can be aggressive – a gender trait. As the Cambodian government does not have any current initiatives to continue the legacy of Cambodian elephants, Mr. Tree feels passionately about breeding elephants himself – especially as the current youngest elephant in Cambodia, Comvine whom we met, is already 32 years old! If you’re starting to worry at the word “breeding”, don’t because his version of breeding is simple: purchasing a male elephant (he’s a recent addition).

Additional Information: The one-day tour includes transport to and fro while also providing a local lunch, prepared by the Bunong tribe. After lunch, guests are given time to relax at The Jungle Lodge, which has numerous hammocks facing the sun-bathed forest. Local coffee, and tea, made in Mondulkiri is served shortly before leaving for the last activity: bathing the elephants; as the elephants roam freely, we had to wait in the waterfall with banana bunches in order to coax the gentle giants to join us – we were provided with buckets and scrubs to use on them, which we happily did as some of them were covered in soil.

Price: 50$ for the one-day tour

Other Recommendations: Tree Lodge, owned by Mr. Tree, is the perfect base if you also choose The Mondulkiri Project – and I highly recommend that you do. Located on the outskirts of town, the property is set amidst greenery on all sides and for just 7$ (27 MYR) a night, a wooden bungalow is all yours – with a balcony inclusive of a hammock, a double bed, outdoor-styled toilet (with hot water), and wifi. An on-site restaurant boasts an extensive menu catering to Western and Asian tastebuds, with prices low to mid-range – perfect for any budget, such as mine which was below 3$ per meal. Plus, the outdoor patio is, and was, the place to be if you want to watch the sun paint the sky a tequila sunrise.

“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is you never forget an elephant.” Bill Murray

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