Currently in Moraira, Spain

Mondulkiri – The last frontier

Home » Destinations » Cambodia » Mondulkiri – The last frontier


Last Update: January 2023




Mondulkiri is a province in the East of Cambodia and one of the last bulwarks of pristine nature. The province is characterized by rolling hills clad with dense forests that harbor a rich and diverse wildlife. Wild rivers that meander through picture perfect valleys lead to impressive waterfalls. Meanwhile, the friendly indigenous Bunong people (or Phnong) carry on with their traditional lifestyle as they have been doing for centuries.


View of Mondulkiri province
View of Mondulkiri province


Traveling to Cambodia? Quick-check the up-to-date entry requirements




Mondulkiri

My heart bleeds

12 years ago I visited Mondulkiri for the first time and I was in awe over the beauty. Lush green forest, stretching out for as far as my eyes could see. Cheerful bird sounds everywhere next to the plaintive calls of the gibbons in the morning.

Fast forward 12 years later I see rubber, coffee and cashew plantations everywhere. They go on for miles and have replaced large parts of the forest and unique wildlife habitat.

I am neither a righteous environmentalist, nor do I pretend to have a perfect carbon footprint myself. Also, I don’t want to deny Mondulkiri its share of modern day progress. But this is so terribly wrong.

If only the local population would benefit then at least there would be some sense of justification. Alas, the only ones benefiting are corrupt, land grabbing government officials in Phnom Penh and greedy (inter)national conglomerates that never seem to have enough.

Ok, rant over.


Forest being deforested
Deforestation in progress: photocredit: @forest-trends.org

You should still come

You should still come to Mondulkiri and here is why. First of all, Mondulkiri is the largest province in Cambodia. While the destruction of nature is devastating, for now there is still a lot of nature left. Come to see it now or regret it forever.

Secondly, local tourism entrepreneurs fully understand the unique selling points of Mondulkiri. Therefore, they are developing a sustainable and non intrusive Eco tourism product. This will attract more, but responsible visitors to the area. Subsequently, it will benefit the local community with minimal negative effects to the delicate remaining Eco system.

The Eco tourism industry is also trying to raise awareness on nature preservation among the locals. It is, after their livelihood. The government practice of land grabbing will hopefully meet with growing resistance when Mondulkiri’s residents stand up for their rights.


Mondulkiri hills
Ranger watching over the forest in Mondulkiri

Best time to visit Mondulkiri

There is a reason for the forests in Mondulkiri to be so lush and green. The same reason for the waterfalls to be so powerful and wild…..Rain! Yes, Mondulkiri is extremely wet and sees a lot of rain. The monsoon starts in May and runs through October with considerable amounts of precipitation. Although the rain often comes in (heavy) showers, treks will be difficult because of the muddy terrain.

Shoulder months April and November also see some rain, but the weather is a lot more friendly. April can be hot and humid with highs up to 35C. Weather wise, that leaves December, January, February and March as the best months to visit Mondulkiri.



Things to see/do in Mondulkiri


Mondulkiri is all about nature. So, if you suffer from temple fatigue on your Cambodia trip, then whoohoo you’re in luck. Welcome to Mondulkiri, no interesting temples to visit here.

Trekking

Whole day to multiple day activity

Trekking is a must do activity when in Mondulkiri. Particularly the Keo Seima protected area is interesting with lot’s of wildlife. Any of the local tour agencies in the center of Sen Monorom can set you up for a trek. Don’t underestimate the high temperatures and humidity as they will deplete your energy fast. Make sure to let your guide know exactly what you want with regards to up- and downhill trekking. Multiple day treks are possible with overnight homestays in one of the Bunong villages. These make for a unique experience with usually a lot of home brewed rice wine.


Keo Seima wildlife in Mondulkiri
Wildlife in the Keo Seima protected area

Sea Forest PhnomBaiChow

1h activity

This is actually a viewpoint, overlooking the forested valley that resembles a green rolling sea. While the view is magnificent, it’s kind of a tourist trap. The large parking ensures tour buses bringing in large crowds that want their share of the view. Quaint signs and props are placed to feed the urge of taking instagram selfies. And of course, there’s the unavoidable restaurant where tour groups are herded in like cattle.


Phnombaichow sea forest in Mondulkiri
Perhaps not so instagrammable
Phnombaichow sea forest in Mondulkiri
That’s more like it

Waterfalls

Half to whole day activity

Waterfalls are a main attraction of the province. There are many and it will be impossible for you to see them all. The Bou Sra waterfall is the one that cannot be missed. This magnificent waterfall has three levels with the middle one suitable for a refreshing swim. There are plenty of food vendors around so you won’t go hungry. Go there by yourself on a rental motorbike. It’s a scenic 35 km (50 min) ride outside of Sen Monorom. Or maybe hire a tuk-tuk for the day (half day). Your guesthouse can arrange this for you. Admission to the waterfall is $2.5.


In the near vicinity is also Bou Sra village. Far from spectacular, but interesting enough for a short stroll to see how the indigenous Bunong live in their stilted houses.


Bou sra waterfall in Mondulkiri
Bou Sra waterfall

Elephant Sanctuaries

This is a difficult topic. Mondulkiri has always been elephant country, but only a few are left in the wild. Now, most elephants here live in sanctuaries and tourists pay to see/feed/bathe them. How can we be sure of the sanctuaries’ good intentions and that elephants are not mistreated? I guess we could avoid visiting them altogether. However, that would cut all the funding necessary to maintain the sanctuaries. Will the elephants then be forced to hard labor again to make some kind of money for their owners?

I don’t have the answers to above questions. All I can say is, please do your research before you decide to visit one of Mondulkiri’s elephant sanctuaries.


Elephant tour in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri
Is it or is it not stressful for the elephant?
Metal elephant statue in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri
Great work by a local artist

Elephant Valley Project (EVP)

Half to multiple day activity

Maybe look into the EVP in Sen Monorom. This NGO claims to provide genuine sanctuary for currently 11 former work elephants. With over 1,500 hectares the elephants have more space than any other sanctuary in Cambodia. Moreover, they have programs in place for the local workers and their families (2,400 people) to receive full health care coverage. They provide education for +300 school children and make sure that local impoverished families receive food subsistence.

Visits to the sanctuary are possible, but the program is focused on observing and providing information. No riding, feeding or bathing the elephants is allowed. In fact, visitors are kept at a considerable distance from the elephants at all times. So again, do your research and decide for yourself.


Elephant Sanctuary EVP in Mondulkiri
Meet Mae-Nang, former work elephant now enjoying retirement at the EVP




Travel insurance

If you like to indulge in adventurous activities, then always make sure to travel with the right insurance. Don’t assume that your regular insurance covers your medical care abroad including evacuation and repatriation.

Remember that you’re in the middle of nowhere. Any serious injuries or ailments almost certainly require expensive medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore. Payable upfront if you lack proper insurance.

Read more about travel insurance, or at least get a non-committal instant quote within 30 seconds!



Where to stay in Mondulkiri


It makes sense to stay in the town of Sen Monorom. As said it’s an excellent base for exploring Mondulkiri. It’s a relatively quiet and small town with less than 10,000 residents of which 80% are tribal minorities. Also, the town is very compact and therefore everything you need is within walking distance.

If you like to stay in a nature environment then of course the other option is to stay a bit further out of town. There are several accommodations surrounding Sen Monorom, but certainly not all of them are up to par. Some are outdated and worn down, others are new, but seriously lack atmosphere and service. So, make sure to ready any reviews carefully. For a stay outside of town it’s more convenient to have your own transport available or else rely on the resort’s tuk-tuk service.


Main street of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri
Sen Monorom main street
Bull statue in Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri
Sen Monorom Bull statue at the Kouprey roundabout

Rustic standard

We had difficulties finding a decent accommodation in Sen Monorom at first. Standards are quite low with basic wooden or thatched bungalows leaving ample opportunities for outside creatures to come in. Most notably however, because of the humidity, particularly in rainy season. Bungalows made of natural materials are pretty, but the inside atmosphere stays damp all the time. As a result your towels never dry, the sheets on the bed stay damp and there’s a constant moldy smell.

I am all for authentic experiences, but the dampness and mold caused serious problems with my breathing and therefore sleepless nights. Yeah, yeah, some traveler, right? Anyway, we had to change our accommodation a few times. On the upside, it gave opportunity to compare what Sen Monorom’s hospitality industry has to offer.

Walkaboutmonkey.com recommends


Route 76 Guesthouse
Dirt Cheap = up to $10
What a place! We came as guests and we left as friends. Stayed here for 4 days and enjoyed tremendously. The guesthouse has spacious and clean rooms. Check-in and check-out went smooth with the staff and owner always helpful with a smile.

route 76 Guesthouse, Mondulkiri


Nature Lodge
Budget = from $10 to $30
Atmospheric resort surrounded by nature. The distance to town is walk-able (2.5km), but it might be better to have your own transport. Of course you can also rent a motorbike or make use of a tuk-tuk. Breakfast is optional and a bit pricey. The bungalows are nice and comfortable though, as are the surroundings.

Nature Lodge in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri


Pich Kiri Motel
Budget = from $10 to $30
The oldest guesthouse in Sen Monorom. In the middle of town with easy access to restaurants and coffee shops. $8 for a fan room to $20 for an air-con room. Good place with friendly staff and Madame Deu as the lovely eccentric owner. Contact: pichkiri@gmail.com, National Route 76, Sen Monorom, Phone: 012 932 192.

Pich Kiri Motel in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri



Where to eat in Mondulkiri


Well, what can I say? 12 years ago I struggled to find a restaurant at all, but things have changed. Many restaurants opened up since then. Most of them serve the usual Khmer food and there are even a few decent Western options, especially pizza places. Still, the Mondulkiri and Sen Monorom restaurant scene is a bit underwhelming to say the least.

Fortunately there are always exceptions. The few restaurants that stand out are mainly found in Sen Monorom, the provincial capital of Mondulkiri. If you’re staying outside of Sen Monorom you probably have to depend on your accommodation for food. That, or be willing to drive your own transport in the dark.

Walkaboutmonkey.com recommends:


Bamboo Cafe Cozy restaurant with a good atmosphere close to the main street. They serve Western and simple Khmer food with the usual suspect dishes such as amok, curry, fried noodles, etc. It’s delicious though and very reasonably priced. The family owners are friendly, helpful and at least one of them speaks excellent English.

Bamboo Cafe in Mondulkiri


The Hangout What’s in a name? Cool place to hang out. Make new friends among like-minded travelers that seem to find this place in large numbers. The Pool and Foosball table will surely help to make friends. And the food? It’s pretty good actually, not bad at all. Hamburgers, pizza, Khmer dishes and a few vegan options too. Friendly prices and staff.

Fried rice dish from the Hangout restaurant in Mondulkiri


Route 76 Sen Monorom has quite a few decent pizza places. Undoubtedly the best option is Route 76. Very good pizza indeed, but they go way beyond. Fantastic pastas, home made focaccia bread, tiramisu and hamburgers with a secret special ingredient. They always have a good assortment of imported Italian delicatessen. Cheeses, sausages, smoked hams, olive oil and wines.

Owner Andrea is proud of his enterprise and it shows. He’s very personable, committed and all guests are pampered like royalty. Don’t get me wrong, I love Khmer food, but wild horses couldn’t keep me from visiting this restaurant when in Sen Monorom.


Fresh Lasagna at Route 76 restaurant in Mondulkiri
Fresh lasagna at Route 76
Home made pasta at Route 76 restaurant in Mondulkiri
Fresh, fresh



Transport Mondulkiri


How to get to Mondulkiri

To get to Mondulkiri you will have to get to Sen Monorom first. The provincial capital is an excellent base for exploring the province and most travelers opt to stay in or around the town. Multiple buses and minivans leave from Phnom Penh to Sen Monorom every day. The buses from Virak Buntham are the most comfortable and safe for the 7h trip.

Use the transport planning tool below from BookmeBus.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). Fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.



Getting around in Mondulkiri

In Sen Monorom, everything is pretty much within walking distance, it’s just a small town. For ventures out of town, you will either need your own transport or make use of the Cambodian tuk-tuks. The same goes for when you accommodation is out of town.

It’s easy to rent a motorbike, many guesthouses provide rental motorbikes. The going rate is $7 per day. Tuk-tuk’s are not as ubiquitous as in other parts of Cambodia. Best to arrange through your guesthouse or hotel.


* affiliate links disclaimer



Save this article to Pinterest for later? Click on the save button in one of the images below.


Save "Mondulkiri" to Pinterest
Save to Pinterest
Save "Mondulkiri" to Pinterest
Save to Pinterest



You might also like…




Share this article on Facebook and save to Pinterest