Friday, 29 April 2016

Travelling Southeast Asia: Sen Monorom, Cambodia

After a night of what seemed like luxury compared to our jungle hut experience, we were picked up from our hotel in Ban Lung by the minibus that we had booked the night before. We started of the journey thinking, quite naively, that we might be the only people on the bus to Sen Monorom, but the driver continued to collect people until there were 18 people on this 14-seater minibus. It definitely wasn’t the most comfortable journey, but thankfully it only took a total of three hours.

Our accommodation, Greenhouse Guesthouse, was a short walk from where the bus dropped us off, so we went there to check into our rooms before heading down the road to their café for lunch. The guesthouse, with its bright green walls, was our accommodation of choice due to its links with booking activities, treks and elephant sanctuary visits.

As we were pretty exhausted from the previous couple of days and anticipated a busy few to come, the majority of the afternoon and evening was spent eating cake at Phka café, drinking cocktails at Chilli on the Rocks and devouring amazing stone oven baked pizzas at Mondulkiri Pizza – all whilst deciding what to do for the next few days, of course.

 Our main decision was to decide whether to do an overnight homestay in an ethnic minority village. We knew that we wanted to spend some time at an elephant sanctuary, as well as doing a trek, but the cheapest way to combine these was to stick an overnight stay in the middle. Everyone was a little bit concerned about whether or not I would be able to cope with sleeping in a hammock in a wooden hut with a grass roof after the Yaklom ordeal, but I was persuaded in the end by the fact that the hammock would have a mosquito net zipped onto it, that the fires that they light inside their huts keep the insects out and that someone from the village and the guide would sleep in the hut too.

Before arriving at the elephant location the next morning, we stopped at an ethnic minority village (though not the one at which we would spend the night), to learn about some of the farming they did, and customs and traditions they upheld that differed to the rest of Cambodia.

Once we arrived at the part of the jungle where the elephants lived, we had to walk a fair bit to find them. Because these were rescued elephants who were completely free to roam the jungle, there were no fences, no chains, nothing keeping them in captivity at all. However, they did wear bells so that the guides would be able to tell if they were nearby. Meeting the elephants was a lot scarier than I had anticipated, and although we were told to be assertive when offering them food so that they would trust you, this just seemed to make me more nervous. You don’t quite realise the sheer size of an elephant until it is freely stood right next to you.

After we’d fed the elephants and learnt a little about them, we were sent off to a waterfall to have our lunch, whilst the guides encouraged the elephants to join us at the waterfall to be washed. Anyone was welcome to get into the water to help with the cleaning, but I decided to stay on the side and watch, as I didn’t think that my occasional fear of water combined with my slight apprehension with the elephants would be the best combination. I promise I’m not scared of everything.

Before we made our last journey to the village, we were taken to a coffee plantation to take a look at the wide variety of crops that were planted and farmed in the Mondulkiri province.

We took some time to wander around the village once we arrived, which mostly involved interacting with some of the children who were pulling faces at us and looking at all of the animals that would be surrounding us that night.

It felt really strange zipping yourself into a hammock in a hut made of elephant grass, surrounded by animal noises (and large spiders, which I pretended to myself that I hadn’t seen). As the toilet was in a hut down a bit of a hill from our hut that involved passing multiple cows, getting up in the middle of the night became a group experience. When you’re in a place with no electric lights, it’s amazing how bright the moonlight is.

To our relief, the night passed with no insect or creature-related incidents like our last experience. That is besides the moment when a cat that had found its way into the hut screeched really loudly from right under our hut, and in my half-asleep state I sat bolt upright (well as much as you can when you’re cocooned in a hammock) and swore quite loudly. In fact, it is Vicky who has a fear of cats, so I’m not sure why I had such a shock…

Waking up early was unavoidable in a village where farming takes precedence, but we had to be up early anyway to begin our trek into the jungle. We set off at 8:30am with our guides and didn’t return to the village until about 4pm. Fairly early into our journey one of the guides made us each a walking stick, which just seemed like a bit of fun at the time, but it became an essential tool when it came to trekking down extremely steep slopes. My feet just couldn’t seem to stop trying to slide the whole way down, and one of the guides ended up having to grip hold of my wrist for long periods of time to stop me from whizzing off and tumbling hundreds of metres down.

The mid-point of the trek was a waterfall, where the guides made us lunch by starting a fire and using the inside of a bamboo trunk to cook the food.

Perhaps the hardest part of the trek was when we came back to crossing the river. Of course we assumed that there would be a fallen tree trunk across the river, in the same way that we had crossed the river earlier. No, this time we had to remove our walking boots and wade through the water. This was a lot trickier than it looked; the current was stronger than anything I’d felt before and the rocks were extremely slippery to walk on. It was like every element of nature wanted to throw you down the river, and it took every bit of strength to keep yourself upright and moving forwards.

By the time we reached the final hill to climb, we were all dreaming about the pizza and cake we had eaten a couple of days before, so that’s exactly where we headed once we’d arrived back in Sen Monorom.

But what we didn’t learn until the next day, on our 10-hour journey to Sihanoukville, was that this was a huge mistake…

I also vlogged our stay which gives an even better impression of Sen Monorom, so give that a watch and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss the vlogs from the rest of the trip!


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