Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri: the two pearls of Cambodia

  Sonia   |     03/05/2018

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After visiting Kampong Cham (, I reach the province of Mondulkiri where I take a minivan, paying $ 8.75 and after 5 hours I arrive in Sen Monorom.
Sen Monorom is located at an altitude of 800 meters; this makes it a little cooler than Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia especially during the night.
The city is rapidly developing. Indeed, you will find a nature neither intact nor pristine nor ethnic groups. There are still few ethnic groups living in neighbouring villages, but even this reality could soon end if the tourism industry continues to grow negatively in this area.
Sen Monorom is also home to the Bunong people and its elephants. There are many organized tours to visit the various protected areas with elephants and forest, such as Mondulkiri Project. Moreover, Mondulkiri hosts various NGOs and many are the volunteers who come here to help for the preservation of nature.
In addition, Mondulkiri means "Meeting the hills" in fact, you will be surrounded by many hills that make this landscape so fascinating.
I stay at Phanyro Guesthouse in a room with bathroom for 2 persons for the price of 8 $. This is a basic structure but I cannot complain about it. Offers hot water and a fan.
I start asking information to the various guesthouses and tourist agencies regarding trekking in the jungle. Prices for 2 days and one night range between $ 55 and $ 80 depending on the trekking. But there is a problem: since there are no other people interested besides me, I cannot do the trekking as there is a minimum of 2 people. In fact, at the beginning of May the rainy season begins and therefore the tourists are scarce.
If you want to buy some fruit or tease something there is always the local market where you can find delicious avocados, produced in this area.
The next morning I decide to rent a scooter for $ 6 and explore the area.
After about 1 hour driving I reach the famous Bousra waterfall.
The Bousra waterfall is located in the district of Pich Chenda about 43 kilometres north-east of the city of Mondulkiri, Sen Monorom. Busra is considered by many to be the most beautiful waterfall in Mondulkiri. The waterfall is divided into three phases:
- First stage: the waterfall is from 8 to 12 meters high and 15 meters wide in the rainy season and from 10 to 15 meters wide in the dry season.
-Second stage: the waterfall is 15-20 meters in height and 20 in width in the rainy season and 18-25 meters in height and 13 in width in the dry season. The second stage is 150 meters from the first stage.
- Third stage: the cascade speed is faster than the second phase. This stadium cannot be reached because it is in the dense forest. There are no marked trails and the wildlife lives in the area.
Many locals visit this place and spend several hours picnicking. There are various vendors of food, drinks and clothes.
The entrance to the waterfall is $ 2.50 (plus $ 0.25 parking for the scooter). Despite the water is not really clean, it a really beautiful landscape.
Later I stop to visit the “Coffee Plantation”. Here I eat a very good "Ban Chai" Pancake Khmer (it also exists in Vietnam but it is different) with chicken and vegetables ($ 2.50) and I get a typical coffee from the Mondulkiri area ($ 2) equally good.
In the afternoon I decide to explore the Punong Village which is about an hour from the town of Sen Monorom. On the way, you can admire truly breathtaking views. In fact, this area is characterized by the presence of many pines. The road to get to the village is unpaved so in case of rain it would be better to avoid it. In normal weather conditions, although the road is not paved, there are no major difficulties in driving.
Here there are various bamboo houses, shops and a school. You can also see many buffaloes on the street.
Moreover, after about half an hour driving from Sen Monorom, you can reach the beautiful Sea Forest Viewpoint. It is so called because observing the forest in the distance, it seems to be a blue sea. Here there is a Guesthouse, a bar and a restaurant.
The next day I head to the province of Ratanakiri whose name means "Mountain of Jewels" (3 hours by minivan for the price of $ 7).
Travelling to Ratanakiri, what mainly struck me was the absolute tranquillity, the different ethnic culture and the wild nature. Despite being attractive, Ratanakiri is sparsely inhabited. The inhabitants typically live in villages of 20 to 60 families living in agriculture. Although this province is one of the least developed areas in Cambodia, Nature offers truly breathtaking scenery.
I choose to stay at the Family Home Guesthouse. Here you can choose if to sleep in a 3-bed dorm with a private bathroom for $ 3 or in a private Bungalow for $ 6 with a private bathroom and hot water. I recommend it for its familiar atmosphere. The owner is helpful and kind and always has stories to tell. They also organize a "family dinner" every night with guests; paying only $ 2.50 you have the opportunity to socialize with other people, enjoy good food and feel satisfied after eating that delicious food.
You can also rent a scooter here for $ 6 and head to two waterfalls: Kachong ( admission price $ 0.50) and Katieng (admission price $ 1) which is only half an hour from Banlung (capital of the province). Moreover, I would suggest visiting the famous lake "Yak Lom crater Lake" (admission price 2 $) - 6 km from Banlung. The formation of this lake was caused by the volcanic eruption almost 4,000 years ago. The lake itself is very charming and picturesque in the middle of a mountain. It is ideal for picnicking, swimming or simply taking a gentle walk. Many nature lovers love spending time here relaxing in this lake that still retains its primitive charm.
The original inhabitants of the area are the people of the Khmer Leu tribes who have always recognized the lake as a sacred place, home to the spirits of the earth, water and the forest. Here the spirits interact with humans and, according to the local legend of Lake Yeak Laom, spiritual beings live here. The surrounding forests of the area are also called "the house of the spirits" and therefore cannot be cut.
I am here again with my friend Luis when suddenly it starts to rain a lot, so some locals (working here as photographer) start to call us to shelter under an umbrella. And that's where the fun begins: they start offering us food and beers. As their friends arrive they greet us and smile at us. They start taking a lot of pictures and saying “cheers” every time  before taking a sip of beer. What to say ?! These moments are simply unique! In addition, a photographer printed and gave to me a group photo.
The next day, not being able to do trekking in the Virachey National Park (also here as in Mondulkiri because there are not enough people), we take the scooter and head towards the town of Veng Sai just 30 km but being ¾ of the dirt road we take 1 hour and a half to get there. Here we find zero tourists and a local market along the river where to buy fruit. Along the road to get to this village there are various ethnic villages such as the Jarai. The traditional religion of the Jarai is animism. They believe that objects, places and creatures possess distinctive spiritual qualities. Beware because you cannot always enter these villages. Sometimes it happens that someone's death is sacrificing a buffalo and if a stranger enters the village breaks the atmosphere and then you have to pay for the buffalo (something that happened to some tourists). Also take care to touch some plants. Indeed, some tribes believe that banana plants, for example, or other types of trees, are lived by spirits.
Ultimately, as its name also says, Ratanakiri is "a place of gems" ; this can refer to the marvellous mountains, the lake, the fascinating waterfalls, the lush jungle and the lovely people that live there.
P.S. Speaking about restaurants I do not have much to recommend as most of them are local and the flavours are similar everywhere. In Ratanakiri I recommend the Coconut shake Restaurant where I drank a very good coconut shake, never drunk before.
I can say that I'm happy to have seen these last two pearls of Cambodia even if I express my preference for Mondulkiri from the landscape point of view: its numerous hills make it enchanting.

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