Mondulkiri is an eastern province of Cambodia, which is the most sparsely populated province in the whole country although being the largest province in Cambodia. The province is chock full of natural beauty, with thickly forested mountains, powerful waterfalls and the lush green rolling hills of the western side.
Despite the growing deforestation, especially due to the valuable minerals remaining in the deep red, fertile ground, Mondulkiri has still one of the biggest successional woodlands of Cambodia. Except being in Sen Monorom, you’ll find deep pure jungle, with a huge variety of flora and fauna. You may also find gigantic and beautiful waterfalls, where you can take an empowering shower, such as the impressive Bou Sraa.
Sen Monorom is the provincial capital and doesn’t show up as a typical Cambodian town, while it is the only town the province has to speak of. With approx. 7500 inhabitants, 20 guesthouses, 12 restaurants, 3 bars and no post office it is often compared to American Wild West frontier towns. Concerning the quietness and beauty of Sen Monorom people from other parts of the country move here and therefore the land price doubled from 2006 to 2007.
The town of Sen Monorom is the best base camp for travellers who want to explore the surrounding areas. A quiet but beautiful town nestled into the hills; it has a lot of potential to develop into a centre for non-intrusive eco-tourism. At present, it’s very undeveloped, which gives you a feeling of going somewhere off the beaten tourist trail. Add to that the communities of hill tribe people, who are not affected by mass-tourism, as they are in neighbouring Thailand, and you have an area that is very attractive to the adventure traveller.
Also interesting is the variety of languages being used: Khmer, hill tribe languages, Vietnamese and Lao. 80 percent of the population in Mondulkiri is made up of ten tribal minorities, with the majority of them being the Chunchiet from the tribe of the Phnong. The remaining 20 percent are Khmer, Chinese and Muslim Cham. Most of the population lives off the land, planting rice, fruit trees and a variety of vegetables. Others grow, coffee, strawberries, rubber and cashew nuts.
More and more houses are built in the typical Khmer style. Visiting the hill tribes you still can find the traditional Phnong houses. In the houses you can find traditional gongs and big jars, whereby the last ones are said to be more than a thousand years old. There are various sorts of gongs used for different occasions. Jars and gongs are among the most valuable possessions in an indigenous community, whether in traditional, spiritual or material terms. During the Khmer Rouge Regime those objects were buried in hidden places in the jungle and in many cases they still wait in the ground.
Mondulkiri province is situated on the South – East plateau (approx. altitude around 200-1000 metres), it’s capital Sen Monorom is about 375 Km from Phnom Penh. It is bordering Vietnam to the East and South, Ratanakiri to the North, and Kratie province to the West. Beside a bunch of smaller rivers, which grow quite big during the rainy season, there are two bigger rivers crossing the province ( the Preaek Chhbaar and the Preaek Te River ). The total area of Mondulkiri is about 14,288 square kilometres.
80 percent of the population in Mondulkiri is made up of ten tribal minorities, with the majority of them being the Chunchiet from the tribe of the Phnong. The remaining 20 percent are Khmer, Chinese and Muslim Cham. Most of the population lives off the land, planting rice, fruit trees and a variety of vegetables. Others grow, coffee, strawberries, rubber and cashew nuts.
Usually they make their living through traditional ways of cultivation (shifting agriculture), hunting and collecting fruits from the forest is a must. These old cultures believe in spirits, derived from their animism beliefs. The population density has a total of 44,913 inhabitants (22,890 male and 22,023 female). This is 3,14 inhabitants/sq km.
Mondulkiri province has a climate like the other areas in the country, there are 3 seasons:
– Rainy season: June – October (<25c) - Cool season: November- February (>20c)
– Hot season: March- May : Temperature: from 20c -30c
Mondulkiri’s average temperature throughout the year is definitely lower than in other areas of Cambodia (except Ratanakiri Province).
The vast majority of the indigenous peoples living in Mondulkiri are subsistence farmers, who are planting some rice and other vegetables, more or less to feet themselves. There is also a quite common production of the famous rice wine here, which is one of the best in the country. Additionally the indigenous people are selling handmade products such as bracelets, necklaces, scarfs, Kramas etc. to the few visiting tourists.
Mondulkiri has a quite big influence from Vietnam, which shows you the marked in Sen Monorom. Lots of Vietnamese products are sold here.
Unfortunately in the past 2 years the selling of real estate became a big source of income due to the fact, that international mining companies are buying land to find bauxite (a very valuable mineral). The worst are instances of dispossession of indigenous lands, which are occurring in some parts of the province and also in the adjacent province of Ratanakiri.
Anyhow Mondulkiri is so sparsely populated that the provincial capital does not have an adequate market compete to other provinces of Cambodia. But fertile red soil, water sources, wild animals and quality hardwoods abound and the weather and scenery are perennial assets.
The road from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri are in good condition for this year 2017, and it will take about 7-8 hours drive. There are many taxi and private transfers available.
There are many Bus companies like Giant Ibis, Mekong Express, PSD Xpress, Sorya Bus, Neak Krohorm, Thero Express (15-seat), Larryta, KSO, Virak Buntham, Kampot Express, Cambodia Post VIP Van offering bus/van services to Mondulkiri town using modern air-conditioned buses/vans. Buses/vans depart every 15 minutes to one hour, daily from 6am-12pm mid night. The prices are reasonable. Online Bus ticket can be purchased in advance.
Featured bus/van to Mondulkiri:
Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri or v.v [Book Now]
Actually there aren’t any regular commercial flights to Sen Monorom.
The ride passes by some beautiful and diverse countryside, regardless of which direction you are coming from. Security is not a problem these days.
If you are coming on the bomb-cratered highway from Kratie, go straight when you get into Snoul town, and when you come to the crossing of the road, which leads to Kampong Cham, there is another one (laterite surface) to Mondulkiri you have to take. After about 7 km you come to a four-way junction, where you turn left to Mondulkiri. Snoul to Mondulkiri is about 130 km, and if you are coming from Kratie the entire trip is about 215 km. The trip is one of the nicest you can make by motorbike in the whole country, but you need to do it during the dry season as the road can get one of the worse during the rainy season. The unpaved dust road is nowadays under construction and will definitely become better in oncoming times.
Kampong Cham to Snoul turn off (to go to Mondulkiri) is a doable stretch of Highway 7. It’s about 143 km to Snoul and 275 km for the entire trip. Just before you reach Snoul town you will notice a police box on the right. The road curves to the right and left, and you go to the right to reach Mondulkiri. About 7 km down you will come to a four-way junction where you turn left for the ride to Mondulkiri.
The road from Snoul to Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri, is a decent, level dirt variety that you can make fairly good time on. This changes during the rainy season when rainfall will make the wet surface as slippery as ice. Food and fuel can be purchased in Snoul town. You?ll have another opportunity to gas up or to buy some food on the half way from Snoul to Sen Monorom as there is a bigger village right before you enter the densely wooded area.
If you want to go by motorcycle from Sen Monorom to Banlung, Rattanakiri, and it is rainy season, read the section entitled The Death Highway or follow this simple advice: don’t do it. Even in the dry season, it’s a tough trail that will put your riding skills to the test.
Make sure you have spate parts for your motorcycle (see Getting Around chapter for out Biker Checklist), and plenty of food and drinking water. The trip will take about two days during the dry season and Kaoh Nhek town (near halfway) is the only place that sells bottled water and some food. Fuel is also available. Don’t do it alone. It’s best to have some help if you have a bike breakdown or a mishap. You are a long way from help in most stretches of this remote trail. It would also be best to bring a Khmer speaker along, as the trail intersects sometimes with other trails and you will want to clarify that you took the proper way when you do come across somebody. It’s definitely an adventure, if you try to tackle it, be fully prepared so you have an opportunity to enjoy it. (Further details are available in the Ratanakiri province guide.)
Because this is a small and little developed tourist destination, the restaurants don’t think about serving tourists. There just haven’t been many coming to Sen Monorom. And with the locals usually eating at home, the restaurants don’t stock much food. The procedure here is to go one our before to the restaurant you would like to eat and tell them what you would like to eat. You can leave then, while they go to the market to buy the ingredients and return to the restaurant to prepare the dishes. An alternative would be to stop by in the morning and tell them what you want for lunch or evening meal. It’s certainly not the norm at destinations around Cambodia, but here it seems to work out okay. Anyhow there are more restaurants opening during the last 2 years, which serve mostly Khmer or Vietnamese food. You might ask them to combine something for a more European style.
Chom Nor Mondulkiri restaurant is the biggest in town and serving asian and european foods.
It’s actually the oldest accommodation place in Sen Monorom serving their guests also fresh, tasty and reasonable dishes. It’s located east from the market next to the street leading to the centre.
It’s also next to the street leading to the centre, but a bit further away. They have a small restaurant offering quite common Khmer dishes.
This guesthouse is 1,5km far from the centre on the main road, which goes to Snoul. It covers also a small restaurant offering a limited menu.
There isn’t a name, but it’s easy to find. It’s a very simple place, but they do a good job concerning the food and they have drinks with ice. The prices are very reasonable. It’s right next to the centres round about (two buffalos).
There are two restaurants near the entrance area to the market. They double as community entertainment centers; local residents gather outside to gaze at videos on the TV screens inside. They can also serve the necessary karaoke hall function.
If you’re eager to have some real European food made by a European you’ll need to visit the Bananas. The wodden house next to a tiny creek is owned by a German woman named Tanja. She is a cook and cooks on request. The dishes are real good and quite reasonable. It’s situated down the hill from the centre and then left before you pass the bridge.
Many of the goods in the market are from nearby Vietnam, It’s an all-purpose market, but it doesn’t have the feel of the typical Cambodian market, which is probably again due to the closeness of Vietnam and the hill tribe people who come here. There are definitely some nice bracelets, adornments or Kramas made by the hill tribes acquirable. You’ll find noodle, dessert and fruit stalls at the font end of the market and the moneychangers are in front as well. They change dollars, riel and the Vietnamese dong.