Walking With Elephants & A Cambodian Cookout In Sen Monorom

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February 2nd 2015
Published: February 3rd 2015
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My accomodation hut.
According to the four year old travel guide another passenger in the mini bus to Sen Monorom was travelling with, the road connecting Ban Lung and Sen Monorom was mostly impassable, difficult to navigate and should only be tackled by experienced dirt bike riders with excellent local knowledge.
Well, things have changed, somewhat. The four hour trip was mainly over a built up gravel road, which was slowly being turned into a highway, with roadworks at intervals and short stretches of bitumen in between. The dust was horrendous, thank goodness I was inside an air conditioned mini van. The road deteriorated in the last hour and became narrower and bumpier before the van finally limped into the pot holed streets of Sen Monorom's market. I'm surprised we made it without breaking down, as the van had two stops along the way, where the front was opened to cool the engine. One tyre was under-inflated too, adding to the strain.

I had no accomodation booked and there were no tuk tuks to meet the bus. Eventually I secured a ride on a moto to Nature Lodge. It was Lonely Planet's top accomodation pick with rooms from $10 a night. I was
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Chilling out in a hammock whilst waiting for the elephants to finish lunch.
hoping they weren't fully booked, and was lucky. Located on a windswept hill about 3klm outside town, down the usual dusty road, Nature Lodge is one of Cambodia's first, and best known, eco friendly resorts and operates as a non profit hospitality training centre. It's very rustic with a great common area with comfy nooks and a pool table! Accommodation is in separate bungalows scattered throughout the grounds, so I'll be spending the next couple of nights in an A framed bungalow with a reasonable bed, hot shower and hammock hanging outside. After settling into my room, I headed up to the common areas to see what tours to the elephant sanctuary were available for tomorrow. After all, it was the elephants I had come to see.
A printout for a day trip including the Mondulkiri Sanctuary (not The Elephant Valley Project which is mentioned in the Lonely Planet book) was about the only thing available there. This day tour was run by L.E.A.F. (Local Environmental Awareness Foundation) which was supported by Nature Lodge. Two other women were interested in this trip as well, so we agreed to go together.

Pick up was at 8.30 and our mini
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Me with a new friend.
van was right on time. First stop was a pepper farm which I found interesting as I had no idea how pepper grew. It grows on a vine which the farmer has secured to tall posts to keep it off the ground, thus making harvesting easier. The plants were thriving with overhead irrigation and would be the healthiest plants I've seen here, besides the rice.

We stopped at a couple of waterfalls, always lovely to see and pause at for a while, before moving on the the area where we would see the elephants, also beside the water and surrounded by lush undergrowth. We had a little time to wait but spent it chatting, and soon the mahout arrived and told us the elephants were in an area a little further away.We followed him, to find two female elephants eating their way through some felled banana trees further down the waterway. These elephants have been retired from a lifetime of work and now enjoy the freedom to roam freely within the sanctuary. They were not shackled in any way and later we walked with them further down stream to a swimming hole. The mahouts controlled them with grunts, which
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Walking the elephants down to the water.
they responded too, after a lifetime of conditioning I guess.

I could have entered the water and washed them with their handlers but opted not too. I was happy to keep my shoes dry and take some photos from the edge of the water, as did the other two ladies. Lunch was prepared by our guide. He disappeared into the undergrowth and reappeared with a length of thick bamboo which he started chopping into with a rather large knife. He cut just below one of the knobbly sections which are solid, not hollow like the stem, thus effectively using it as an end, or bottom, to a long tube. Later vegetables and pork was diced and put into the tube with salt, peppers, garlic and a heady mix of lemongrass and local spices which had been mixed to a paste. The tube was then topped up with water and placed over a fire to boil. Another thinner length of bamboo was used to ram and mash the vegetables once they were cooked. Six plates were placed on banana leaves on the ground, steamed rice appeared from nowhere and spooned onto the plates and the vege mix was tipped
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One clean elephant after a scrub up in the water.
from the bamboo tube over the rice. Lunch for six was ready! It was shared with the two elephant mahouts and there was more than enough to go round.

Later, on the return trip to town, we stopped at the Bunong village to have a glimpse at the way of life of the indigenous people of Mondulkiri. The round thatched hut in the photos is still in use today. All in all, I've had an enjoyable day and am dusty and tired by the time the van pulls up outside Nature Lodge.

Tomorrow, my 58th birthday, will be spent in another overcrowded mini van on the way to Kratie and the Irrawaddy dolphins. The big loop I've made around north eastern Cambodia is closing as I start the return trip towards Siem Reap.

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


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Mahout sitting on top of his charge.
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A very tasty lunch for six!

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