When Hi-ace (for new readers, Hi-ace is a nickname I gave hubby because of his fondness for the Toyota Hi-ace van ), asked me if I wanted to tag along with some teachers and students from Pannasastra University whose going to Mondulkiri Province for an outreach project, of course, the wanderlust in me couldn’t say no.
We’ve always been planning to explore and visit this province in Northeastern Cambodia but it never came to be a reality till now. What held us back before is that there are currently no regular bus service and the other alternative is to take share taxis. At the same time, some people told us about the “not-so-good” road conditions going there. Traveling with a small group made sense so we decided to go with the PUC group.
We left early Friday morning in a leased tourist bus. There were about 20 of us, all excited to see what Mondulkiri is all about. Of course, the group’s main aim there is to help out several schools particularly the Sen Monorom School in Sen Monorom as well as the primary school for the Pnong tribes in Putang, Mondulkiri. Aside from cash donations, the students and the teachers also had loads of school materials to give out so the bus was pretty loaded.
We were praying for good weather and thankfully it has been answered. No rains and sun was shining though it was not scorchingly hot. The roads up to certain parts were paved and all the rest were descent enough dirt roads. Except for one part were there were a lot of stranded big vehicles so we had to get down and walk for a few meters, it was altogther a pretty easy going trip.
I was also concerned about the restrooms on the stopovers, but surprisingly all places we’ve stopped had numerous and clean restrooms. I particularly like the 88 Restaurant, coz the restrooms were spacious, have a lot of water, and though the toilet was squat type (and my daughter kept bugging me how to use it ) it was nonetheless clean and not smelly.
As we neared Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri’s provincial capital, we had to stop again because two huge buldozers were “conveniently” parked along the road and we couldn’t pass through because our bus is a few inches taller than they allowed. The caretaker unfortunately didn’t have the key and the Chinese owner is having a leisurely lunch so we had to wait around 2 hours. So the students instead just sang songs and joked around. I find Khmers very good natured and cheerful whatever the circumstance is and they keep joking that indeed Cambodia is the “kingdom of wonder” because things happen that make you wonder why it happened. After the Chinese guy came and we were allowed to go through, it was then a laid back trip to Sen Monorom. The trip lasted around 7 hours, not counting the time we stopped over for meals and when we were stranded.
Mondulkiri is definitely a world apart from Phnom Penh and other Cambodian provinces in terms of the landscape, the climate and the culture. The average elevation in this province is 800 m so the breeze is cool and could be chilly at night.
Mondulkiri means “the Meeting of Hills” and I couldn’t think of a much more fitting name. This is a land of rolling hills, emerald valleys, pine trees and waterfalls. I feel like my amateur photography skills couldn’t do justice to what I was seeing. Endless green, azure skies, and a uniquely red earth soil is what I’d forever recall about Mondulkiri. The province is so sparsely populated and the number of houses along the way is so few, making the grassy hills and the greens more prominent.
Long Vibol Guesthouse was our home away from home. It’s a pretty wooden resort with a lush garden backdrop at good prices too. Each room comes with two beds, toilet and bath with hot shower, tv with cable. You won’t need aircon here, I couldn’t even turn on the fan coz it was chilly. They also have a restaurant serving Cambodian and some Western food and the passion fruit juice as well as the coffee here is a must try.
Since it was already getting late, we opted to just visit the near Hill Tribes Cultural Center where there’s a small hill with an altar on top plus an expansive views of Sen Monorom. We offered our prayers and thanks for the safe journey, stayed awhile to enjoy the cool breeze, then walked the 100+ stairs or so down.
Tired from the 7-hour trip plus we were anticipating a long, activity packed day the next morning so we all retired early after dinner.