Cambodia Travels: Elephant Trekking in Mondulkiri

Mondulkiri is a province located on the eastern side of Cambodia.

Not a very popular tourist destination so there aren’t many information available. It’s a place where you go and expect whatever experiences it gives you.

Traditional Mondulkiri houses. These houses are not used as much anymore. The main things that are different about these houses are that they are all made out of hay and wood.. and.. the roofs are bigger and the houses are not built on stilts. Compare it to the house behind it - which is more common in Cambodia.

Mondulkiri was amazing. It was untouched, unkept and wild. I’ve heard of Mondulkiri but never been there so I was excited. Mondukiri is not a famous tourist attraction so you can’t expect to find fancy restaurants and hotels there. Thankfully, we knew someone at Mondulkiri so he booked us a hotel called Pich Kiri in the middle of the city. Hotel, not the best but I wasn’t expecting too much. The rooms were big.. a little dark and no hot water or wifi but I didn’t expect those either.  However, don’t hesitate to ask for hot water and they will find a solution for you. There are a number of hotels in the city so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a place to stay.

Mondulkiri is definitely a farming village but not like other villages where they have rice fields. The weather is a lot cooler compared to other parts of the country. At night, when it rained, I was actually cold and a lot of the tourists were walking around in sweatshirts. Apart from the beautiful sceneries and the fresh and clean air, the best part of my Mondulkiri trip was Elephant trekking.

Walk into any of the restaurants/bar with signs outside that read along the lines of “Elephant Valley,” or “Elephant Trekking” and they will book you a tour. There are many options from an overnight trip (you sleep in the rainforest on a hammock – unless you are REALLY adventurous, I don’t recommend it. Great experience but I’m not 100% up for it yet). We were on a family trip so we decided to do a full day trip anyway. Since there were 4 of us, that’s two elephants. Each Elephant cost $40 so we ended up paying $80 in total. I would say it is a reasonable price. Transportation, food and water is all included.

The restaurant/bar where we booked our tour at was really green. In fact, it was called the Green House.

The owner loves everything green(his words). He planted green passion fruit. I've only seen red/brown ones so these were cool!

I expected it to be really sour because it was green but it tasted like any other types of passion fruit I've tried. Maybe even a little stronger on the flavor side.

We had to be back at the restaurant by 8am to get to the village with our Elephants for the day. They had a van prepared for the 4 of us. We were fully geared and ready with our bug spray, hats, scarves, long pants, high socks, sneakers, sunscreen and sandals. The van was already loaded with water, banana (for us AND the elephants) and our lunch.

The drive to the village took about 20 minutes. When we arrived, we were dropped off in he middle of a village with no elephants or tourists in sight. uh-oh! I had a little panic attack here – obviously because we were now in the middle of nowhere with no familiarity around us (i.e. tourists) and felt a little out of place. We waited around for about 30 minutes watching pigs, cows, chickens, goats, ducks, dogs and cats walking around minding their own business. Finally, we spotted our elephants from far away. After they were ready, we got on the elephants (two of us on each) and headed toward the forest.

Our elephants!

Here, I had my second panic attack thinking how.. if, IF, something were to happen to us, we had no way of getting out of the forest and nobody would know. If you haven’t noticed it from my first panic attack, this is the paranoid, over-worrying, me.

The whole trip takes about 6 hours. 2 hours to the elephant valley, 2 hours at the elephant valley and 2 hours back. To people like my sister, it was an awesome trip. For me, honestly, it was way too long. I also have this weird motion sickness where I fall a sleep on any moving vehicles (usually a great thing since I can sleep on long plane rides and bus rides) and who knew you could actually fall a sleep riding on an elephant. HA! I dozed off a few times and my sister had to hold on to me so I won’t fall over. Oops :S

On the way to the valley

These elephants are not tamed. They are friendly and won’t hurt you but they will not listen to you. Along the way, the elephants were busy eating and every time the owner tugged on them or hit them to stop, they just shook their head and ignored. So we waited.

By the time we got to the valley, it was lunch time. My sister jumped into the river to cool off a little and we sat around eating packaged lunch. Food – not so great but it’s all you get. There are no stores or anything. It’s just a patch of land in the middle of the forest next to a river so you eat what you have. It wasn’t too bad though and they had soy sauce. Everything taste better with soy sauce! After a quick nap, one of the only english speaking guides took us around the rice fields and the farmer’s work house (where they stay for a few nights during harvest season).  The highlight of my day was seeing a dead snake up close. It was scary.

The river

Our lunch. Fried rice.

My sister taking a quick nap.

Bathing the elephants.

Bathing the elephants.

After our tour, the elephants (they were off scavenging for food on their own) came back and it was time to bathe them. We all jumped into the water and help them cool down. Elephants LOVE water. When they were nice and somewhat clean, it was time for us to head back. The trip back took 2 hours but this time, it was raining. Cold, soaked and tired – not a good combination. After we got back to the hotel – we passed out until the morning.

Overall, I would say that it’s a wonderful experience – a real once in a life time experience and I was thankful that I had the privilege to have access to such a program. I loved that it was wild and unkept unlike other elephant tours like the one in Chiang Mai. Here, elephants were in their natural habitat and weren’t tortured to do cool tricks. However, with the increase in tourists in Cambodia, there is a potential that it may get overused and abused. Funding is important to sustain the lives of the villagers and the elephants but it is definitely our responsibility as tourists to not let it go out of hand.

Feeding the elephants leftover bananas

3 things to remember:

1) Elephants LOVE to eat… they have to eat. alot. So be patient. When the elephant stops to eat, don’t express your frustration.. this stresses the owners and urges them to either hit the elephants or forces them to train them to basically act like non-food-consuming vehicles. The beauty of this trip is that the elephants are in their natural habitat, behaving how they should be behaving.. so.. embrace it! If you think about it like that, the long journey becomes endurable.

2) The seats are small and uncomfortable. There’s not much to do about that.. so.. just giving you a heads up! :)

3) Take all your things back with you. This includes all your valuables and trash. There’s no one there. If you lose it, you lose it. Trash – well that’s self-explanatory. No one’s cleaning after you and there are no rubbish bins.

Here’s a nice little short blurb about Mondulkiri by a blogger in Cambodia.

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6 thoughts on “Cambodia Travels: Elephant Trekking in Mondulkiri

    • Thank you! I am still an amateur but I just love capturing moments and colors. Thanks for posting your blog too! I love the attention to details and the micro shots – they are my favorite!

  1. They grow passion fruit! That’s my favorite fruit in the whole world!!!! I usually go to the Dominican store here in Rhode Island to get passion fruit juice but I never tried the real passion fruit.

      • I never had the real fruit. Must taste amazing! I never knew about passion fruit until my Dominican friend told me about it. In his country they used passion fruit for almost everything in their meals. Passion fruit cake, passion fruit wine, etc! The sour/sweet taste is just too hard to resist:D

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