Anyone wishing to visit Cambodia will uncover a country that is both beautiful and mysterious. For too long Cambodia was associated with the murderous regime of Pol Pot and his cronies and the country is still recovering from this 20th century tragedy. Naturally, there are plenty of memorials to this terrible episode in Cambodia’s history but there are also many hidden and beautiful places just waiting to be explored.
The country’s many parks and jungles provide a stunning backdrop for a truly adventurous journey. Eco tourism is growing and there are also many projects where overseas visitors can volunteer their time and goodwill while at the same time taking part in a real journey of exploration.
Elephant Trekking in Mondulkiri
To the east of Phnom Penh is the ancient province of Mondulkiri and this is the place to visit in order to step back in time and linger a while with the indigenous Bunong peoples. This semi nomadic tribe lives in one of the most isolated parts of Cambodia and is famous for its skill in taming wild elephants, which are used for work and also increasingly for trekking adventures for travellers. The province’s capital, Sen Monorom is the best place to go, if you haven’t arranged a trek in advance, and book your seat on an elephant. Many of these tours also offer the opportunity to stay overnight with the Bunong, sample some rice wine and sleep in a hammock in your host’s hut.
Volunteering with The Bunong
The geography of this underdeveloped area has protected the Bunong from mass tourism and visitors should also be prepared for chilly and rainy nights on these high hillsides. The Bunong are slowly being introduced to literacy and the Khmer language; the UK charity ‘Globalteer’ is just one organization that relies on volunteers to help in their work, which includes documenting the oral history of the Bunong to provide an enduring record of their lives and past.
The Mighty Mekong River
The Mekong is one of the most famous rivers in Cambodia and you can either hire a kayak and travel down the river on your own or you could take one of the many tours that leave Phnom Penh and make your way down this magnificent watery highway. The flooded forests of the Mekong give way to many mysterious islands, including the Silk Island of Koh Dach about 15 miles north of Phnom Penh, where the local inhabitants still weave silk using traditional methods. Travelling further north you may encounter members of the Cham community, another of Cambodia’s ancient peoples who originally migrated to the country from Borneo.
To the north east of the Mekong lies the stunning Yak Lom, volcanic crater lake, situated in Ratanakiri Province. This extraordinary crater is in the heart of the jungle, the nearest town is Banlung and many travellers organise jungle treks and ecotourism from this base. This little town also has banks, restaurants and guesthouses and is an ideal launching pad for this region of Cambodia.
By Celina Bledowska