Mondulkiri Province overview
The largest but least populated province of Cambodia, Mondulkiri Province is an eastern region bordering Vietnam known for its hilly forests, waterfalls and indigenous communities.
The awe-inspiring natural landscape here makes Mondulkiri Province the perfect eco-tourism destination and although this region is still a little off-the-beaten-track, there are some amazing outdoor experiences for adventurers to have here. With vast areas of uninhabited green space, including the large Phnum Prech Wildlife Sanctuary in the middle of the province, this is a place where people feel close to nature. There’s also more wildlife here than anywhere else in Cambodia, ranging from elephants to monkeys.
For outdoor pursuits and the spirit of adventure, Mondulkiri Province is an unmissable Cambodian destination.
See and Do
Sen Monorom is the capital of the province and the largest town, but with just 7,500 inhabitants and a handful of guest houses, restaurants and shops, this is a quaint place. Many people come here to have a base before exploring some of the wilder and more remote parts of the region, but the town itself is worth exploring too. Most of the amenities of the town are available along the main strip. Take it all in during the day as there is a charming lack of nightlife in the evenings, and motorcycle taxis only tend to work until early evening too. Look out for the Kouprey roundabout, which has a statue of a kouprey – a wild ox that was formerly the national symbol of Cambodia, but is now believed to be extinct.
The town of Sen Monorom is also home to a couple of pristine lakes, which are perfect for a stroll, watching local fishermen and swimmers.
On the outskirts of town, the Phnom Dos Kromom
Buddhist temple and pagoda is worth a visit. Surrounded by palm trees and golden statues, this is also a well-known spot for its viewing platform offering immense views over the local area. Many people pay a visit to enjoy the sunset – which is so famous this location is also known as Sunset Hill
. The Samot Choeur
pagoda is also popular for its views over the evocatively named Sea Forest
– an expanse of verdant hills that look like a rolling sea.
Famous for its waterfalls, Mondulkiri Province is a great place to discover a range of different falls, many of which are easily accessible from Sen Monorom. Bou Sraa Waterfall is about an hour away from the town and is a thunderous spectacle amid the jungle. As well as enjoying the wonder of the falls, it’s possible to take a 300 metre zip line that passes right over the top of the waterfall. Dak Dam is an off-the-beaten-track waterfall worth visiting too, as are the much more easily accessible Monorom Falls, which also marks a popular swimming spot with locals. In addition, the Romanear Waterfall has some pleasant swimming spots at the bottom.
Mondulkiri Province is known for its population of elephants and there are a number of projects and sanctuaries in the region for rescuing and protecting them. One is The Elephant Valley Project – run by an NGO – where it’s possible to go for day-long treks, or to volunteer with the elephants for a few days. The project not only helps elephants but their mahouts – dedicated elephant handlers – too, protecting an important tradition and way of life in this part of the world. The Mondulkiri Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary is run by another NGO and is a great place to visit for trekking tours and ethical elephant experiences. The project also rescues wild animals from captivity or wildlife trafficking and provides a sanctuary to animals including monkeys, gibbons, civets, otters, porcupines and leopard cats.
The Seima Protection Forest
is a protected area full of wildlife, including wild elephants, bears and big cats. It’s possible to embark on eco-friendly wildlife spotting trips here, and also trips that incorporate overnight stays in a wonderful jungle camp.
The Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary
is the largest protected area in the province at 2,225 km2. Home to everything from elephants, tigers and water buffalo to deer and the giant ibis, this is a true wonder of nature. Guided visits are available, as well as homestays in Dei Ey village.
Culture and Arts
In Sen Monorom, there are only a handful of shops and restaurants. One place it is possible to buy crafts by local indigenous communities is in the Hefalump Café
. Sen Monorom also has a locals’ market selling mostly food, so although it’s not a craft shopping destination, it is a great place to soak up the feeling of daily life in a provincial town.
An amazing 80% of the population of Mondulkiri Province is made up of ten indigenous tribes, the majority of whom are Phnong. These tribes live across the province and it’s possible to arrange visits of some of them, particularly in the area surrounding Sen Monorom. Get an insight into the traditional architecture of the Phnong and their most prized possessions, which tend to centre on large jars and gongs used for traditional rituals. Many of these items were buried in remote parts of the jungle during the Khmer Rouge campaign, and are still regularly unearthed to this day. Pou Lung Village
is one local village near Sen Monorom that visitors can enjoy going to, where it’s also possible to buy local arts and crafts and try some local foods.
Festivals and Events
As a sparsely populated province with mostly indigenous communities, most of the festivals and events that happen occur within the confines of tribes and village communities. As a result, the best way to get an insight into local traditions and rituals is to arrange ethical visits to indigenous communities and homestays if possible.
One local celebration held annually in the province focuses on the Doh Kromum Mountain near Sen Monorom. The name of the mountain literally translates as ‘Virtuous Woman’s Breast Mountain’, and members of the Phnong ethnic group believe the mountain has divine powers. They honour these powers with festivals on the mountain.
Some villages also celebrate Khmer New Year
, which falls in around April every year. The three day celebration isn’t always a traditional festival in this area, with visitors often reporting popular music being played from a sound system rather than Buddhist-related rituals.
Food and Drink
Much of the food to be had in Mondulkiri Province is found in simple street food stands. If you’re lucky enough to visit an ethnic village, you may get an insight into what indigenous groups eat. Many are subsistence farmers and just grow enough for their families to eat. Usually this is a range of rice, fruit and vegetables, as well as soups made in bamboo vessels. Some communities also grow coffee, cashews, strawberries, mangoes and avocadoes, but much of this is for selling and exporting.
There are some regional food specialities unique to Mondulkiri Province too. A fruit called soursop
has a citrus but creamy flavour and is only found in this part of Cambodia. The region also has wild Mondulkiri honey
with an original flavour – it’s possible to buy it in Sen Monorom.
In Sen Monorom, the Cinnamon Café and Bakery
is popular for breakfast and lunch, with great views of surrounding greenery from the deck. The Hefalump Café
is one of the most popular places in town, great for coffee and cake.
Khmer dishes are available at the Khmer Kitchen
, with the Khmer curry and fish amok particularly popular. There are also fried rice, chicken and vegetable dishes. For those missing international flavours, they also have a few alternative options on the menu. Mondulkiri Pizza
is the place for those with pizza cravings. Given the proximity of Mondulkiri Province to the Vietnamese border, the food is also influenced by this, with the likes of pho and ban chao often found on the menu.
One of the few evening hotspots in Sen Monorom is The Hangout
, popular with international visitors. There is occasional live music to accompany the drinks and Khmer-international menu.