Recently I wrote a post for my lovely friend Kiki at North Leads to Home about 3 incredible places I have stayed on my travels. You can read that post HERE. One of those places was Nature Lodge in Cambodia which was our base for exploring the remote and beautiful Sen Monorom and today on Memory Lane Monday I am going to tell you about what we got up to while we were there…
Not many travellers seem to make it over to Eastern Cambodia and really I am not surprised considering everything that central and coastal Cambodia has to offer! But if you have ample time in the country making your way here is so worth it. Our main reason for the trip was that we wanted to get into the wilderness a bit and go elephant trekking and after some perusal of Lonely Planet’s South East Asia on a Shoestring we picked out Sen Monorom.
Getting there is really simple with buses leaving from Phnom Penh. However, if you want to break up the journey a little then making a stop in Kratie for a couple of days is a great option and I will write a post on what we got up to in that cute little town soon… Once you arrive off the bus there will probably be taxis waiting for you and I suggest going straight to Nature Lodge to get settled in, have some lovely food and enjoy the wilderness in comfort!
We organised our trekking trip in town,with this lovely guy called Samnang, who gave us an amazing price for one day trekking, an overnight home stay and a day elephant trekking. From what we’d heard from other travellers it was especially good compared to other South East Asian destinations featuring elephants and hill communities. Nature Lodge also do some incredible 3, 4 and 5 day packaged deals.
Our trip started by driving to the Pnong Village to meet our guide Hong, who was this tiny, but crazy muscled, rather good looking Cambodian man! Once introductions were made me set straight off out into the wilderness. The beginning of our trek went pretty smoothly, nothing too strenuous and the views were beautiful- green jungle as far as the eye could see.
We were told by Samnang that we were heading to a waterfall and it was going to take a cool 6 hours, 3 hours there and 3 hours back… 5 hours later we had reached the falls! Apparently, Hong had decided to take us on a new route! Samnang was a bit annoyed at him I think, which was really funny, but really it wasn’t an issue for us. It was exercise which we are not used to(!), but it was an experience. In parts Hong was literally carving the path himself with his machete and a herd of Buffalo also ran in front of us which was slightly scary- we sure were experiencing the Cambodia wilderness!
At one point we even got to watch him climb bamboo in the forest so that he could cut some down to make our bamboo soup for dinner that night… This guy was like Cambodia Bear Grylls!
We also got to learn a little about the elephants we would be meeting the next day. Basically, the Pnong villages all have maybe one or two elephants that they’ve trained, employed and looked after all their lives. They live in the jungle freely, but they have a bell around their neck and a chain on their leg so that the Mahouts, the Elephant trainers, can find them again when needed. Although we only experienced a day in this area there seemed to be a lot of mutual respect and love between the people and animals. I hope this was the case as a recent post by Alex from Alex in Wanderland brings to light some very serious issues involved in elephant tourism. If you are interested in spending time with these amazing creatures but want to do so ethically, check out her post here.
Because it had taken us so long to get to the waterfall we ended up only walking a few hours back and then getting a lift! It was such a funny experience sitting on the side of this dusty road waiting for a motorbike to come and get us. It was like at the end of a horror movie where we’d got lost in the jungle and had finally found civilisation! Speeding through dense jungle on the back of a bike was another interesting experience!
The homestay that night was so special. They cooked us so much food which was all gorgeous, especially the bamboo soup which was aubergine based with lots and lots of spices! We also drank lots of jar wine that the family had made (wine made in a jar) and some rice whiskey that Samnang had made with different fruits. Us girls all sat around the fire outside with the men taking it in turns having a shot of the alcohol; ritualistic drinking! It was cool as loads of family and friends were around and we just kind of blended into the background, just chilling out with the drunk grandma. We didn’t feel like we were intruding at all or that we were the spectacle of the nights entertainment, we simply felt like some distant relatives coming to visit!
The next day definitely stands out as one of my favourite travel memories. It all started with looking out the door of the hut and seeing an elephant walk past. I ran outside a little hysterical- I mean they seriously are the most incredible, majestic animals. I love their eyes which seriously have a twinkle in. Hopefully a sign that they are happy…
So after have a little breakfast we got on the elephants. A hilarious experience that is obvious in these images:
Once aboard we set off into the jungle once again. I rode on the elephants head first while Becky sat in the basket with our guide and I absolutely loved it! You get a completely different view of the jungle sitting on an elephants head- I felt like a king or something. Christina and Beth (our lovely American friends who you will hear a lot about in Memory Lane Monday) had the naughty elephant which was so funny, it kept going off on it’s own path and wouldn’t stop eating!
We walked for an hour or two and then stopped by a river to let the elephants have time on their own to eat. This was reassuring for us, then and now, as they were left alone for around 3 hours to roam free and eat. Once they’d had their fill, they came to join us in the river! Again, it was the most amazing experience swimming and playing with these huge animals in the water and they were having a great time (I hope!). Ah just writing about it now is making me smile. We had a lovely paddle until one of the elephants relieved himself and we all ran out. Don’t judge, elephant poop is huge!
Have you ever spent time with our enormous trunked friends? How was your experience, and what is your opinion on animal tourism?