The Mondulkiri Project in Cambodia: a great jungle experience

This post is about the Mondulkiri Project in Cambodia. The Mondulkiri Project in the town of Sen Monorom seeks to promote conservation and responsible development through ecotourism and agroforestry in the Mondulkiri province. 

Jungle of the Mondulkiri project
The jungle that the Mondulkiri project protects

What is the Mondulkiri project in Cambodia

Mondulkiri is a remote part of Cambodia that is known for its stunning natural beauty and thick jungles teeming with wildlife. The province is the most sparsely populated area in the country characterized by tropical forests and waterfalls. It is home to some of the last remaining populations of wild elephants in the country. 

Most people that live in the forests of Mondulkiri belong to a number of ethnic minorities. The largest indigenous community in Mondulkiri are the Bunong people. The Bunong people are animists that are famous for their knowledge about the forest and the use of plants for traditional medicine. 

Unfortunately, Mondulkiri and Cambodia in general have experienced high levels of deforestation due to illegal logging and agricultural expansion. This had a significant impact on the area’s ecosystems, wildlife, and indigenous communities. 

Mondulkiri is thus a fragile area. Its natural beauty attracts more and more travelers looking for adventure activities and the chance to see elephants up close. The Mondulkiri project in the town of Sen Monorom is all about sustainable tourism and preserving the forests as well as its elephant populations. 

Deforestation in Mondulkiri Cambodia
Deforestation in Mondulkiri

Mondulkiri project and the forest

Mr. Tree started the Mondulkiri project in Sen Monorom with the aim to preserve the forests of Mondulkiri. To do this he realized that he had to work together with the Bunong people. Their only source of income was logging and agriculture and as a result more and more forest was cut down. 

Mr. Tree wanted to provide a different source of income that would protect and preserve the forest. Tourism and the wish of travelers to see the jungle and the elephants in Mondulkiri could be part of the solution

Mondulkiri forest
waterfall in the forests of Mondulkiri

Mondulkiri project and elephants

Elephants in Cambodia are having a difficult time and the future of wild elephants in Mondulkiri is very uncertain. Elephants are in danger due to illegal poaching and animal trafficking. Your chances of seeing a wild elephant in the jungles of Mondulkiri is very small. 

Still, most tourists come to Mondulkiri to see elephants and elephant riding is a popular activity in Mondulkiri. The ethics of elephant riding in Mondulkiri or any other place is a complex and controversial issue. 

It can provide economic benefits for the local communities, but the training and treatment of elephants used for riding can be cruel and inhumane. Additionally, their living conditions can be poor and may not meet their physical and social needs. Elephants are wild animals and they are not used to carrying people on their back. 

It’s therefore advisable to avoid elephant riding and instead, opt for activities that respect their natural behavior. The Mondulkiri project promises to do just that. They offer tours to tourists into the jungle where you can meet the elephants in the forest.

The elephants of the Mondulkiri project
The elephants of the Mondulkiri project

Mondulkiri project tours

The Mondulki project offers a one day elephant adventure or a two day jungle trek from its base in Sen Monorom. On both tours you get a chance to see and feed the elephants in the forest. The Mondulkiri project has 4 elephants that used to work in either logging or elephant rides before. 

Now the elephants are free to wander around in the forest. Mr.Tree rented a large piece of forest land from the Bunong people. This way he can protect it from illegal logging or agriculture and at the same time provide income and job opportunities to the Bunong people. 

Bunong people in Cambodia
The Bunong people

My experience on the Mondulkiri project

The first day

I did the 2 day jungle trek from the Mondulkiri project. Although the Elephant adventure is the main attraction of the Mondulkiri project, I found the jungle trek to be just as interesting. 

Mr.Tree already warned us that we would be confronted with the sad reality of logging in the area. As we walked through the jungle on our first morning we could indeed hear the sound of chainsaws in the distance sometimes. 

The first day we walked around 16 kilometers passing through the jungle, but also through small Bunong villages. Along the way our guide explained about the plants and their traditional use for medicines among the Bunong people. 

At night we slept in the jungle lodge in hammocks. For me waking up in the jungle with a beautiful view of the forest was one of the highlights of this tour. That morning I also saw a hornbill in the trees just beside the jungle lodge. 

We also got a taste of the local food. The Bunong people prepared this by cooking it inside a bamboo pole over the fire. 

Accomodation on the Mondulkiri project tour
Our accomodation for the night
Sleeping in hammocks on the Mondulkiri project tour
Sleeping in hammocks

The second day

The second day was all about the elephants. In the morning we had our first encounter with two elephants. It is obvious that the elephants are used to people and that they are lured by the promise of bananas. 

We were allowed to feed and touch the elephants and after a while continued our trekking journey through the jungle. In the afternoon we had another elephant encounter when we were allowed to bathe the elephants.

Bathing the elephants at the Mondulkiri project
Bathing the elephants at the Mondulkiri project

Sustainability of the Mondulkiri project

Are Elephant sanctuaries ethical?

The life of the elephants in the Mondulkiri project improved dramatically. Before they had to work hard carrying either people or wood. The Mondulkiri project now offers good care for their elephants.

The Bunong people have a long history of working with elephants. Elephants are part of their cultural heritage and were always seen as a means of financial security. Instead of logging and elephant riding, elephants are now still providing income in a way that promotes the well being of the animals as well as protecting the forest. 

During our elephant encounters at the Mondulkiri project there was a lot of respect for the elephants. The initiative for contact with the people was with the elephants. If an elephant didn’t want to come close it was ok. Personally I felt quite positive about the whole experience.

On a small critical note, the elephants are still used for commercial profit. Their life is still not what it would be like in a natural environment where they do not meet people on a regular basis. It still is a very different experience from when I saw wild elephants in Bardiya National Park in Nepal, BR Hills in India or on a safari in Sri Lanka.

As the elephants in the Mondulkiri project were caught from the wild at a young age they can probably no longer survive on their own. In theory when animals are no longer caught from the wild for profit there will be a time when elephants no longer need to be ‘saved’ and kept in sanctuaries.  

Saving the Forest?

Elephants were not the only reason Mr.Tree started the Mondulkiri project. Mr.Tree also wants to save the forest. He now rents a plot of land from the Bunong to save it from logging, showing that the jungle itself can be a source of income. 

Small projects like the Mondulkiri project are important, but of course much more needs to be done to save the forests of Cambodia.

Traditional homes of the Bunong people
Traditional homes of the Bunong people

Mondulkiri project travel tips

Where to sleep

I stayed at the Tree Lodge from the owner of the Mondulkiri Project in Sen Monorom. It is a little bit at the outskirts of Sen Monorom at the edge of the forest. Therefore it feels you are already immersed in nature. 

Tree Lodge in Sen Monorom
Tree Lodge in Sen Monorom

Where to Eat

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Sen Monorom. If you stay at the Tree Lodge you can also eat at their own restaurant. On the Mondulkiri Project simple meals are provided.

How to get to the Mondulkiri Project

The Mondulkiri project is located close to Sen Monorom. A small town that is the gateway to all nature activities in the Mondulkiri province. 

From Phnom Penh: Kim Seng and Rithya Mondulkiri Express provide fast and comfortable minivans that take about 5 to 6 hours. 

From Siem Reap: It will be a long journey from Siem Reap. The Rithya Mondulkiri express leaves Siem Reap at 07:45 AM and arrives between 4 and 5 pm in Mondulkiri. 

From Kratie: After Mondulkiri I went to Kratie to cycle the Mekong discovery trail and see the Irrawaddy dolphins. There is a daily minivan in the morning between Sen Monrom and Kratie.

Bus to SEn Monorom in Cambodia
The bus to Sen Monorom

What to bring

Sturdy shoes: Proffesional hiking boots are not necessary. However, you will walk along muddy paths that require a good pair of shoes. I would recommend closed shoes that are water proof.

Sunscreen: It is easy to underestimate the strength of the sun when you walk in the shade of the jungle. Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect you. 

Anti Mosquito repellent: There are a lot of mosquitoes and although dengue and malaria are rare there are occasional outbreaks. Wear long sleeve pants and use mosquito repellent.

Water purification system: Bring enough water with you. There is no need to add to the plastic waste problem. You can fill up your own bottle with water from the river. However, do use some kind of water purification system. Giardia and other microbes are very common

DisclaimerThis post with a travel guide about Sen Monorom and the Mondulkiri Project in Cambodia contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!

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