We left Ban Lung at about 0945 on an overcrowded minivan for the 215 km trip to Sen Monorom ($10 each), also known as Mondulkiri. We got the suicide seats right up front, but fortunately had seat belts. It was a comfortable ride due to the road being in good shape (it was built about a year ago) and the driver drove at a reasonable speed. Like the previous driver, the horn was used quite a bit and Cambodian techno-pop music blasted our eardrums. Luckily we had our earplugs! We arrived in Mondulkiri (Sen Monorom) at around 1145 but had a rest stop for 30 minutes on the way. The following day we were picked up at the Greenhouse Restaurant to be taken to the Elephant Valley Project (EVP).
Our main focus in Sen Monorom was to visit and volunteer at the Elephant Valley Project (EVP). On arrival we were given an orientation to the Elephant Valley Project and our schedule as volunteers. We would work for about 4 hours per day completing projects such as building a bench for a nearby village and making various signs for the grounds. Then we would spend the rest of the day observing the elephants in their daily activities. The philosophy of this project was to allow the elephants to live as normally as possible eating their normal diet of massive amounts of plant material and even knocking down trees if they so desired.
Our room was large with a grand view of the jungle. We were given amazingly good meals buffet style. There was no internet or other distractions and no electricity except from 6pm to 10 pm. Only jungle sounds were heard and luckily no mice were seen.
There was no riding of elephants but the mahouts did assist them to bathe. These elephants were previously owned by companies or individuals that used them for tourism. What we learned was that the elephant’s spine actually became deformed as a result of using the harness to carry tourists. We never would have engaged in riding these amazing creatures in the past had we known this fact. We also learned that many elephants used in tourism are not treated well and abused physically and emotionally as infants through adulthood.
These elephants were all older in years and few were able to breed. There was one female in her 20’s but she was not attracted to the only male elephant that was breeding material. As a result of years of poaching, the Asian elephant is an endangered species. We felt fortunate to spend time near them yet sad about their situation.
The following day we went on an all day excursion to the Elephant Community Project. Heng was an excellent guide throughout the day. She introduced us to another group of elephants that we spent most of our time getting to know. We were allowed to get closer to this group of elephants. We even assisted the mahouts in bathing them. We also met Leng who is the only female mahout in Cambodia.