There was once a trio of Young Turks living in the heart of hectic Phnom Penh but decided to upsticks and head to the forests of Mondulkiri Province. Will the three survive in the wild? WORDS BY Phannaro NHEM, Thina TOCH, Sopheavuthtey BORIN
Focus has since received word from the trio, and these are their letters from Northeastern Uphill.
The man with the lionheart
It all began on a Friday, the day we would journey into the heart of Mondulkiri.
We had booked a two-day tour package with the Mondulkiri Project – an NGO and elephant rescue sanctuary and were out to learn about the project and the elephants it protects.
The bus journey took over six-hours and we arrived under the cover of night-fall. Our accommodation was located on the summit of Phnom Bai Chow and with it being the rainy season, we felt the full force of the jungle, in all its beauty.
On the first day, we met four of the elephants and began to become formally aquaintanted.
We fed the four elephants and bathed them in the afternoon. But we were lucky, many set out to see the large animals, and are not so lucky. “I cannot guarantee that tourists can feed and bathe the elephants, as it us up to the animals themselves,” explained our local guide. Fortunately, we had that chance to connect with these huge animals on many levels.
We then left our newfound friends to enjoy the tranquility of the forest. After experiencing the sunset, we each were given a hammock to sleep in. We slowly drifted off to sleep to the sound of the birds and the forest, in harmony all night long.
I did miss my comfortable bed at home; however, one night among the beauty of the jungle makes up for any problems with comfort. We awoke to a spectacular forest view and a delicious banana pancakes breakfast with sweet coffee and condensed milk, all the while observing the breathtaking view of tropical plants, green trees and the steady stream of rust-tinted water.
On the second day, a local Bunong tour guide comforted us before we set off hiking – we may be Young Turks and adventurers, but we’re all afraid of land leeches…
He also turned out to be one of the most talented photographers I have ever met and we asked him about his life, trying to understand more about his community. So, after a whole day of hiking, we asked to visit his village and community. We were greeted by warm smiles and Khmer noodle soup, enough to warm your heart and fill your stomach.
There were many highlights from the experience – the breathtaking view, the elephants, the trekking, the tour guide and the tuk-tuk rides back and forth on that slippery road. The adventurous journey has taught me to open myself up to experiences – getting to know locals, learning about different cultures and submerging yourself in nature are the best experiences you can get from travelling.
The clumsy errorist
She is the type that loves watching the stars, but yet goes to bed too early; she is not a fan of walking, but she has itchy feet. And these are the two things she discovered during her journey.
First of all, after traveling to this mountainous destination, it is interesting to see how my view on nature has changed. I started to fall in love with the music of the wind through the trees and walking under the light rain falling upon the green hills, healing the unrest in my soul.
It’s indescribable, but when I open up my mind the serendipity and mother nature did set my soul free. That moment when you, out of the blue, feel down and upset, or tired from your work, emerging yourself into nature can really make you feel better. The human spirit needs a place of pure nature, to reflect the similarity of wabi-sabi – the acceptance of imperfection – and nature.
Secondly, the dilemma of the leeches. Imagine trekking 13km with the idea of leeches, waiting to suck your blood, following you every step of the way. Would you bite your tongue and continue your journey? There are countless leeches in the forest and if you are careless, one will latch on and suck your blood, happily ever after…
To be honest, we were so scared – it was our first time trekking on mountains such a distance, and we did not want to get our blood sucked… But everyone put on a brave face, coated themselves with the insect spray and tried to be careful.
Luckily for us, we arrived at our destination safe and sound, and it was a great experience to challenge ourselves and get to see the subtle beauty of the natural forest.
At the end of the day, it was more than just jumping on the bandwagon – it became a beautiful memory that I could be proud of. The journey was more than a trek to the mountaintop, but a journey in changing my mind, self and way of life.
The detoxing internet addict
Growing up, I have always heard from my family that it is not a good idea to travel during the rainy season. For beach destinations, there can be dangers involved with the sea – either out swimming or when taking a boat ride. For the mountainous areas, there are the risks of slippery roads.
Since I have been to Mondulkiri already, I did not expect particularly that much, neither from the view or landscape. I was disappointed with the view during my previous visit back in late-2019, because it looked so dull and dry. From that trip, I remember coming back home and telling my sister – “Mondulkiri is no longer beautiful”.
As soon as I arrived, I was deeply impressed by the view from my accommodation. Out every window, there were trees. The sight made me feel revived, fresh and recharged. At that moment, I was so thankful to myself for agreeing to come to Mondulkiri again.
After the hike, at the back of a pick-up car from Oureang back to Senmonorom, the landscape struck me. I thought to myself ‘this is not the Mondulkiri I have seen before, this is the best version of Mondulkiri.’ That moment was also when I decided the rainy season is the best and only time to visit the region.
However, of course, traveling during the rainy season can be dangerous. But with awareness and carefulness in mind when you walk, drive or even swim, rainy season-Mondulkiri is the best.
A good pair of shoes, a raincoat, a big plastic bag and insect repellent are the essentials to pack if you do make the journey. The only part that is bad about traveling amid the rainy season are the leeches, so many leeches. In this case, insect spray is the weapon of choice.
I had prepared my heart to live on the internet during our two-day tour, however, once we arrived at the accommodation near Senmonorom, there was no internet connection. Upset, I was forced to bear with it and immerse myself in the trip.
The next morning, instead of being on the internet, I took a walk through the early morning Senmonorom market instead. It gave me a new perspective about Senmonorom because it was my very first time to really get to see the routine of the community.
En-route to the jungle, I was quite disappointed with the fact that I had wasted my time on the internet while in town. I do not know how I managed to spend the day without being on the internet, a huge part of my life. But, after all, I was fine. That experience taught me to focus and observe life around me more. Life happens between people, not apps.
I called those two-days without the internet – ‘a part-time social media detox’.. I always used to prioritise social media over what was happening in real time, but now I’ve realized you don’t have to do this. I had thought of having a social media detox before, however I didn’t dare to do it for fear of missing out information. With this experience, I now believe I can do it anytime. But only for a particular period of time, of course…
This post is also available in: KH