Wednesday 30 September 2015

Cambodia Adventures : 8. Lee-Hai Siem Reap, Mondulkiri Elephant Valley Project, Into The Wild and Following the Ancient Mekong River...


Greetings from Cambodia!

I have not been able to have access to the internet for some weeks now since leaving Siem Reap so here is a mammoth blog highlighting the best bits of my past few weeks in the Kingdom of Wonder. I travelled from Siem Reap to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri which means 'Meeting of the Hills' about 12 hours East of Siem Reap right into the jungles of Eastern Cambodia. I spent my last few days in Siem Reap teaching at the orphanage and in very holy places, joining the Monks and Nuns for Buddhist Prayer in the Pagoda...which was quite an experience!

The biggest storm ever then hit the orphanage on my last evening

So we made the most of it and danced in the rain!

 Walking around the temple with Buddhist Monks and Nuns...

 And then a little bit of Meditation....

The morning I was leaving Siem Reap...I decided to go to 4am prayer which was a great way to start a new adventure...

My Monk friend Kosol....

 Road to Mondulkiri

Getting picked up in a tuk tuk in the morning, I was taken out of town to a coach which would take me out of Siem Reap on route to Kompong Cham heading East of Cambodia...

The Mighty Mekong River...

Switching vehicles and all the luggage that goes with it!

 Vehicle #3 and in the back with the fertiliser this time!!

Of course...we got a flat tyre in the middle of Mondulkiri...

Made it! - Greetings from Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri!


Elephant Valley Project 

My reason to travel the 12 bumpy hours to the east of Cambodia to the jungle province of Mondulkiri was to spend a week volunteering at the Elephant Valley Project just west of Sen Monorom, to see injured and abused elephants in their natural habitat and to learn about the Asian Elephant from the local Bunong people.

There are eight female Elephants at the sanctuary between the ages of 25 and 65 (the oldest Elephant to have ever have lived was 68) There are only a small fraction of Elephants left in Cambodia compared to neighbouring Thailand and the Sanctuary is like a retirement home for them to learn how to be Elephants again after years of being overworked through construction work or tourism, physically abused or the Bunong families unable to take care of them anymore or don't have the resources to.

For the suffering some of these Elephants have injured, it was amazing to see how receptive they still were to the human species who had treated them so cruelly.

On the move, searching for the Elephants - Banana treats in tow!

The project allowed us to go trekking into the valleys of Sanctuary 'Heaven' and 'View Point' Valley to go and find the herds of Elephants. We then would watch them coming led by their Elephant Trainers or 'Mahouts' as they are called in the Bunong language through the jungle to come have their morning wash in the river.

We were then given the opportunity to wash them during the course of the week!
 Giving Mailot the elderly elephant a wash, she is very emaciated for an Elephant put had put on weight since coming to the sanctuary - she is blind in her left eye from being hit with a bull hook and has been seriously physically abused during her working life - but still so sweet and happy for me to give her wash and say hello.

It was very interesting to watch them in their natural habitat and our guide John was able to give us very insightful information (and you can never know enough about Elephants!) about the natural behaviors and body language of these stunning mammals as individuals or when they interacted and spoke with their herd girls.(The way they swish their trunks, ears, squeaks and trumpets they make, if they are right trunked or left trucked - really!)

Donations to the Sanctuary go towards paying the staff and Mahouts to take care of the Elephants, medical bills and back to the local Bunong people to pay for their health care which hopes to deter them from committing illegal logging of the protected forest where the Elephants feast (very happily on Bamboo!)


Happy Elephant!

One of the Elephants Sambo, is the most famous Elephant in Cambodia - now rescued and living at the Sanctuary. She spent many years in the capital Phnom Penh entertaining tourists before being 'on loan' to the sanctuary so they could retire her away from that working life (her achilles heel was even cut out so she couldn't run away!). The sanctuary are obviously very passionate about their Elephants and have plans to buy two more including a bull to mate for a baby Hefalump!

The bonus of living at the Sanctuary enabled me to accompany the resident zoologists and Elephant Experts into the jungle to do daily health checks on the Elephants to monitor their progress and physical state and well being.

Alot of walking involved!

Letting the Elephants roam around eating whatever they wanted (except casavahs, they are really bad for Elephants and the mahouts were on standby to stop them wandering into the neighbouring rice fields and destroying all the farmers rice!) We observed their physical state from a far before moving into to do close up checks on their BMI, Eyes, Ears, Skin, Fly bites etc..

Here's a short video I took one rainy morning of a Health Check we were doing on one of the Elephants....

Dung and all!

A couple of weeks ago, one of the Elephants sprained their ankle...obviously it can't put its feet up and chill for a few days so they had to improvise in the forest by wrapping towels with ice around the ankle and then heat compressions which we were told worked like a gem!

Still so sweet! Ruby the little Elephant here was overwhelmed by the amount of bamboo she could now eat in the forest after her Bunong family no longer had the forest to feed her and keep her happy, so she now lives at EVP as the 'bodyguard' to the other three girls she lives with.

When we weren't spending time with the Elephants there was plenty to do around the Sanctuary like clearing to plant more Banana Trees for Elephant food, fixing the pig fence and planting saplings...

The worst black ants ever!

Feeding the piggies too!

Three Day Trek into the Jungle

After finishing at the Elephant Valley Project, I stayed in the jungle of Mondulkiri to go on a three day trek to the Bunong village of Putang - it took me two days to get there, following a Bunong guide Ted into the thicket, across the rivers and meeting local people on the way, including breaking into his uncles house to cook lunch!...

Spending the night sleeping in hammocks with fireflies up ahead at Legkin Waterfall, we got a nasty surprise at 2an when a jungle storm hit, Ted disappearing into the night and having to take shelter nearby

Morning breaks...

Cooking Toast!

We eventually reached Teds village Putang at the end of Day Two where I got to meet local Bunong people living in traditional houses in Mondulkiri.

Day Three involved exploring my of the province accompanied by Pun, an Elephant being taken to the river to be washed by his young Mahout Tuk

My Elephant Friend...

Exploring Mondulkiri....

Boosraa Waterfall, the biggest waterfall in Cambodia

 Coffee Plantation 

 Dorian, a foul smelling fruit of Cambodia

 When the beans are black they are left to ferment for 4 months - where your Nescafe comes from!

'The Sea Forest' canopy that looks like the raging ocean on the horizon...

After my trip to Mondulkiri, unfortunately disaster struck with technology......must be bad karma..

My camera lead was not charging my camera properly and went missing!?!?!, then the charger for the battery I bought blew up in the socket and still I'm searching for somewhere that can charge my battery or by a new one which is a difficult task in Cambodia!....

So....unfortunetly, thanks to misfortunes, I have no further photos of my travels up the ancient Mekong River where I rode 35km from Kratie to take a boat out on the Mekong to view the rare endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins at Kampi and Softshell turtles of Sambour.

Here's a photo I stole of the cute little things....

I pressed on up river to an island called Koh Pdao, catching a local boat with my bicycle and stayed at a local homestay with a family on the island in the middle of the Mekong River.

I then rode 35km back (extreme saddle sore!) where I was caught in a atrocious monsoon all the way where I and my belongings were soaked! (and having to say hello a million times to excitable children on route)

It will have to exist now only in my memory....but I can't forget the thunder and lightning right above me!
I then visited the Island of Koh Trong across the river from Kratie, and participated in a Pagoda prayer and lunch with the locals to celebrate the 'Festival of The Dead'.

But I still got to enjoy some spectacular sunsets on the Mekong River.....

Last week and a half now in The Kingdom of Wonder and have moved on to the south coast area of Kampot before heading back to the capital of Phnom Penh to finish my close to three month journey.

Lee-hai till we meet again!

Kampot, Cambodia

With Lonely Planet Guide Cambodia 

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