Mountainous, sparsely populated Mondulkiri province sees fewer travellers in a year than Rattanakiri does in a month. Despite heavy logging, Mondulkiri still has impenetrable jungle and is home to rare and endangered wildlife, including water buffalo, Asian dogs, elephants and green peafowl. Besides its jungle scenery and cool climate (conducive to hiking), Mondulkiri’s attraction lies in its isolation, although the only sights accessible to visitors are the compact provincial capital, Sen Monorom, and several gushing waterfalls, among them the mighty Bou Sraa. It’s the place to come for an authentic elephant trek, and the chance to help out at an elephant care centre.
The main group of indigenous people of this impoverished province are the Phnong; not so long ago they made up nearly eighty percent of its population. In the 1990s they were joined by an influx of Khmer, who returned from the refugee camps in Thailand and could not afford to live in Cambodia’s towns; the Khmer are still coming, though nowadays it’s rich ones who are buying land cheaply then clearing it for farms and plantations. In recent years there have been a number of incidences of Vietnamese hill tribes (montagnards) fleeing here to avoid persecution at home; initially they were put in refugee camps set up by the UN, but most have now either been repatriated or have emigrated to the US. Most recently, easy access to the province has seen expats moving here, either seeking a reclusive haven or looking for a business opportunity.
Regrettably, Mondulkiri’s unique, grassy rolling hillsides continue to be threatened; a few years ago bauxite was discovered by the Australian giant BHP Billiton, though fortunately they’ve decided that the reserves aren’t worth bothering with (for the moment). Now, with the blessing of the Cambodian government, Chinese gold miners are quarrying about 51km northwest of Sen Monorom in Mimong.