The next days and weeks we went looking for wildlife. Ofcourse we also visited some temples, although a wise brother told us that once you’ve seen Ankor, you don’t have to see any temple anymore for the rest of your life. And we are starting to agree with that. Our next stop was Battambang. Battambang itself was not that impressive, its mostly around Battambang that the ‘fun’ is going on. We visited the killing cave of the Khmer Rouge and afterwards the bat cave. The bats come out around six every evening with hundreds, thousands of them for their nightly hunt.
After Battambang we went to Kampung Cham where we had a home party with a tarantula. It was heaps of fun and involved some loud screaming and jumping on the bed. We were so excited that no pictures were taken. The party ended for some a bit too soon. For others it seemed like ages.
In Kratie we spotted the endangered Irrywaddy dolphin. When you Google them you see they’re very happy dolphins with a big smile on their faces. We didn’t see the smile. But saw plenty of fins, tales and little jumps. It was so nice to be out on the water of the mighty Mekong. The fresh little breeze made our overheated everything to cool down for a bit. Kratie was one of the hottest places we’ve visited in Cambodia, flirting with 40 degrees.
When people go to South East Asia an elephant encounter is mostly on top of their must do list. Unfortunately most of them participate in tours that only hold benefits for the tourists and the owners without thinking about the wellbeing of the animals. We found this amazing Elephant Valley Project, a little bit out of Sen Monorom in the Mondulkiri province. Basicly they’re a sanctuary for retired and abused working elephants, but in fact they’re so much more. The sanctuary was founded by Jack Highwood about 9 years ago. At the moment there are 4-5 westerners working there and a lot of local people. The project looks for neglected working elephants in Cambodia and tries to convince the owners to bring their elephant to the project, where it can live a quiet and happy life in their natural environment and with other elephants. At the project they can learn how to be an elephant again. Every elephant has its own mahout or personal caretaker. People visiting can’t ride or swim with the elephants. The elephants welfare is main priority. So wherever the elephants decide to go, the small group of visitors walk with them. Elephants look massively strong, but actually they’re not made at all for carrying people or heavy things whatsoever.
Next to the saving of elephants the project does so much more. They help Bunong minorities in the area with education and health care and very importantly they help the communities to get official ownership of the land they lived on for hundreds and hundreds of years. In this way they’re official owners and the corrupt government can’t sell their land anymore to big foreign companies to deforest and destroy the protected forest. Yes the forest is in theory protected. But unfortunately money can buy anything.
After a lot of very interesting education we were so ready and superexcited to finally meet the stars of the project: the elephants. First we’ve met the Valley Girls also known as the Fantastic Four: Ning Wan, Pearl, Mae Nang and Ruby. We walked down the valley for about half an hour, waited a bit and suddenly out of nothing and without any sound they stood there waiting behind us. Amazing how gracefull and elegant elephants are. I think people are 1000 times louder in the forest than a few tonnes weighting elephant. We got to know a lot about their past and personalities. Very nice to see. Elephants are so intelligent and a lot of their behaviour is very similar to humans.
In the afternoon we met Happy Lucky and the very famous Sambo. Happy Lucky is the grandmother elephant. Sambo worked for years in Phnom Penh as a tourist attraction. When her feet got infected her owner realised a city is not the best environment for an elephant and decided to let her retire at the sanctuary. She has a very long and dramatic history. During the Khmer Rouge Sambo and her owner were taken to work in the ricefields. Her owner managed to escape and went to look for, and rescued Sambo.
We absolutely loved our time spend at the sanctuary. Very nice to meet so many passionate people who have their priorities straight. If you want to find out more about the project visit www.elephantvalleyproject.org or when in Sen Monorom go to the Hefalump Café.
Our last day in Sen Monorom we did an amazing jungle trekking with an amazing guide Duong and amazing fellow traveller Leah. There are a loads of jungle trekkings to do, but most of them are too touristy -how ironic- and with big groups. We got via via the emailadress of Vanny, a Bunong guide who grew up here and knows as no other the jungle. If you want to get deep into the jungle and are looking for a more personalized program: book a tour with Vanny.
The trekking was amazing. We got info about animals and plants along the way. Duong set a raisin tree on fire -no worries it’s not harmfull for the tree- we cooled down in a waterfall and had lunch deep in the jungle. While we were eating Duong was busy doing other things which we soon discovered why. He made us each a small cup out of bamboo! Really nice. Once we’re home you can come over to admire it in real life 🙂 and maybe have a shot or two out of it.
On our way we also saw huge parts of the jungle being logged down. For nothing. For money. Not only is it very wrong, it’ll also cause bigger problems in the future. Especially in rainy saison when the deforested hills will turn into mudstreams.
We had lovely talks during the day. About life. About our families. And about Duong wanting to grow a beard just like Hidde. They exchanged some do’s and dont’s. So Duong, if you’re reading this: please send us a picture of how your beard is doing. We keep our fingers crossed! 🙂 and we’re so curious!
A whole lot of love
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