Tourists Starting to Trickle Into Mondolkiri

sen monorom, Mondolkiri province – Wa­ter cascades over the 65-meter cliffs at Bou Sra every day in what would be a memorable stop for any eco-traveler. But few people have ever come here.

Blame a bad road, a shuttered airport and the more popular destinations of Ratanakkiri and Kratie provinces for all of the tourists who never witness the stunning views of Bou Sra, a double waterfall some 32 km from Sen Monorom.

Remote and rugged, this thinly populated province is home to the rarely-seen-in-Cambodia sights of avocado trees, turkeys and rolling, bare hills that turn neon green in the rainy season.

The tourism business here has mushroomed in recent years, but it’s still a mere handful of travelers who make the seven-hour journey from Phnom Penh—when the road is in good condition—to reach Sen Monorom.

The province recorded 615 tourists in 2001. That’s a jump over the previous year’s figures, local officials say, and 400 tourists have already come to Sen Mon­orom so far this year, said Sorn Sa­run, the bureau chief of tour­ism in Mondolkiri.

That’s nothing like the major destination of Siem Reap, which drew 205,000 people last year by air alone—a 32 percent increase over the previous year. But local officials in Mondolkiri say tourism is growing quickly here, too, and shows no sign of slowing. “We have had more tourists every year since 2000, but every rainy season there are not as many tourists because the road is worse in the rainy season,” Sorn Sarun said.

The easternmost section of the road from Phnom Penh was re­built in 2000 and again this year by the government and the Sam­ling Logging Co, which has a massive logging operation in the area.

In the rainy season the road turns muddy and slick—a stretch of driving that requires metal chains to be wrapped around the tires for traction and can take up to 12 hours to reach Sen Monorom.

Still, the road has become the only lifeline between Phnom Penh and Sen Monorom since regularly scheduled commercial flights were canceled in 1998. The last regular service was a once-a-week flight that cost $100 per round-trip ticket.

The locals here recognize their alienation from Phnom Penh: Most of the goods sold in local markets here are imported from Vietnam, less than 30 km from Sen Monorom.

Five guest houses were built in Sen Monorom in the past year to handle a recent rise in tourism, doubling the number of places to stay in the provincial capital. Still unrealized is one developer’s dream of building a golf course and chalet style-housing. The plan was under consideration as recently as 1996, according to Ray Zepp’s book “The Cam­bodia Less Traveled.”

The six-year-old travel guide contains a section on Mondol­kiri—unlike the Lonely Planet book of the same year, which makes almost no mention of Mon­dolkiri—and describes several day-hikes around Sen Mon­orom.

Hikers can safely stroll the hillsides, since land mines were not laid here. Signs of civilization are few outside of Sen Monorom: The province has fewer than 30,000 people, with about 10,000 in Sen Monorom district.

For tourism officials like Sorn Sarun, the best years of tourism are still to come in Mondolkiri. Bou Sra is beautiful, but there are 60 more waterfalls in the region, and so far just eight of them have been made accessible, he said.

Travel by taxi is the only reasonable way to get to Mondolkiri. Motorcycle travel is discouraged during the rainy season because of washed-out bridges, shallow rivers and mud pits.

 

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