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The road to Sen Monorom

Journeys Within director Narla, wildlife specialist Regine and I head to Cambodia’s Northeastern province of Mondulkiri in search of new experiences for our guests…

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 Stanley Stewart‘s recent article for Conde Nast magazine raises the question of whether tourism can help save natural environments through the empowerment of locals. For the piece, he travelled deep into the Amazon jungle to stay with a group of Huaorani tribe members who recently adopted a small scale, sustainable tourism project to help them save both their jungle home and their ancient way of life.

As my Journeys Within co-workers and I headed into the Northeast of Cambodia today,  I was reminded of the article. We were headed to Mondulkiri province looking to expand the socially responsible wildlife-based experiences we offer our guests.  I couldn’t help wonder if tourism, in the hands of locals, could help stave off the areas own impending environmental crisis.

Cambodia has lost jungle to the tune of 30,000 square kilometres — or an area the size of Belgium — between 1990 and 2010. Widespread deforestation affects not only the Kingdom of Wonder but its neighbors as well.

Illegal logging and unchecked development projects have taken their toll on forests throughout Southeast Asia. Driving to Sen Monorom, our group’s destination in Mondulkiri, hundreds of acres of clear cut jungle and neat rubber tree rows marked big business’ presence in the area.

It wasn’t until we reached the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area that I realized what had been lost. Every shade of green is featured the jungle’s rich foliage tapestry — one made up of trees, shrubs and ever-reaching vines. I watched as Narla tried to capture the image — the overwhelming greenery, the varied species and the atmosphere — with his iPhone from the car and had to laugh; like a sunset, the richness of Cambodia’s jungles is beyond the scope of modern gadgets.

After passing through Seima’s denseness, the landscape quickly changed to one of rolling hills and lush landscapes. A downgrade from the majesty of the ancient forest but only ever so slightly.

After hearing horror stories that all of Mondulkiri had been lost to clear cutting, I was relieved to see portions of natural environment — one that tribes like the Buong and Pnong depend on — still intact.

After 12 hours on the road, I arrived in Sen Monrom exhausted but filled hope.

This trip has the potential to yield new relationships that would allow Journeys Within to give our guests a a glimpse an eco-system not to be missed. With a ballooning number of tourist choosing Southeast Asia as their destination of choice, this could also be an  opportunity to support a long-term sustainable tourism industry that favours preservation, while there is still a jungle to protect.

Follow the remainder of our trip here one the blog, or in real time (when service allows) via twitter at @Journeys_Within.

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