Sen Monorom is the capital of Mondulkiri Province in Eastern Cambodia.
Sen Monorom lies at an altitude of 800 m which makes it a little bit cooler than Phnom Penh, especially at night.
The city is rapidly developing and so is the tourist industry. You will not find untouched or unspoiled nature or ethnic groups. But even though you might not be the first tourist to lay your eyes on Sen Monorom it is probably one of the least visited areas in Cambodia and many of the ethnic groups still live much as they always have, but this may soon end if the tourist industry keeps growing.
From Phnom Penh: vans and buses take one hour to get through the Phnom Penh traffic before they hit the open road, so leaving at night or very early morning has its pluses. The east—west linking Sen Monorom to Phnom Penh via the junction town of Snuol (head north from here for Kratie, Stung Treng and Ratanakiri; head south for Loc Ninh in Vietnam) and Kampong Cham is not in great shape. Potholes mark the road from Phnom Penh, making it bone-jarring much of the time. (Kim Seng Express minivans don’t have working aircon, so trips can be hot until sundown. Not all their seat belts are in working order. Mekong Express is not an express. Rithya collects many bad reviews for unsafe driving and over-crowding. Indeed passengers from perhaps half of all minivan companies report 'terrifying' driving.)
A minivan from Phnom Penh costs US$15 and takes about 7 hours.
The bus service from Siem Reap has about 50-50 good and very negative reviews. The main complaint is that it's sold as an express minivan taking 8 hours, but the company often puts passengers (without warning) in an older-style bus that makes many stops and takes 13 hours.
The north road to Ban Lung in Ratanikiri is passable in the dry season, but not too fun in the wet season. The best route is still the long way round via Kratie, but that may change.
The centre of Sen Monorom is quite small and can be explored on foot, but a bicycle can also be a lot of fun. However if you want to venture off into the forest then the easiest way to get around is on a motorbike.
There is not much to see in the city. There is a small market next to the bus station. This is the gateway to Mondulkiri Province, a unique part of Cambodia. Sen Monorom is not touristy and has jungle, rolling grass fields, hill tribes, waterfalls, and winding dirt roads.
- Sea Forest. A bare mountain not far from Sen Monorom that has great views of the surrounding landscape. Vietnam, jungle, and other provinces can be seen from the top.
- Market. A small part of the market is obvious from the paved road entering town, but taking an alleyway reveals a small maze of wooden shacks and stalls full of fresh food and other goods. It is busy in the morning and a good place to get cheap food.
- Biking. It is possible to rent mountain bikes, motorbikes (US$8 a day), and dirt bikes in the city and these can be acquired at The Greenhouse (talk to Sam Sang), Holiday Guesthouse, Happy Elephant Bungalows, and Sovankiri Guesthouse. The guide who works at "The Middle of Somewhere" is an old Khmer Rouge soldier, and he has a sterling reputation for getting people off the beaten track to places where tourists rarely go.
- Borsa Waterfall (About 45 min from town by motorbike.). Two large waterfalls, one below the other. They are both impressive, especially in the rainy season. The first is 30 m in height and the second is 40 m. You can walk up to both waterfalls and swim and go behind them depending on the season. There is a path that goes around the waterfalls that is about 1 km. Local native costumes can be rented for a dollar and a picture taken for a dollar as well. 5,000 riel.
- Elephants. To get up and close with elephants that roam free in the natural habitat, it is possible to spend a day and/or night at the Elephant Valley Project where you will be able to see how this NGO takes local sick and abused elephants and reintroduces them to their natural habitat. You cannot ride them, but can walk with them as they graze the forest and grasslands. An alternative to the more normal Asian practice of riding elephants, these mahouts do not ride or beat their elephants, but guide them through the day's routines with an impressive display of voice commands. It can be arranged by Mr Bill at "The Middle of Somewhere" next to the Greenhouse and not far from the roundabout. The Middle of Somewhere also offers tours and homestays. If you volunteer for the day the cost is US$25. All money goes to saving more elephants. US$50.
- Guided Tours. You can join many available tours which are sold by the majority of the guesthouses in Sen Monorom. Most take you to see the Bunong Hill tribe villages in the small surrounding villages including the provinces many waterfalls. You can also go hiking in the surrounding forests, but sadly there is not much left due to rampant logging. Do not expect to see any animals as poaching is widespread. With that said, most animals come out at night and a night of trekking can be arranged which has been said to have plenty of wildlife sightings.
- Mondulkiri Project (Trekking, elephant sanctuary,), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a not-for-profit venture aiming to protect forests from logging, has established an elephant sanctuary and plans to start an elephant breeding program. Their one day elephant adventure tour allows you to feed, touch, walk with and swim with elephants at a waterfall in the jungle. No elephant riding. They employ Bunong Indigenous guides and work to improve the lives of poor, elderly Bunong people. To generate revenue they arrange one and two day elephant encounters and jungle treks. Good website.
You can buy scarves and other handicrafts made by the minority people in the shops around the city as well as coffee and honey. Nature Ledge and the Middle of Somewhere provide genuine hand woven scarves and crafts if you are after a more authentic product.
- The Greenhouse Bar and Restaurant (Close to "The Middle of Somewhere" and by the river). A must for backpackers. It has a good vibe and a very friendly owner. He can arrange for tours and speaks good English. He is also employed by WWF and knows what goes on in the region.
- Khmer Kitchen (on the paved road entering town, before the roundabout with the bulls, near Greenhouse.). Solid choice for eating out, with a few different options from what you might find elsewhere. US$2-4.
- Chomnor Thmey Restaurant (Alas you come into town and go up the hill, it's on the left, just before the roundabout with the bulls). The staff don't speak much English but there's an English menu. Some locals eat here. The food is very good, served with complimentary tea and sometimes bananas also. US$3 and under.
- Temple Diner (on the corner, beside the entrance to the temple, at one end of the boulevard). Real name unknown, the sign is written in Khmer. Good place for breakfast, only locals hang out here. Sport plays on a TV. They do rice and good noodle soup. Most of the staff don't speak English but you can mime. US$1.5.
- Market (one of the alleyways in the middle of the market). A few stalls do rice with pork, chicken or egg. Tasty and cheap. There's also an enclosed diner. US$1-1.5.
- Bamboo Cafe (in the middle of the main street, opposite Hefalump). Cheap, safe, cool. Good quality Khmer food + Western drinks such as apple juice, & fresh passionfruit juice. Nice teenage kids serving the tables (chance for a Khmer lesson, which they enjoy giving). US$3.
- TV bars (in the middle of town, near where the minivans gather in the morning). These places exist all over Cambodia. Locals hang out and watch Chinese & Hollywood films with dubs and/or subs. Sen Monorom has three all together where you can sit on a deck chair and drink iced coffee, tea, or other sweet drinks. There's a Vietnamese one where the ice coffee costs 35 cents. Minimal English.
- Nature Lodge. Bungalows and tree houses available, with or without private bath. Set in beautiful countryside about 10 min away from the main part of town; ask for a pick-up. Treks and tours can be booked at the front desk. There's a nice restaurant and bar as well. From US$10.
- 1 Tree Lodge Bungalows, Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri (20 minutes walk from town centre), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tree Lodge Bungalows is a small family place of Tree and his wife. Tree's lodge is a nice and quiet place in the middle of the jungle around Sen Monorom (20 minutes to the centre and bus station by walking). Bungalows with hot or cold shower. Good restaurant and common area with great views of nature. US$1-8.