"The four hour trip was mainly over a built up gravel road, which was slowly being turned into a highway, with roadworks at intervals and short stretches of bitumen in between. The dust was horrendous, thank goodness I was inside an air conditioned mini van. The road deteriorated in the last hour and became narrower and bumpier before the van finally limped into the pot holed streets of Sen Monorom's market. I'm surprised we made it without breaking down, as the van had two stops along the way, where the front was opened to cool the engine. One tyre was under-inflated too, adding to the strain."
The town of Sen Monorom is the best base camp for travellers who want to explore the surrounding areas.
A quiet but beautiful town nestled into the hills; it has a lot of potential to develop into a centre for non-intrusive eco-tourism. At present, it's very undeveloped, which gives you a feeling of going somewhere off the beaten tourist trail.
Add to that the communities of hill tribe people, who are not affected by mass-tourism, as they are in neighbouring Thailand, and you have an area that is very attractive to the adventure traveller.
Sen Monorom's atmosphere is distinct from the moment you arrive. It is one of the quietest towns in Cambodia.
Just a few dirty roads and one roundabout set at the centre of a patchwork quilt of grassy rolling hills. The town is but a blip on the radar and you could pass it in barely the blink of an eye.
Senmonorom (and the Mondulkiri province in general) is inhabited by the indigenous Pnong people. Pnong tribesmen and tribeswomen are often seen walking along major highways.
Sen Monorem is a collection of buildings around four earlier Bunong villages either side of a very long ridge occupied by a laterite runway.
The south side of the ridge, with the road leading in from Snuol, is the main commercial part of town, with the main street running up from the hospital to the roundabout at the side of the runway.
Many of the guest houses and the cafes are on this main street. Either side of this main strm the busy main street. A wide boulevard runs along the side of the runway for its entire length, with some guest houses and the town school alongside it.
Sadly, the grass verge here has become the tipping point for the town’s garbage, despite the presence of a perfectly good landfill site on the southern edge of town.
The south side of the ridge and the hillside to the north is the main government area, with quiet lanes and bigger houses. The provincial governors office is the big white
building on the far hillside alongside the police compound. Other than on the main street, it doesn’t really feel much like a town, with the whole place full of trees and bushes and dusty little lanes, and it is a
pleasant place to spend a few days.
Sen Monorom is the provincial capital and doesn’t show up as a typical Cambodian town, while it is the only town the province has to speak of. With approx. 7500
inhabitants, 20 guesthouses, 12 restaurants, 3 bars and no post office it is often compared to American Wild West frontier towns.
The centre of town convenes at the intersection of its two main streets, with the bus stop at the point where the roads meet. Most of the restaurants and a few guesthouses are within easy walking distance of the bus stop and the small market.
The motodops awaiting bus arrivals -- who are predictably laid back compared to their aggressive counterparts in more fast-paced Cambodian cities -- know where the notable guesthouses further afield are located and can take you there quickly when you arrive late at night.
Half way up Sen Monorem's main street lies the Middle of Somewhere Bar, the most obvious expat joint in town. The bar gets good reviews from travellers.
The town is very quiet at night, and most places effectively close down by 8.30pm. There is one expat bar (the Middle of Somewhere Bar), but most evening entertainment revolves around the guest houses and watching TV.
There is a bus service to Phnom Penh, via Snuol and Kampong Cham every day (several times) and the guest houses will make arrangements for you. Tickets can also be bought at the bus office on the main street (just by the curve of the hill).
Sen Monorem can provide the basics, but that is really about it. You can buy tinned and dry goods from any of about 10 stores on the main street or market street (which is the dusty
street that runs to the south near the top of main street).
Most travellers spend a few hours wandering around Sen Monorom and then do a series of organised or self-drive trips out to the surrounding waterfalls. Some are within walking distance of town, while the bigger falls are long motorcycle rides. Road signs waver between minimal and non-existent, so a guide can be a good idea.
The popular backpacker haunts, aside from hiring motorcycles, can also organise from half-day to multiple-day trekking and camping trips with local Phnong villagers. They also coordinate elephant riding trips.
Due to rapid development, as well as mania caused by real estate speculation, land prices in Sen Monorom have boomed. Lots that cost $150 in 2008 went for three or four times as much four years later in 2012.