Mondulkiri means ‘Meeting of the Hills’, an apt sobriquet for a land of rolling hills. In the dry season it is a little like Wales with sunshine; in the wet season, like Tasmania with more rain. At an average elevation of 800m, it can get quite chilly at night, so carry something warm.
Mondulkiri is the most sparsely populated province in the country, with just two people per sq km. Almost half the inhabitants come from the Pnong minority group, with other minorities making up much of the rest of the population. There has been an influx of migrants in recent years, drawn to the abundant land and benign climate. Fruit and vegetable plantations are popping up, but hunting remains the profession of choice for many minorities. Conservationists have grand plans for the province, creating wildlife sanctuaries and initiating sustainable tourism activities, but are facing off against speculators and industrialists queuing up for natural resources. BHP Billiton, one of the world’s largest mining companies, is already digging around, literally.
Roads are pretty poor throughout the province, but the main highway to Phnom Penh is in pretty good shape most of the way, bringing journey times down to seven hours. The road to Koh Nhek is unrecognisable from the mess of bygone years. Improved access has fuelled an explosion of domestic tourists, so book ahead at weekends.