The thought of potentially gaining experience in conservation projects during my travels was a big incentive for me to leave Wales in direction of Southeast Asia in June 2015. My loose plan was to find different conservation projects that could benefit from my help. Sitting on my one-way flight to Bangkok I had no idea what kind of projects awaited. Fair to say, I never dreamed that come December I would be working with an up and coming conservation project in Eastern Cambodia.
The Mondulkiri Province was not originally in my travel plans, but to say I had a travel ‘plan’ is a very broad statement. I first arrived in Cambodia with very few preconceptions about what the country had to offer. My Dutch friend, Laurens, I met in Siem Reap introduced me to Mondulkiri after travelling together through the main tourist attractions in Cambodia. After experiencing the joys of Siem Reap pub street and the beauty of Serendipidy beach in Sihanoukville (if you have not had the pleasure of seeing these places, then you might not see the sarcasm), we both needed some nature to refill our batteries. As it turned out, Mondulkiri was the perfect place experience and trek through Cambodia’s magnificent forestry and turned out to be where I would find the ideal conservation project to help out.
After visiting a few other places on the journey east we got to Mondulkiri, and just by looking out of the window of the bus I could tell that I was going to love it here. Compared to most of the other places I had been in Cambodia Mondulkiri seemed like a real oasis, with beautiful rolling hills, covered in lush green forest. Upon meeting Kim and learning about the work L.E.A.F does here in Mondulkiri to protect the forest and wildlife I was captivated and wanted to see the sanctuary and see how I could help. After doing the one day trek around the sanctuary I fell in love with the stunning forest protected by the sanctuary and, of course, the elephants. I could instantly see that Chellot and Chepril are so happy in the sanctuary and are loving the retirement that L.E.A.F has given them. After visiting the sanctuary and learning about their plans for the rescue centre I instantly wanted to help them out to achieve their vision, using my degree and experience. So after meeting and speaking at length with Sokha about his vision and how I could help to achieve it, we decided that I would come and start working as project manager/administrator in December, I was over the moon!
After a few days in Mondulkiri I crossed the border over to Vietnam where I travelled for a month before flying to Indonesia for two months. While in Indonesia I volunteered at Cikananga rescue centre in central Java for a month, this gave me the opportunity to get some more experience at a rescue centre and really motivated me to get back to Mondulkiri and get stuck in to my new project. Following my month volunteering I travelled through almost the whole of Java over land, to Bali. After a few days travelling around Bali from west to east I ended up in Kuta, which was on the verge of being my idea of hell. In Kuta I met Noah, who shared my detest for the concrete covered drunkard playground that is Kuta. For the next couple of weeks I travelled around Bali with Noah and a few other friends, snorkeling through perfect corals in Amed, swimming with turtles in the paradise of the Gili islands and riding scooters around Lombok.
After experiencing just a small part of what Indonesia has to offer I was on a flight to Phnom Penh buzzing with excitement to get to sanctuary and start this new chapter of my travels. After travelling for so long and having so many new experiences every day I had grown slightly tired of packing up and moving every few days and I was starting to lose the shock value of the awe-inspiring sights I was seeing. Since living in Mondulkiri I have really loved getting involved with the community in Sen Monorom; meeting new people all the time, playing football with the locals and mostly exploring the sanctuary and the other amazing places Mondulkiri has to offer. Mondulkiri definitely has a place in my heart now, it feels like home. I have really enjoyed becoming a part of the project and seeing it move forward since I started. Whether it’s talking to people about visiting the sanctuary and doing some trekking or with people running other projects to work in conjunction with us I have loved putting my people skills to good use and promoting a project I am passionate about. Leading treks around the sanctuary has also been so much fun for me, walking through the lush forests in the valley, meeting people from all around the globe and teaching them about the work we do. Also through doing this I have had the chance to be on Filipino TV, which is something I’d never thought I’d say. Also being here has allowed me to put some of my experience into practise, putting plans together for the rescue centre, seeing the first enclosure going up and, of course, working with elephants.