Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ratanakiri Province Ban Lung Reviews
Jungle adventures in Cambodia. Oct 26, 2005
Most people that visit Cambodia do not see much more than Angkor and Phnom Penh, which is a shame since the country has much more to offer. Even less people visit the north-east of the country where the Ratanakiri Province is located. This area is a treat for the more adventurous among you since it offers some of the best nature you'll come across in Cambodia. Imagine yourself surrounded by dense rain forests, volcanic lakes and minority tribes. Below you'll find a couple of extracts from my travel journal.
A small 50-seater plane flew us from Phnom Penh to Ban Lung in the Ratanakiri Province in approximately an hour. Remarkable was the fact that they did not give any safety instructions. Not that I normally listen to those ... I wasn't quite sure about the cold steam coming from the luggage compartments either, but fortunately we survived the trip to Ratanakiri. The airport of Ban Lung was a real treat. Imagine a long dirt track for landing and take-off and a rickety old building as the airport. Cows, motos, kids on bikes, the works. ;-)
Pickup trucks took us to our hotel, which turned out to be a 2 minute drive to the other side (!) of Ban Lung. Indeed, Ban Lung turned out to be little more than a handful of brown dusty roads, great for people with contact lenses like me. Unexpectedly for a town like this, the hotel was a very decent place with nice, spacey rooms.
After dropping our stuff in our rooms we decided to explore the surrounding by foot. First we walked up a hill past something which must have once been a local temple to a rather ugly statue of a reclining Buddha. The view over the surrounding hills and valleys was marvellous though. Walking back to town we first treated ourselves to some beer (Anchor this time, not to be confused with Angkor beer) and some fine spring rolls.
Our travel guides were mentioning that the volcanic crater lake of Boeng Yeak Lom was some 5 kilometres out of town. A bit too far to walk, so in our all-knowing wisdom we rented a couple of bikes for one dollar per bike. After a quick tour around the local market, were we ourselves suddenly seemed to be the main attraction, we headed eastwards. My mountain bike had several problems, like the saddle suddenly tilting upwards and gear that made strange noises. We cycled around holes in the road and through small highs and lows but when the biggest of these came it happened. The chain of my bike broke, to the amusement of the local kids. Fortunately we weren't too far from the lake and most of it was downhill. That's when I noticed the quality of the brakes wasn't something to write home about either. With enormous speed I went down the road, trying to avoid ditches and slowing down by using my feet as brakes. I suddenly past Sandra, who was on her way to the lake as well and she shouted 'use the brakes' ... as if I wasn't. When I finally came to a halt and Sandra came walking down the road she informed us that a pickup truck was coming towards us with a broken motorbike in the back. A perfect way to get rid of my broken bike as well and I continued towards the lake on the back of Mieke's bike and walking the last bit.
It was more than worth it. A beautiful large lake surrounded by forest awaited us. There was a small stand selling drinks (more beer !) and the water was nice and warm. Perfect for a couple of hours of swimming and washing the brown dirt off. We commenced with diving and a competition of 'bommetje' with some of the local youth, who were also delighted with some of the balloons Mieke had brought. Eventually most of the group arrived by various means of transportation and half of us took a dive in the warm lake. When it got dark my original companions went back on the rented bikes but I got to ride in the back of a pickup truck. Lucky me. ;-)
In the hotel I took a shower and changed for the evening's dinner. I'm not quite sure what the place was called where we had dinner but it was quite a change from the Phnom Penh restaurants with their artificial lighting. This place was basically an restaurant without walls, which was good because the temperature in Ratanakiri in the evening is much more comfortable than in Phnom Penh. I did have some problems with my meal though. Having had a chicken meal a couple of times I've noticed that the Khmer do not remove any bones from the chicken before frying it. The simply cut the bird in pieces, bones and all. The resulting dish makes you chew, cringe and take out the bones of every bite you take. Quite uncomfortable eating, comparable to a fish riddled with grates. Maybe I should have gone for the Fish Amok again, especially since the hotel has a bidet which really helps if that spicy meal leaves the body.
I'm not sure why, but I always seem to be waking early in this country. Perhaps it's because the sun is already brightly shining at 6 in the morning and goes down at 6 in the evening. After a quick breakfast at the hotel (very simple and only one choice: bread with bananas and honey) we headed north to Voen Sai in four rented four-wheel-drive trucks. Although there was space enough inside, Mieke, Ad and I agreed that it would be much more fun to ride in the back of a pick-up and catch some fresh morning air. First we did some quick shopping at the local market and then we were off.
The first bit was no problem whatsoever, not counting the roads with red-brownish dust. Then big holes began to appear in the road, but with the right amount of caution these were easily concurred as well. When we finally entered the denser parts of the jungle where few rays of sunlight could penetrate we found out how bad the roads in Cambodia could actually be. Again, huge holes, but this time filled with clay-like mud. Still, the trucks did not have to much trouble with these. Until the 'hole from hell' appeared. A huge motherf*cker with edges of at least a meter high. And that's also when we found out that our pick-up truck was not really a four-wheel drive. You guessed it, it got terribly stuck in the mud. It took at least a quarter of an hour and much going to-and-fro, pushing an shoving by the drivers to free the damn thing. Time that Sandra used to treat the group to some fried grasshoppers (not for me though, insects is where I draw the line).
When the truck was free again we continued our 2 hour journey to Voen Sai, passing more holes in the road but also some warthogs and water buffalo's. Voen Sai turned out to be a tiny little town. We got into speedboats (2-4 persons per boat) and headed eastwards over the Tonle San river. What a marvellous experience sitting and lying in that boat, watching the jungle shoot by and even seeing some bathing water buffalo's.
After an hour we arrived in the small village of Kachon, where a minority group called the Tampuon lived. As with all small villages in Cambodia this one was made up of simple wooden houses on poles, high above the ground. Below one of these houses lay a wooden coffin. Seemingly it had been made by a old man who didn't have any family left in the village and therefore had to make his own coffin.
The main purpose for our visit was the Tompuon Cemetery. After a lengthy period of mourning (3 days) the Tompuon bury their dead under a small wooden house and after a buffalo is sacrificed they also add elephant tusks of wood and a wooden statue of the deceased. If this person was a military man the statue would even wear a uniform and gun. Each 'grave' had place for two people since man and wife were buried next to each other. Quite an interesting location !
Back in the village some of the ladies in the group started handing out clothing, toys and stickers they had brought for the children. As you can imagine, the locals were delighted. There were so many children in the village that we actually wondered if we shouldn't be handing out condoms to the male population instead. ;-)
Than it was back to Voen Sai for lunch with rice or noodles and the boats brought us to two other small villages with Chinese and Lao people. Nothing impressive and really a bit of a waste of time. So back to Voen Sai and back in the trucks.
The road was much dustier than that morning but we were able to get around the 'hole from hell' this time. It wasn't easy though because Ad, Mieke and myself actually had to counterbalance the truck which was tilting at a dangerous 45 degrees. But we made it .... only to get stuck in the next one. Fortunately it didn't take much time to get going again from this one and we continued our journey, passing some Cambodians that had living pigs, lying on their backs, tied to their motos. A weird sight.
Another weird sight were Ad and myself. We had been standing in the truck most of the journey and we found out how dusty the roads really were. When we got out of the trucks we were covered in thick layers of dirt, to the amusement of the rest of the group. They weren't able to come to a consensus though if we were looking like Indians or mine workers. ;-)
Back in Ban Lung the local population considered us a funny pair as well, judging from their laughs. After doing some quick groceries for tomorrow's long day of travel we arrived back at the hotel. Time for a well deserved shower !
This evening we had dinner at one of the restaurants in town. A nice, relaxed evening which didn't last too long because we had to get up at 4 in the morning for a long day of travelling.
Part of the Cambodia 2005 travel blog
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