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www.hotsia.com > Combodai > Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri is located in Cambodia's far northeast bordered by Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east, Mondulkiri to the south, and Stung Treng to the west. This rural rugged province is a 70% ethnic minority, which are known as "Chunchiet". Ratanakiri was as recently as 2002 seriously off the beaten track but has since been "discovered" step by step. Still, while you won't get any bragging rights for coming here, it's well worth the effort to do so, and once you get away from it's capital Banlung you won't run into too many other tourists. So Ratanakiri is still a remote province in Northeastern Cambodia worth to visit. The word "Ratanakiri" itself is a derivative of two Cambodian words, which are combined to mean "place of gems and mountains." The word comes from the Sanskrit words Ratna (gem) and giri (mountain). It's quite dusty capital, Banlung, is located in the central highlands of the province, approximately 365 miles (586 kilometres) from Phnom Penh and reminds one of a wild western city, even if it's the wild east. Its wide red laterite roads are bordered by new, recently build houses replacing the older ones. The centre of the town features a lively marked with all the needful things.

Lomphat is a small town in the southern plains, which was once the former capital of Ratanakiri. There are a few other small towns like Ta Veng and Voen Sai. The province is getting more and more popular for thousands of tourist every year. Especially for those, who seek a close contact to originality, hidden roots of ethnic groups and abundant wildlife. Therefore the Ecotourism abounds, due to lush wildlife and remote tribal villages. Most of the inhabitants of Ratanakiri are indigenous minorities. Ethnic Cambodians make up only 10-20% of the countrys total population. Remnants of an ancient volcano exist near to Banlung in the form of a crystal-clear lake that was formed after the active volcano went dormant. There are also a few ancient lava fields that testify to the fact that the area was quite lively at one time. Beautiful waterfalls, clear rivers winding through stretches of jungle, and rolling hills that meet mountains near the Vietnamese and Lao border provide a full agenda for nature lovers. Non-structured, low-impact, custom trips to outlying villages and natural areas can be organized (strictly by yourself or with help from a guesthouse).


There is a few foreigners living in Banlung youll definitely meet while walking in the streets you can ask for actual tour offers, prices etc (change spontaneously). You will soon realize that this area hasn't seen a lot of tourists in the past. If you will visit the hill tribe people in the further areas outside of Banlung, dont be surprised if they look appalled at you. They just havent seen many, if any, foreigners. Yeak Laom Volcano Lake This beautiful place is not far from town and is great for a swim, picnic, or hike around the crater rim of the old volcano. Due to the lakes tremendous depth of 48 meters, its water is exceptionally clean and crystal clear. The lake is almost perfectly round and measures around 750 meters in diameter. It has a small informative local museum thrown in to boot. In 1995 the governor of Ratanakiri officially set aside a 5,000-hectare (12,350-acre) protected area, of which the lake is a part, and in 1996 got help from the International Development and Research Centre of Canada and the United Nations Development Program to develop an effective resource management program. This area represents Cambodias finest attempt at preserving a site. Full-time rangers work to ensure the area is protected. They receive regular training and have put up signs throughout the area reminding people not too littler, wash clothes or toilet in the lake. Thats amazing for Cambodia. The main swimming and picnic area features a nice wood deck thats great to use for a jump into the crystal clean water. Nearby, park rangers erected a couple of examples of hill tribe construction in the form of non politically correct bride and groom homes, where the man gets the elevated home (his status in the relationship) and the woman has the one nearer to the ground. A few hundred meters down is the Cultural and Environmental Centre, which has information about area history and displays of local hill tribe tools and handiwork. They also sell some of the handicrafts made by the hill tribes: musical instruments, beaded belts, shirts, and hats. From the centre you can take a nature trail around the entire crater rim. King Sihanouk had a chalet built on the shores of the lake and used it during the 1960s. It was destroyed in the 1970 war between the Lon Nol government and Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

You can still see the remnants of this and also-indifferent spots around the lake-trenches that held gun emplacements during the fighting. The original inhabitants of the area are the Khmer Leu hill tribe people, who have always recognized the lake as a sacred place, home to the spirits of the land, water, and forest. Here those spirits interact with humans and, according to the local legend of Yeak Laom Lake, fabulous, spiritual aquatic beings reside here. The surrounding forests of the area are also said to be the home of spirits and therefore cant be cut. This helps to explain why the hill tribe people took so strongly to the idea of protecting the area. Its very easy to get there - just go east from the Independence Monument circle 3 km to the Hill Tribe Monument circle (two indigenous figures) and go right for about 1,5 km to the entrance gate. The local hill tribe community connected to the lake get to collect an entrance fee, giving them a source of income and revenue for protecting their resource. Its US$1 per person and a few hundred riels for a motorcycle.

Ratanakiri is situated on the north - east plateau (approx. altitude around 200-400 metres), 636 Km from Phnom Penh. It is bordering Vietnam on the east, Laos PDR on the North, Steung Treng province on the West and Mondulkiri on the South. There are two bigger rivers crossing the province ( Sre Pork and Sresan River ). The total area of Ratanakiri is about 10,782 square kilometres.

How to get there

Air Flying is, of course, the easiest way to go. There are only 2 flights per week. For more detail, please contact a travel agent.

Share Taxi The share taxi pickup trucks only go from Banlung to Stung Treng. Bring food, water, and mosquito repellent, because if there is a breakdown on this quite bumpy backwoods road you may be caught in the jungle for the night (especially during the rainy season). Share taxis usually go in groups in case of a breakdown, but anyhow the other vehicles are usually full as well, so people do get stranded sometimes. The five-hour trip stretches mostly to seven hours for share taxis during the rainy season. The fare is about 35,000 riel per person for an inside seat. Banlung to Stung Treng The 146-km journey from Banlung to Stung Treng takes around 5-7 hours during the rainy season, so knock at least an hour off for the dry season.

The road is generally lousy, passing through areas of bomb craters that create deep lakes during the rainy season, but you can skirt around the perimeter of most of them. Where you cant, the road goes zigzagging through the jungle, and is slow and slippery in the wet months. However, there are a few decent stretches, and the last 19 km on Highway 7 are fairly easy ones. Its certainly not one of the better roads, but its not the worst either. There is some nice scenery, but as with other bad highways around Cambodia, you are usually too preoccupied with the road to enjoy it unless you stop. The same suggestion we made in the share taxi section applies for riders on this road. Bring food, water and mosquito repellent.

If you have a breakdown there may not be anyone else coming by, depending on the time of day. Its always best to get an early start to improve your chances if you do have a problem. Banlung to Mondulkiri If you come from Stung Treng and want to try the back trail to Mondulkiri (Sen Monorom) and its the rainy season, read the Death Highway chapter. Or follow the simple advice we gave in the Mondulkiri section: dont do it. There is a bunch of small splitting trails leading nowhere! In the dry season, its a tough trail that will put your riding skills to the test. Make sure you have spare parts for your motorcycle (see Biker Checklist in Getting Around chapter), and bring plenty of food and drinking water. The trip will take around two days during the dry season. Koh Nheak town (near halfway) is the only place that sells bottled water and some food. Fuel is also available. Dont do it alone. Its best to have some help if you have a breakdown or a mishap. You are a long way from help in most stretches of this remote trail. It would also be best to bring along a Khmer speaker as the trail sometimes intersects with other trails and you will want to clarify that you took the proper way when you do come across somebody. Its definitely an adventure, so if you try to tackle it be fully prepared so you have an opportunity to enjoy it. Security these days has not been a problem. Stung Treng/Lao border - Banlung This is definitely a tour you can only manage by motorcycle and during the try season. The road is just a dirt trail, which will testify your advanced riding skills. (Be prepared with spare parts for your bike, a lot of water and some food. If youre not able to speak Khmer, better bring a Khmer speaking guide or a phrase book along to be able to communicate, as it gets sometimes quite necessary. )

Starting from Stung Treng you have to take the national highway No. 7 to the north (Lao border). Just 10km before the border you have to take a dirt trail, which splits from the main road to the right. Now you have to challenge 130km of dirt trail, passing quite a few villages, such as Siem Pang, Samong, Phum Bah Ke Toch and Veun Sai. On the way you have to cross several small rivers by little boats, so make sure you bring enough change to pay the villagers. Almost every village sells fuel and bottled water. Reaching Veun Sai you have made the hard part of the trip, the further laterite surface road to Banlung is just a 45km ride.

Where to eat

The American Restaurant: Its an unlikely name for a restaurant with the best food in town. It turns out that an American used to be the owner and cook of the place. He taught the staff to cook the Western dishes on the menu and also to be meticulous in the cleanliness of the place. They got the idea, as its a simple but well taken care of restaurant.

If youve been in the bush a while, they serve up a mean hamburger with all of the trimmings of a California Burger with tasty fries on the side. There are plenty of choices of Western and Khmer food and if you want something special made up for you, the friendly staffs are happy to accommodate you. Open all day. The restaurant rents Honda Dream motorcycles for US$ 5 a day.

Banlung Guesthouse Restaurant: Situated Next to the airport. They serve Khmer, Western and Thai food throughout the day, starting with breakfast. Its a friendly place and the food is good.

Market Food Stands: Located near the market and share taxi area is a bunch of simple noodle and rice dish shops, if you want to eat the cheap way.

Gengliangs Place: Located 5,5 km from the Independence Monument on the road toward the Vietnamese border, is an outdoor restaurant set amid trees and a small stream in a valley. Its a nice, simple setting that serves up a very good Vietnamese noodle and curry cold dish. They have a few other treats, as well as fresh fruit and drinks. The name of the friendly Khmer owner of the place is Gangling and she speaks French.

Terres Rouge Lodge: Its a very high-class hotel with an excellent French and Khmer cuisine. So, if youre up to spend a bit more money than usual, but to spoil your tongue, reserve a table for the dinner. Mail: terouges@camintel.com

Tribal Hotel and Yak Laom Lodge: Both guesthouses have good restaurants, which serve Khmer and western food in a nice surrounding. If you are hungry after a swim in the Yak Laom Lake, the Lodge of the same title may offer you a near possibility to assuage your needs.


Where to stay

Banlung Guesthouse: Situated near the market. Very clean rooms with a share bath go for US$ 3. Banlung Guesthouse: Near the airport. This friendly place has fan rooms with a bathroom inside for US$ 5 and a/c rooms for US$ 10. They have a restaurant and can arrange guided trips to the local attractions and beyond. They also have guides who speak the various hill tribe dialects and can take you to some outlying villages. They rent Honda Dreams for US$ 5 a day and also a pickup truck with a driver for US$ 50 a day, including the fuel. They are currently trying to reorganize their elephant trekking after the recent death of the elephant that was normally used. Mountain Guesthouse: (tel. 075/974047) Fairly decent simple rooms are available at US$ 5 a night for a room with a fan and bathroom. The walls are paper-thin so watch the hanky-panky; they have a small restaurant that serves breakfast. They also have Honda Dreams for rent at US$ 5 a day. The English-speaking owner of the place helps you to organize trekking tours if youre interested. Mountain Guesthouse 2: This is run by the sister of the owner of the similarly named place mentioned above. They have Spartan accommodations that are not well cleaned for US$ 5. There is a funky share bath area. The upside is a nice second-floor terrace and they also serve breakfast. Lebanese Hotel: With no staff anywhere to be found on the three occasions when we stopped by, it is not recommended. Belongings can easily disappear if nobody is minding the store. Rattan Hotel: (tel. 012/958322) Its the highest building in town, but that isnt saying much. They did some remodelling in the front outside area of the building, but the rooms are the same as before. Rooms in front have a terrace and window overlooking the street. They have and attached Western bath, double or twin beds with a/c for US$ 10 a night. Its a clean place, but when we went through, not overly friendly. Terres Rouge Lodge: ( tel. 075/974051) Its a quite traditional equipped hotel with 12 rooms, which show Khmer textiles and artefacts. The lake view gives the visitor an idea of having real holidays. Only disadvantage is the 4km ride to the centre of Banlung. The room rates are: US$30 for a single room, US$35 double room, around US$40 for a room with two single beds and US$50 for the suite. You need to place a reservation in advance. Tribal Hotel: (tel. 075/974074) Its near the centre of Banlung on the road, which lets out of the town in direction to the Yak Laom Lake. There are plenty of rooms on different rates: single room US$5-6, double room with two single beds US$7, bigger double rooms are available for around US$10. All rooms have a bathroom and TV; some have a little balcony and AC. You may ask the owner for Internet connection as well as for help organizing a tour in the area.


A shopping spree starts at the Banlung market. Shopping bargains can be found on intricate stone, woodcarvings, gemstones and other varieties of goods. Many goods are brought in by tribes, like baskets, crossbows, gourds (water containers), bracelets, necklaces, clothes and pipes from the outskirts of the town, which make for an interesting and very colourful morning stroll.


Where to see

Beung Yeak Loam
Beung Yeak Laom is located in Yeak Loam commune, Ban Loung district, about 5 kilometers south of Ban Loung provincial town. A lake in the middle of a mountain, it was formed many centuries ago from a volcano. The lake is about 800 meters in diameter and 48 meters deep during the dry season. The water is clear and suitable for swimming.

There are two places along the bank where visitors can relax and enjoy a panoramic view of the lake and the flora and fauna. A tourist information center is on the west bank, and handicrafts made by hill tribes living nearby are available for sale.

Beung Yeak Laom is a place of worship for the hill tribes. They believe there is a powerful spirit who owns the surrounding land and forest. Beung Yeak Laom is popular with tourists who like to swim or hike in the forest surrounding the lake. Because there are no vendors, visitors should
bring along their own food and beverages.

Cha Ong Waterfall
Cha Ong waterfall is in the forest in Cha Ong village, O'Chum commune, about 2 kilometers west of Ban Loung provincial town. It was given its name by the Kreung hill tribe living nearby.

The waterfall gets its water from Phnom Eysei Patamak or Phnom Svay near Ban Loung provincial town. From its upper level, the water flows from a small canal before dropping 25 meters to a lower level. A mountain slop leads visitors to the bottom of the waterfall, where they can sit inside a cave and enjoy the view.


Eisey Patamak Mountain or Phnom Svay
Phnom Eysei Patamak, which is also known as Phnom Svay,is about 2 kilometers west of Ban Loung provincial town. At the foot of the mountain is Wat Isana Rattanaram, where villagers living in Ban Loung come to worship. On the top of the mountain there is a large statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. It was built in 1994. The top of the mountain affords visitors a picturesque view of Ban Loung provincial town. The temperature at the top can be cool, however, even during the hot, dry season.

Ka Chanh Waterfall
Ka Chanh waterfall is located in Ka Chanh commune, Ban Loung district, about 6 kilometers southeast of Ban Loung provincial town. The waterfall is 12 meters high and is fed year round by the OKan Teung canal.

From the waterfall the water flows into Sre Pork River in Lum Phat district. The waterfall was given its name by the Kreung ethnic minority in Ka Chanh village.

There are a number of scenic rubber plantations along the canal leading to the waterfall. The base of the waterfall, which is a lovely place for picnics, can be reached by climbing down a 72-step wooden staircase. Elephant rides to the site are also available.


Ka Tieng Waterfall
Ka Tieng waterfall is located in Labang I commune, Lum Phat district, about 7 kilometers southeast of Ban Loung provincial town. Ka Tieng is below Ka Chanh waterfall and about 3 kilometers from it.
Ka Tieng waterfall, located in the middle of lush forest, gets its name from the Kreung hill tribe in Ka Tieng village. The waterfall is about 10 meters high. There is no access to the bottom, because it is too steep.

Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary
Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary is situated 37km. south of Banlung. With a total land area of 250,000 ha. there are special kinds of animals and birds like tigers, elephants, red-headed vultures.

Norng Kabat Forest
Norng Kabat Forest is situated 23 km. north of Banlung. This place has a pond. the visitors can go there to see the animals and birds which comes to at the pond .Beside this the tourists can go visit the ethnic villages, ethnic culture (tradition belief, festival, dancing, music).

Ou'Chaloy is located in the Sre Pok river It is situated 34km. south - west of Banlung. The tourist recreation in Ou'Chaloy is only during the dry season.

Ou'Sean Lair Waterfall
Ou'Sean Lair Waterfall is situated 26 km, South of Banlung. This Waterfall has 4 floors and the height of each floor is 4 m. The water flows throughout the year. Around the Waterfall are beautiful natural landscapes and the visitors can go take a bath if they wish.

Ou'Sensranoh Waterfall
Ou'Sensranoh Waterfall is situated 9 km. south of Banlung. The height of it is 18m. and the water flows and falls all the time. The visitors can go there rest and enjoy the fresh air, or to se the forest and listen to the birds ' cries.

Viel Rum Plong
Viel Rom Plong is a huge granite terrace in the forest in O'Chum commune, O'chum district, about 14 kilometers northest of Ban Loung provincial town. The site is a popular place for picnic.

According to the Kreung legend, there once was a boy named Rom Plong who flew his kite on this terrace. Unfortunately, the kite got stuck in a tree. Rom Plong climbed the tree to retrieve his kite, but fell from the tree and died. His body was buried in the forest. Since then, members of the Kreung hill tribe, who live in nearby village, believe that Rom Plong's spirit is protect the forest surrounding the terrace, so they dare not cut it down, even to plant crops. That is how the site came to be known as Viel Rom Plong.


Virochey National Park, Tonle San River & Beyond

To get to the various sights in this area, head west from Banlung to a big fork in the road that has a large painted sign in English (the fork is 8 km from the Independence Monument). The sign says that the road to the right takes you to Taveng, 67 km away (thats from town, not from the sign). Following this road for a few kilometers brings you to a large clearing on both sides of the road. You soon notice that this is an ancient lava field where the flow followed the down ward slope of the area and left the cooled volcanic rock in its wake. The forest surrounding the entire area is honeycombed with footpaths that the hill tribe people of the area use to gather their various bounties from the jungle. Its possible to hike off onto these trails and come upon individual hill tribe homes scattered about.

Just keep track of your direction, as its easy to get turned around and lost back there. Continuing on toward Taveng, the road condition worsens and is not suitable for a rainy season journey. If its the dry season and you are keen on an adventure through some pristine countryside, its possible to go all the way to Taveng and cut back on the small river road to Virochey. You could take in the activities there and complete the triangle journey by heading back to Banlung on the other road from Virochey.

The road to Virochey (going left from that fork 8 km Banlung) is definitely the better of the two roads and can be used during the rainy season as well. Virochey is just under 37 km north west of Banlung. As you approach the town, you will see the Virochey National Park headquarters on the left. They sometimes have an English speaking ranger there who can give you a bit of information about the area.

Continuing further along the road, you will come to the end of the line- the Tonle San River. There are cheap food and drink stands there and they also have fuel. Across the road is a local general store with clothing, fishing boat accessories and other gear. This is the place to inquire about renting a boat to take you northwest on the Tonle San River toward Laos. The river is very clean and the boat ride is scenic so it makes for a fun trip to follow the river for a swim and some photos. You will see and can stop at a temple on the south bank of the river. Fishermen working the river with nets from small boats, and the mountains ahead in the not too far distance complete the picturesque scene.

There are several sandbars along the way if you want to stop for a swim. The cost of the motorized boat and driver is US$ 10.

The beach and boat landing area are just behind the food stands where you reached the town. Its a gorgeous and extremely wide white sand beach and also makes a good spot to cool off in the clean river. There is a small boat there that serves as a ferry, taking people across to the Chinese and Lao village on the other side. Its 200 riel per person and 1,000 riel for a Honda Dream (if you rented one in Virochey). Its an interesting village to hike or motorbike around.

From the food stand area, its also possible to motorcycle down about 1,5 km to the riverside temple.

Wat Rah-Tahn-Ah-Rahm(Reclining Buddha)
From the American Restaurant, follow the road toward Stung just over half a kilometer and turn right on the dirt road that goes to a temple area. The main temple is on this level. If you continue on the road that goes upward behind the temple for just over another half a kilometer you come to the hilltop area. There is a reclining Buddha resting and enjoying the nice view of the countryside and the mountains off in the distance.






ͧѡ mr.Hotsia ç ç ѷ Chris Luck