We walked into town to arrange a tour and found 'Highland Tours' to be very helpful, the woman running it, Horng, was especially lovely. We booked a half day and a two night trip with her then she found us bikes for the day and showed us the way to the only bank in town. We cycled (and walked up the hills - the bikes were not very good) to the Crater lake about 5km from the town. It is a perfectly round lake which is thought to be volcanic, though some think it must be a meteor hit as it is so perfect. It is 50m deep in the middle and there are stories about a creature living in it. It is a sacred place for the locals and also the local swimming pool.
It is beautiful. One of the really lovely places we have been. The lake is surrounded by jungle (stories say it is not possible to cut it down) and a path runs round it. There are jetties spaced around the lake, we settled at one of these that was not so crowded. The lake gets deep quickly so after a couple of expermental jumps I was diving of the jetty. Simon jumped aswell and a couple of bombs made some locals chuckle. We stayed for a couple of hours, swimming and jumping and sitting, a perfect afternoon. We got back slowly (my tyre went flat, but still able to cycle) and I took my trousers to a tailor near the guesthouse whilst Simon went back. A man called Darat started talking to me, he spoke English with a Cambodian/South London accent, he asked me to his friend's house warming party two doors down while I waited for my trousers
. The house was full of men singing karaoke and some women playing cards. I sat down and I was given a beer, nobody else spoke English so I smiled alot and learnt 'charl moi' - cheers! The hostess gave me a bowl of noodles and passed be a very fat baby. Darat runs an English class for a few students and had promised them native speakers to talk to (probably why he invited me!) he asked me to come to his school that evening. Simon joined me and the students and us swapped questions, not sure we are the best teachers as one girl told Darat that she was so embarrassed she forgot all her English!
Next morning we took a moto trip to see some waterfalls. An Australian father and son joined us. After a while Simon had to join my moto as his guide's had a flat tyre and had to go back to the nearest fixer. We carried on a huge waterfall that cascaded over a cliff we stood behind the waterfall to watch the water, incredible! The next waterfall was not as spectacular but had a large pool, perfect for swimming! We tried to test the depth but it started to get dark before we touched the bottom so came back up, fairly deep! We carried onward to the last waterfall which had a bouncy bridge in front of it and a lot of local children running up and down it. All waterfalled out, with the sound still rushing in our ears we headed back.
We were due to go on a three day trip into the jungle the next day but that night I felt a bit off
. I packed my bag ready to go on the hike and hoped a sleep would be enough. However the next day I had fever and ached eveywhere. Simon went to ask Horng if we could postpone the trip for a day so I could recover. Not only did she say yes but she asked Simon if I had had any medicine any medicine and told him to bring me to her so she could help me. We booked a new room for that night, cos I was poorly we got a posh room out on its own with a porch and hammock and hot water, and that afternoon went to see Horng. She asked me what was wrong and took us into her house (a small room at the back of the tour agent). In Cambodia the practice 'cupping' (popular with celebrities a few years ago) which draws blood to the surface of the skin with suction. Not having posh equipment local people scrape the skin to the same effect. Horng has toaght by her Aunt. She put tiger balm on my skin and the scraped it with the jars lid untill it went red. It sounds unpleasent but felt quite good. She coved my back and chest and told me to go to back and go to sleep. I spent the rest of the day dozing, Simon played Football Manager.The next day I felt better, no fever and less achy so we left for the trip. We moto'ed to a village where a French couple joined us for the trip, lead by Horng's partner, Morn and a guide from a minority village. Then we were given hammocks and water to carry and started walking. The first thing I noticed about the junglr was the amount of ants (and termites), they are EVERYWHERE! There are also loads of butterflies and noisy birds we couldn't see
. We were not doing anything too strenous, a kind of 'jungle-lite' following well walked paths, also quite flat and lots of shade, but we got very hot, and sweaty. When we got to the camp for the night we were so happy to see it by the river with a pool to swim and cool off in.Our guide cooked dinner in bamboo and Morn caught some (little) fish. They also supplied some rice wine which we drank in our personal freshly made bamboo cups! It was quite poten stuff. We drank and chatted, the French couple are also doctors, and slept in our hammocks. That night it was cold! There had been a blanket in my hammock but it went to the French (felt mean to ask for it back!) I was glad for my base layer and silk liner, poor Simon lost his liner and was wrapped in his towel. Also hammocks are not nearly as comfortable as they look. It was a long night and we were glad for morning.
We walked again, coming across small households and villages along the way. I found the walking that day hard and had to stop alot. By the time we got to the village we were to spend the night (only after about 2-3 hours walking) I was exhausted and Simon was concerned. The villagers seemed fairly nonplussed about our arrival and we were left to ourselves. We fed some pigs and had a nap and I felt worse, my fever had come back that morning, I had squashed it with paracetamol but by the evening Morn was asking me if I wanted o go home. Sadly we accepted his offer and we were moto'ed back to Ban Lung and went to bed.
Ater about 12hrs of solid sleep I felt well enough again to venture out. We were looking for a post office and wanted to give a thank you card to Highlander tours. When we got there Morn had just got back, he looked very tired and said it was another cold night. As we left Horng asked us to come back that evening. I spent the rest of the day sleeping and Simon played more Football Manager. We went to see Horng again, wondering if she was going to scrape more of me, turns out we were invited for dinner! She and Morn went to one of the charity schools that teach tourism and hospitality trades, hey are both very good cooks and we had a great meal with lovely people, a wonderful way to spend our last night in Cambodia.
Ban Lung is a small sleepy town in the north of Cambodia, it became one of my favourite parts of our whole trip. It was clear as soon as we got there that though this is a town ready for tourist not that many come here. There are no souvenir shops and no beggars. Whilst there is little to do in the town itself it is near to some spectacular natural features and is on the border of a national park. There are alot of tour companies.We had arranged rooms at the 'Tree Top Eco Lodge' This is a series of bungalows on a hillside, they are beautiful and a room (admittedly with no hot water) costs only $7. Unfortunately we arrived around the time of a rather big wedding which started with prayers and chants being played at five in the morning on one side of the valley and ended with a party until late on the other side, this went on for three days. A French couple were very unhappy about this and complained to the staff, who had apparently tried to call the police about it but as it was the son of the chief of the police's wedding nothing would be done