Ratanakiri - Red dirt and a tender tail-bone

Trip Start May 17, 2009
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Trip End Dec 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
Lakeview Lodge,Banlung

Flag of Cambodia  , Khétt Rôtânăh Kiri,
Sunday, August 30, 2009

With the CWF semester over, and 2 weeks before I leave Cambodia, I decided to head to Ratanakiri  in North East Cambodia for a look-see.  I really wanted to get to Mondulkiri but it seems to be way too difficult in wet season and I didn't fancy sitting in the back of an open truck for hour on end eating red dust.  Definitely on my agenda for my next visit to Cambodia though.

Joe decided to come along with me to Ban Lung (thanks for that Joe- certainly makes sitting in a bar drinking cocktails more acceptable with company) and after only 11 1/2 hours in a crowded bus , including 3 hours on rutted dirt roads, we faced the hostel-touters  at journey’s end.  Thanks to a chance meeting on the bus, Lakeview Lodge had already been recommended to us and we picked Mr Den out of the crowd for our $5 a night twin room with fan.  This place is one of the old governor’s houses,  just beside Terres Rouge which gets a good wrap in Travelfish and Lonely  Planet for location.  Terres Rouge is much more upmarket  and its verandahs, gardens and pool were tempting but we couldn’t have been happier with the friendly atmosphere at Lakeview Lodge.  Mr Sophat manages the place, his English is great as is that of Mr Den, the guide.  The rooms are big, the verandah large and comfortable, good restaurant on site with views of the lake, and a good range of treks and day tours available. 

We took 2 motorcycle day trips with Den, who has a great sense of humour and provided good info and company throughout the hours of bumping around on the less-than-perfect roads.  Crater Lake was very peaceful and relaxing – of course, some of the pleasure went out of the whole experience once Joe and I got it into our heads that it all seemed too much like one of those teen horror flicks where someone is floating around without a care in the world one second, and dragged to the 70metre depths by a Neolithic monster the next.

The power shower at Chaa Ong was also a highlight but the trip to the Seven Steps Waterfall was disappointing in that it was long  and uncomfortably rough without the payoff of amazing views at the end.  Our elephant ride was not quite as expected – we basically chilled out while the large mammal beneath us ate in a small patch of jungle.  Our young mahout kept himself amused singing and chopping at things with his machete, that is when he wasn’t playing snake on his mobile phone.  (Talk about a clash of technologies)  He also showed us his scar from a recent injury to his back which made us a lot more wary of his machete action after that.

We checked out some gem mining as well – basically, families dig one hole after the other in their back yards in the search for a seam.  Horrible working conditions – aaaagh claustrophia.

Ban Lung is one of those sleepy places that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on – wide red dirt roads, quite a lot of gem shops, and the normal weird assortment of market stalls selling anything from motorcycle parts to endangered animal body parts (This is apparently the centre of the trade in such animals – the Vietnamese market continues to drive the local tribal people to persist in their traditional hunting).  Did make a couple of visits to Geckos for pizza and cocktails – seems the local men might like their lunchtime beers a little too much, not that it stops them riding their motos home afterwards!

 Despite the extensive logging of the area, the place is beautiful and I dread to think of the changes that will come with sealed, all-weather roads. 

Meantime, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of health and education for the local tribal people – unfortunately, I’m told they have been tricked into selling their land underprice by the lure of technology such as motorbikes and mobile phones.

TIDBITS

Locals play dodge-the-police who are out to collect "Donations" from those driving motorcycles without mirrors, registration or helmets.

Hard not to be embarrassed about how close and personal the middleman (me) gets with the driver  when you are travelling 3 on a moto.

Women and children smoking big fat cheroots  or pipes as they wander around.  Didn’t notice the men doing the same.

The things you see on motorbikes – pillion passenger holding 2 metal rods for reinforcing concrete as they drive along the main road.  Each piece was probably 12 metres long, and held in the middle so that the rods drag along the road behind him, threatening to take out the ankles of poor pedestrians.

WORDS TO THE WISE

Don’t wear white when travelling all day on a motorcycle in Ratankiri unless you like the rust-tie-dyed look.
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