Ratanakiri, ethnic groups and landscape
Ratanakiri province, long time forgotten, has now seen its isolation removed by the construction of a road linking it firstly to Vietnam and then to the Mekong River valley. This opening, although positive, also subjects the territory to deforestation which is just as brutal as it is harmful, destroying both the environment as well as traditional cultures. Tourism can greatly help to halt this process, by giving support to ethnic groups, which implies preservation rather than destruction.
Day 1: PHNOM PENH – KAMPONG CHAM – KRATIE
Early morning departure to Kratie (320 km, 6-7hrs of road approximately), through Kampong Cham province. Stopping at Skoun market, well known throughout the country for its culinary specialties: giant land spiders, found only here and which are eaten either roasted or fried. Then arriving early in the afternoon and booking into a resort on an island where no cars are allowed, in an absolutely beautiful setting. Remainder of the day is free to visit the island and its villages, on foot or by bicycle, or simply relaxing and enjoying the beauty and tranquility of the site.
Dinner at the resort.
2nd Day: KRATIE – RATANAKIRI
A cruise to search the last of the fresh water dolphins: the colony which lives in this area is the largest on the river. Departure towards Ratanakiri province. (205 km, 5-6hrs approximately). Taking a road to the north along the Mekong valley, that we eventually move off and finally head towards the interior to link up with the provincial capital, Banlung. Registration and ,depending on the time available, an optional trip to Yak Laom lake, a vast expanse of water perfectly circular filling a former volcanic crater surrounded by a beautiful forest, ideal for a refreshing swim at the end of the day.
Dinner at the resort.
3rd Day: RATANAKIRI
Heading north-west, crossing bamboo forests before arriving at the village of Voeune Sai located on the left bank of the Se San river; the view of the Chinese Village on the other side of the river is particularly pretty. This place is also almost a Chinese enclave on Cambodian territory, indeed most of the villagers who have been here for generations, do not speak Khmer. Upstream of the Se San are located a number of villages belonging to minorities who practice funeral statuary; a visit to one of them, where within are some fine examples of totems. Depending on the season and river conditions, we continue by canoe and outboard motor (about 1h30) or by taking a 4×4 via a jungle track.)
4th Day: RATANAKIRI
Departure in a north-easterly direction, towards the Vietnamese border, and a visit to the Bokeo mines. The route goes along the only paved road in the surrounding area, built with help from the Vietnamese. The mine site is like a shanty town inhabited by a few hundred people, lost in the middle of nowhere. The rush for zircon has transformed the place into a huge Gruyere cheese pierced with hundreds of wells of 60 cm diameter and between twelve to twenty meters deep. The miners go down these wells without any protection, with walls that are not shored up, lighting their way only by candlelight and accidents are frequent. Returning to Banlung and continuing towards the district of Taveng. Stopping on the way to see a cashew nut plantation, as well as one of the many waterfalls in the region. Then crossing over a curious outcrop of volcanic rock at Veyrum Plâng: A perfectly circular clearing in the forest and made up of blocks of lava, a few steps away there’s also a small waterfall ( only during the rainy season) surrounded by tiger caves. Then a visit to a large village called Kroeung where one can still look at batchelor homes, particularly interesting. Once they have completed their duties and the young men become heads of their own families, these homes are destroyed before being rebuilt by a younger generation in the following season. A further stop in a village where women grow their own cotton and weave very beautiful fabrics with traditional designs, before returning to the lodge during the afternoon.
5th Day: RATANAKIRI – PHNOM PENH
Early morning start to Phnom Penh (580 km, 10-11hrs approximately). Arrival late afternoon.
End of suggestions.