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 country’s 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 you’ll 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, don’t be surprised if they look appalled at you. They just haven’t 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 lake’s 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 Cambodia’s 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. That’s amazing for Cambodia. The main swimming and picnic area features a nice wood deck that’s 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 can’t be cut. This helps to explain why the hill tribe people took so strongly to the idea of protecting the area. It’s 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. It?s 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.
There are 8 different hill tribes ethnic groups in Ratanakiri. Most of them live in the deeper jungle, on the hills and covered mountains in small separated villages. Usualy they make their living through traditional ways of cultivation ( shifting agriculture), hunting and collecting fruits from the forest is a must. These old cultures believe in spirits, derived from their animism beliefs. In the whole province there are 63,333 male and 64,774 female with a total of 128,107 inhabitants living. This is 11.8 inhabitans/km.
Ratanakiri Province has a climate like the other areas in the country, there are 3 seasons : – Rainy season: June – October (<27c) - Cool season: November- February (>24c) – Hot season: March- May : Temperature: from 20c -32c Ratanakiri’s average temperature throughout the year is definately lower than in the other areas of Cambodia (except Mondulkiri Province).
The vast majority of the indigenous peoples living in Ratanakiri are subsistence farmers, who are planting rice, corn, pumpkins etc. Some of them grow an additional catch crop such as peanuts or cashews. There is quite a number of wealthy Cambodians and Vietnamese, who own large plantations surrounding the capital of Banlung. Most of them plant peanuts, coffee, or cashews.
Additionally, Ratanakiri boasts hundreds of square miles of lucrative rubber plantations, of which rubber is mostly exported to neighbouring Vietnam. Due to the present reconstruction of the Cambodian National Highway 19, which runs through the center of the capital of Banlung, the area’s trade with Vietnam will soon rise. Anyhow Ratanakiri is so sparsely populated that the Provincial capital does not have an adequate market compete to other provinces of Cambodia. But in mineral wealth alone, Ratanakiri boasts gold, gemstones, granite and onyx. Fertile red soil, water sources, wild animals and quality hardwoods abound and the weather and scenery are perennial assets.
Banlung has an airfield within the town, but all commercial airlines have stopped servicing Ratanakiri. The only flights were with Mission Aviation Fellowship, in an 8 seater, but these stopped at the end of 2009. Medivacs and charters are available from Helicopters Cambodia. Currently the Ban Lung runway is still a gravel strip, but there are plans to extend it and build a concrete runway, which would make it more likely to attract a new carrier and make cancellations in the wet season less frequent.
The road between Phnom Penh to Banlung – Rattanakiri is fully paved road and in good in year 2017.
Phnom Penh – Doing this in a single day is now reliable, with 3 ‘big’ buses (Rithmony, Hy Long, GST; R39,000/$9.70) and numerous minivans (R72,000/$18) servicing the route regularly, departing from 6 – 7:30am. The minivans are faster but the free pickup and dropoff can add 2-3 hours to the 8 hour trip.
Laos- It is possible to buy a ticket to Four Thousand Islands in Laos from Banlung. These are not direct buses; you must take three buses, switching at Stung Treng and at the border, and then a boat to your final destination. Costs $14-18. Despite what you may be told at the Lao Embassy in Phnom Penh, Laos visas have been available on arrival at the border since about October 2009. The reverse trip – from Don Det to Banlung is NOT a full ticket and you will need to pay an additional $5 for a taxi to Banlung from an intersection just south of Stung Treng. You will be essentially dropped off in the middle of nowhere to fend for yourself. It’s best to just buy a ticket from Don Det to Stung Treng (about 150,000 kip) and then arrange transport on your own to Banlung.
You can book a Bus Ticket online in advance for a few.
A more expensive option than bus, taking a private taxi from Phnom Penh to Banlung is possible, for about US$120. It’s a 5-6 hour drive to the junction near Stung Treng, then 2 hours to Banlung, plus meal breaks. Some taxi drivers in Phnom Penh specialize in this trip. Your hotel/guesthouse will probably be able to help you out.
You can book a Private Taxi online in advance for a few dollars more.
A popular way to travel to Banlung used to involve taking a ferry first to Stung Treng (or Kratie). As of June 2009 these ferries were not running.
It’s an unlikely name for a restaurant with the best food in town. It turns out that an American used to be the owner and cook of the place. He taught the staff to cook the Western dishes on the menu and also to be meticulous in the cleanliness of the place. They got the idea, as it’s a simple but well taken care of restaurant.
If you’ve been in the bush a while, they serve up a mean hamburger with all of the trimmings of a California Burger with tasty fries on the side. There are plenty of choices of Western and Khmer food and if you want something special made up for you, the friendly staffs are happy to accommodate you. Open all day. The restaurant rents Honda Dream motorcycles for US$ 5 a day.
Situated Next to the airport. They serve Khmer, Western and Thai food throughout the day, starting with breakfast. It’s 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.
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. It?s 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.
It’s a very high-class hotel with an excellent French and Khmer cuisine. So, if you’re up to spend a bit more money than usual, but to spoil your tongue, reserve a table for the dinner. Mail: email@example.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.
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.