Northeastern Cambodia is renowned for its beautiful, rugged landscapes in addition to its large variety of rare and endangered plant and animal species. This region of Cambodia is quickly developing into one of the best places in southeast Asia for sustainable ecotourism and adventure holidays.
Although it is Cambodia’s third largest city, capital of its most populous province, and something of a transport hub for the rest of the northeast, Kompong Cham retains a small-town appeal.
The city has a number of run-down French Colonial buildings and the design of the city’s grid system has a Gallic feel, with wide boulevards, statue-dotted squares, and a pleasant riverside promenade.
By night, the city’s streets glow with ornate lamp posts and illuminated fountains. The 12th- century Wat Nokor, 1 mile (2 km) west of the city centre is an interesting site.
Once an isolated backwater and only navigable by boat, Kratie now enjoys decent road links with the Lao border, Kompong Cham, Stung Treng, and Phnom Penh, making it a major crossroad both for foreigners and local trade.
However, this Mekong bordered town, formerly administered by the French, is still a sleepy place with a thriving local psar (market), a handful of dilapidated Indochinese villas that were spared US bombing, and an easy riverine atmosphere.
Once a Khmer Rouge stronghold, it is now renowned for its beautiful sunsets and sightings of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin some 9 miles (15 km) north near the village of Kampie. An estimated 70–85 of the bulb-nosed, small-finned dolphins live in the clay-brown stretch of the Mekong between Kampie and Laos.
This village can be reached on a hired tuk-tuk or moto; the route follows a beautiful riverside stretch, past houses on stilts inhabited by rural families. From here, it is possible to hire a boat to go out onto the river. Sightings, though not guaranteed, are more than likely. Just across the water from Kratie is Koh Trong, a sandbar island in the middle of the Mekong.
Here, visitors will come to a floating village and an old stupa. The fortunate ones may also spot the rare Mekong mud turtle. Also worth a visit is the beautiful 19th-century temple Wat Roka Kandal, 1 mile (2 km) south of town. Wicker handicrafts, which are made by local women, are available here.
Once a Lao-French administered outpost, the town of Stung Treng is now on the tourist map thanks to a new bridge and a cross-country road. Ironically, these make it easy to pass through the town without breaking the journey.
Much of Stung Treng province’s traffic still moves by water; the province is crisscrossed by several rivers including Tonlé Kong, Tonlé Sepok, Tonlé San, and the mighty Mekong River, which passes some 6 miles (10 km) east of Stung Treng town.
The town and surrounding countryside have much to offer visitors, with a number of riverine sunset trips operating at inflated prices, and the Chenla period ruins of Prasat Preah Ko, a short distance away. Homestay and trekking options are also developing.
The country’s northernmost region, Ratanakiri province is often referred to as the Wild East, of which Ban Lung is the provincial capital. The town’s nickname, dey Kompong krakhorm, meaning red earth, derives from the red dust that settles on everything from people’s faces to the leaves of trees, giving the place a surreal autumnal feel.
Ban Lung is best visited between November and February when the rains have stopped and the dust has not yet become a nuisance. During the rainy season, from July to September, the town’s roads become quite impassable.
Ban Lung is little more than a transportation and accommodations hub for the many riches that lie on its fringes; these include waterfalls, bottle- green crater lakes, minority villages, and ethnic animist cemeteries. Two-day treks in the Virachey National Park, 31 miles (50 km) to the north of Ban Lung, are recommended
A number of eco-trekking organizations are starting to take shape here. Elephant rides to local waterfalls, of which Ka Tieng is the most impressive, can be organized by most guesthouses.
Yaek Lom Lake
Believed to have been formed some 700,000 years ago, this volcanic, bottle-green crater lake is the main attraction around Ban Lung. The lake is ringed by thick green jungle and when viewed aerially, it forms a near perfect circle.
The area is peaceful and a visit here makes for a memorable day with morning swims and wooden jetties to sunbathe on. The visitors’ center can provide information on Ratanakiri’s ethnic minorities, a number of whom live near Ban Lung.
Many of these tribes believe the lake to be an especially sacred place and according to their legends, monsters inhabit its clear waters. An easily navigable path runs around the lake and can be walked in an hour.
Admission to the lake is administered by the local Tompuon tribe, with the money being used toward improving the condition of their villages. Visitors can reach the lake either on foot or by tuk-tuk from Ban Lung.
Capital of Mondulkiri, the largest of Cambodia’s provinces, Sen Monorom is a picturesque little place often referred to as “the Switzerland of Cambodia” for its grassy landscape, rolling hills, and two large lakes. Covering a very small area, this sparsely populated town has a marketplace and a few guesthouses.
The area is rich in river valleys, waterfalls, and teal-green deciduous forests, and is also home to tigers, bears, and a number of smaller endangered animals. However, illegal logging in the past 15 years and an increase in plantations have decimated the forests, driving these animals farther inland, much to the dismay of wildlife conservationists.
Among the other attractions around Sen Monorom are one- and two-day treks in and around the ethnic Phnong villages, famous for their elephants.
Visitors can learn the art of elephant training here, with the help of the Elephant Valley project. Motorcycles are available for hire in Sen Monorom, but visitors should bear in mind that the roads are undeveloped and there are very few road signs.
Accessed via a toll road from Sen Monorom, the Bonsraa Waterfalls are now easy to reach and lie 22 miles (35 km) west of the Vietnamese border. This double-tiered waterfall, plunging some 115 ft (35 m) into the dense jungle, is the country’s most famous and dramatic cascade.
The upper tier of the waterfall is 33 ft (10 m) in width and although the thundering water is very powerful, the lower, narrower tier with an 82-ft (25-m) drop, is much more spectacular. To see it from the bottom of the falls, visitors can cross the river and follow a crooked path weaving down a precipitous stairway. Motos can be hired from Sen Monorom to travel to the falls and back.