When you’re travelling in Cambodia moving your way north towards Laos and the 4000 Islands on the Mekong, spending some time in the province of Ratanakiri is an amazing way to get off the beaten track. Indeed, after you’ve been diving into Phnom Penh’s life and the very touristy Siem Reap streets, you might need a break and Ban Lung may just offer what you’re looking for…
Capital of the wild and remote Ratanakiri Province, Ban Lung is everything but a big city. Lost in some Vietnamese and wild Cambodian translation, settled 30km west from the Vietnam border and nestled far from any main road or means of communication, Ban Lung is covered in the red dust of Cambodia and has some hidden surprises to be revealed.
After almost a one day bus trip via what is often just a dirt track, it is very likely that you’ll arrive in Ban Lung at night. Find a place to stay, have a good rest, and wake up in the morning to start discovering the deep Cambodian life. You should invest at least four days to explore the surrounding villages, which are inhabited by minority tribes such as Tompuon, Kreung, Chunchiet and even Chinese settlers. Go and spend time losing yourself on one of the numerous gorgeous roads, riding your dusty hired motorbike and coming across welcoming people that will probably invite you to share a nice cold beer with them…
Dive into Yeak Loam crater lake’s chilling waters – the round volcanic lake south of the city, visit Wat Rahtanharahm and its traditional Khmer cemetery lost amongst the dry jungley grass, or get some shade under the trees surrounding one of the numerous waterfalls lost in some lush wild vegetation out of town. To take the measure of the local life style – Ratanakiri is the poorest province of Cambodia – stop in one of the rubber plantations around Ban Lung, and have a chat with the workers, all covered in a mix of red dust and brown rubber pouring from the trees.
Then, after your boiling hot day under the Ratanakiri sun, have a compulsory pit stop in the most laid back place in the whole town – the Apocalypse Bar. This Dutch managed establishment really has a taste of a Vietnam War outpost. The Dutch couple managing the place offer the best and welcoming service from far, the local Khmer cook just masters the art of scramble eggs for a continental breakfast of champions. Listen to the sound of a faraway radio playing some old classic rock Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix tunes, and grab a book from the personal collection to learn more about the region. Just let yourself go and pet Bowie, the friendly dog of the house.
If you feel even more adventurous and want to get out exploring on a trek on the dusty paths of Ratanakiri, just ask the owner. He organizes several trips around the province to help you dive even deeper into the Cambodian jungle and wilderness. The Apocalypse Bar is such a unique place, seemingly lost in the middle of nowhere, but you’ll find it’s the center of your universe when you’re in Ban Lung.
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