Rattanak Kiri - Treasure In The North East
By: Chin Veth.Photo by:Toan Sophie. ( October, 2002 Volume 2 No.10 )

Rattanak Kiri may not be an obvious destination for most visitors to Cambodia, but this tucked-away province in the country's far north-eastern corner has got a lot to offer the more adventurous tourist. The province's lush jungles and forests make it an ideal destination for the ecologically-minded traveler: you can trek the highlands on elephant-back or take a guide and beat a track on foot; visit local hill-tribe villages and be pampered by their hospitality; watch miners dig up glittering gemstones from the ground; explore waterfalls and take a dip in a crystal clear lake. Rattanak Kiri is bordered by Laos to the north and Vietnam to the east. People traveling from Phnom Penh can fly straight to the provincial capital, Banlung - although those who think getting there is all part of the adventure may prefer to travel up the Mekong River by boat. The boat stops in the neighboring province of Stung Treng, where taxis and pick-up trucks are available for the drive to Banlung. The stretch of road from Stung Treng to Banlung can be hair-raising, but the scenery along the road should be enough to take your mind off the bumps. The hill-tribe people living in the area are already quite urbanized and most are very friendly towards foreigners. Some of the minority Tompoun, Kreung and Charay tribes-people have moved to Banlung, the small town they share with the local Khmer people.

Banlung is in fact the name of the district: the town's original name is actually Labansiek. But nowadays it is popularly referred to as Banlung, so Banlung it is. Its people are generally very helpful and friendly - they've welcomed enough tourists in recent years to know that foreigners mean business and income. Hotel accommodation is relatively inexpensive, ranging from US$5 to US$15 a night. Banlung also has several good restaurants with extensive menus. Getting around in Rattanak Kiri is easy. There are motorbikes available for rent and if you are in a group, you can also rent a jeep or hire two elephants to take you around for the day. The motodop drivers will happily drive tourists around and double as a guide for about US$8 per day - this is often the best option, since these guides know the local places of interest like the back of their hands: you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. To the north of Banlung is Kansen Lake, which is said to have several magic properties. Its water levels are never affected by the seasons, regardless of whether it's the wet or dry period, and townsfolk will tell you stories about an amazing island in its waters which is said to mysteriously shift from north to south. The stunning Yeak Loam volcanic lake also has a lot to offer. Surrounded by lush jungle, the environment here is one of total peace and tranquility. The clarity of the lake's water is incredible; just watching fish swim about in its blue-tinged, lightly rippled depths is magical. Relaxing beside this lake is a wonderfully therapeutic change for any stressed-out urban being.
Veal Thmor Rom Phlong is a popular open field about 3 km from the Ochom power station, where local people go to see and be seen in the evenings. The air is constantly cool here - it feels a little like being in a huge open-air auditorium. The The sound of the wind in the surrounding trees adds to this feeling: It sounds just like a crowd cheering at a ball game. The list of interesting places in Rattanak Kiri can go on and on. Much really depends on individual preference and the length of time one can afford to spend touring. This mountain of treasures, as the name suggests in the Khmer language, certainly has a lot more to be explored than just the aforementioned.