End of October brought the celebration of Water Festival. Due to COVID all the interesting events in the city were cancelled and since borders remained closed four of us decided to head to the very northern province of Ratanikiri for a break. Our base for this first part of the trip was the town of BanLung. We were about 80km from the Vietnam border and not much further from Laos. The choice of this location proved to be an amazing decision. My internet searching had scored big time with a company offering a 2-day tour. The first day was nature and outdoors while the second was cultural. All in all, there are really four or five stories to tell, you’ll have to wait for each one as they each deserve a good telling.
We headed out on our first day to visit several waterfalls and the famous crater lake. The weather was perfect for our adventure. Clear sunny skies with a bit of wind, this norther province generally cooler that what we get in the capital. Our guide and driver were kind and generous with their knowledge of the area. We started at the 7-step waterfall, here the water was fast and the river was swollen with water from the recent storms. The water cascaded over the rock from side to side, in the dry season however the river would narrow and the water flow more gently.
While it was early the guide encouraged us to go for a swim. Kate, Jamie and Japer jumped in, I help back simply because I know that I would have lost my footing on the rocks and fallen hard. I waded in and the water was a wonderful temperature, definitely a fun place. There were spots in the falls where you could sneak in behind the water and look out from behind the curtain. Locals who were picnicking decided to join in the fun after seeing our group get in.
We spent a good amount of time here, just taking it all in. While I didn’t swim, I enjoyed watching the butterflies and water, it was just the soothing thing that was needed as a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Our playing finished up we continued to drive through the province of Ratanikiri. This is the province with the least development and lowest population in the whole country. We enjoyed seeing farms of rubber trees, cashews, casava, and fruit as we drove by. We stopped at villages to learn more about the indigenous people of the region.
Our second waterfall was Kachanh waterfall. Here the river is slow, wide and lazy above the falls. This makes it perfect for families to come and picnic. There are huts to rent complete with mats and hammocks. It would be easy to spend the better part of the day just lazing in a hammock and talking with friends. The jungle offered so many new plants to look at, I was frequently delighted to see all kinds of butterflies. Any birds and other critters were well hidden to my inexperienced eyes.
We wandered around above the falls then walked down stream to a wooden bridge to observe the falls from the other side. While I am not afraid of heights, this bridge had me a bit nervous. Like all suspension bridges it swung as people moved along, narrow also, it fit – just – two people. The railing was barely waist high and I felt like it would not really prevent me from falling. The wood in places creaked and made my heart skip a beat. The view however made up for it! Waterfalls are so beautiful to watch and this 12m high fall surrounded by rain forest was just spectacular. This is where we saw two gentlemen we would meet again later for a bit of multilingual karaoke.
Our last waterfall reminded me of the fall in Iceland where you could walk behind. Here the water fell over a shelf about 10m high. From the top of the fall you could climb down to the pool below and if you were sure footed and well balanced could have gone much further underneath than I did. The river here like the other places was full and fast.
We stopped for lunch back in town and then headed to the star attraction of the day. Yeak Loam is a crater lake, formed by an ancient volcano and since filled in with water. The pool is over 45m deep and clear. We walked the circumference and enjoyed the 3km walk through the wild bamboo, wild banana and jungle that surrounds this protected area. The noise, smells and sights were lovely and we took our time to walk the short distance. The day was hot and when we finally made it most of the way around, we arrived at a dock meant to facilitate swimming. We changed and jumped in.
The water was warmer than the water of our hotel pool and the whole experience just breath-taking. We floated, talked, and generally just enjoyed being in the moment. Surrounded by jungle, we had the lake to ourselves just a few locals and other families further down closer to the main entrance area but none other in the lake. I honestly could have stayed longer but we were getting late in the day and I was turning into a bit of a raisin.
This place is one to which I will return if I ever get the chance to show any of you, this pristine lake and the path around rivaled walking the lakeshore of Lake Louise and swimming in the Okanogan.
Our day ended as we returned back to town, happily worn out from our visiting the natural sites of the area. We decided to eat at one of the local restaurants that set out mats along BanLung lake in town. The food was, well more adventurous than I had tried before. My travel companions were fun as they gently pushed me to try chicken feet and nibble at everything offered. Not all was great, even the street dogs left the unidentified meat bits from the noodles we ordered.
Jasper dug out his karaoke mic and we began to enjoy some music after dinner. To self conscious to sing I enjoyed the fun company and after a few songs the two gentlemen we had seen earlier joined us, they took their turn to sing in Chinese. Not long after we were joined by three other gentlemen for Vietnam, they too sung a bit (yes, I know I need to get over my fear!). It was really fun and exciting to just enjoy each others company even though we couldn’t really carry on a conversation. We did exchange contact details with the gentlemen as they also work in Phnom Penh.
I am grateful that COVID prevented me from flying out of the country during this week-long break as I surely would never have made a point to explore this virtually unknown part of Cambodia.
A big shout out to my three travel companions, Jasper, Kate and Jamie for the great times and use of some of their photos.