Tucked away in the far northeast of Cambodia is ruggedly beautiful, rarely visited Ratanakiri. Rarely visited, fabulously remote and utterly authentic.
This region is home to much of Cambodia’s endangered wildlife and whilst Khmer, Vietnamese, Laotian and even Chinese communities can be found, the region is also where a number of minority ethnic tribes – largely the Kreung and Tompuon – come from. Both of these groups are famous for their traditional ceremonies, including elaborate burial practices. The villagers live in simple hand made stilt houses and, predictably, agriculture is the source of income.
Ratanakiri is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions of Cambodia and highways are simple pot holed dirt roads. Electricity and running water are a rare commodity. It is possible to visit charitable projects in the area where you can purchase high quality local handicrafts and locally produced coffee to do your bit to help.
Banlung, also known as “”the red town”” due to the earthy roads, is the provincial capital of the Ratanakiri region and the only place with an operational airport, so hence the entrance or exit point for most visitors. As well as air access you can reach Banlung via a rather uncomfortable rutted road from Phnom Penh or, for the very adventurous, an exciting boat journey from southern Laos.
Elsewhere in the province there are several large waterfalls, many gem mines and the opportunity for river trips in to the forest interior. Serenely beautiful and surrounded by jungle, Yeak Lom is Cambodia’s finest natural swimming pool – a freshwater lake in a volcanic crater. Virachay National Park, one of the largest protected areas in Cambodia, is located in the far northeast of the province – treks are possible into the Phnom Veal Thom wilderness area.