Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri.. (Northeast Cambodia Loop) – 1. Introduction

Northeast Cambodia is home to many ethnic minority groups and boasts beautiful landscapes with abundant wildlife.

Unfortunately, remote Northeast Cambodia is often skipped by travelers, who during their limited stay in Cambodia, prefer to focus their time and energy in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Some might passed by Kampong Cham, Kratie and Stung Treng on their way to the Cambodia Laos border at Dom Kralor. However, few would make the long journey to Ratanakiri or Mondulkiri.

Tucked in the corners of Cambodia, Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri are seldom part of the traveler’s circuit. Depending on the road conditions, a bus ride from Stung Treng to Ratanakiri can take up to 10 hours. Similarly, the bus ride from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri can take up the same amount of time. Onward journeys from these provinces are difficult because of the lack of proper road infrastructure. Visiting these provinces usually means returning via the same road taken to reach them.

There is, however, a road connecting Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri. Sometimes, the road is known as The Death Highway. No, it is not named because of heavy traffic or hairpin bends. It is named because of the terrible road conditions and the remote surroundings. In fact, calling it a road is inaccurate. The Death Highway is effectively a cow path with multiple branch-offs, which turns from soft sand to a nightmare of muddy trails during the wet season. Because of the narrow paths and the river crossing involved, only motorcycles and ox-carts can traverse the path.

The northeast Cambodia loop looks like a natural progression after my previous rides in Vietnam and Cambodia. As a standalone trip, I can be more adequately prepared by spending more time on trip planning and bringing proper equipment like hiking shoes, full-faced helmet and GPS receiver. Lonely Planet Cambodia discourages ‘the average traveler’ from attempting The Death Highway. Sounds like one more reason to take the plunge. 🙂

The Northeast Cambodia Loop trip report is divided into thirteen parts:

  1. Introduction (You are here)
  2. Route
  3. Motorcycle
  4. Journey, Day 1 & Day 2 (Part 1)
  5. Journey, Day 2 (Part 2)
  6. Journey, Day 3
  7. Journey, Day 4 (Part 1)
  8. Journey, Day 4 (Part 2)
  9. Journey, Day 5
  10. Journey, Day 6
  11. Journey, Day 7
  12. Journey, Day 8-9
  13. Resources

Disclaimer: This trip was taken in December 2006. The information is provided ‘as is’ with no warranties and confers no rights. Please feel free to post a comment. 🙂

19 thoughts on “Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri.. (Northeast Cambodia Loop) – 1. Introduction

  1. Second try;-)

    Hi, just wondering if you already started the big trip through Rattanakuri and Mondulkiri and if by any chance you’re looking for a partner to do the trip. I am living in Siem Reap and got quite some free time (a lot actually) and enough dirtbike experience to do the trip, but nobody to do it with. And since it is not a good idea to do it alone…
    So if you’re looking for a riding partner, just send me a mail. I am available whenever you wanna start.


  2. Hi Stef,

    Thanks for the invitation but I have actually completed the ride. I know I have been rather slow in my updates. 🙂

    Are you aware of It has a forum which should make it easier for you to find riding partners. Do take note that it’s already late March. Better get started before the raining season arrives.

  3. Hi Atticus,

    Thanks for the reply. The rainy season is indeed the reason why I am starting to rush things. I might have found a Norwegian guy here who would like to do it in 3 weeks. So I am hoping that will be my ticket to the North east loop. If not it will be for next dry season. How was it by the way? I know I should be more patient, but that’s not one of my best virtues;-)
    By the way, are you living in Cambodia or in one of the neighbouring countries?

    Thanks anyway for the response and maybe see you around in Siem Reap?


  4. Hi Stef,

    I would say it’s great fun and I’m glad that I made the trip. If you need more information, Adventure Cambodia by Matt Jacobson is probably the best guide you can find.

    I am from one of the neighbouring countries. 🙂
    Have fun and hope to see your trip report soon!

  5. Hi there,

    Thanks so much for the blog, there’s some really useful and inspiring stuff on here. I was just wondering how much dirt biking experience you have and how much experience you think is needed for this trip. Also, I would love to know the official situation with driving licenses (Cambodian?) and the reality… ie, if you don’t have one and get stopped can you buy yourself out of the situation and if so what the ‘fee’ is likely to be…..

    Many thanks.

  6. Thanks for the comments. 🙂

    I do have some sort of dirt biking experience. If you intend to ride the death highway in the dry season, it would be better if you have some riding experience on slopes, uneven terrain and soft sand.

    I am not sure of the official requirements for foreigners to ride a bike in Cambodia. But Cambodia is not in International Driving Permit (IDP)’s list. That being said, I don’t believe you would have any trouble with the authority which cannot be solved by paying a fine, unless of course, you caused injuries on others. If you get into trouble, always call your bike shop for help.

    I was recently fined 10USD in Sri Lanka for riding a motorcycle without the motorcycle’s registration (or some sort of license). The bike rental shop later refunded me as it’s not my fault.

  7. Hi Atticus,

    Thanks for the reply… I wasn’t expecting anything so quickly, if at all considering you did the ride in 2008.

    That’s useful information on the terrain and definitely something to consider. I have zero dirt biking experience and little biking experience past scooters, and around 10 days on a 350 Enfield in India so maybe I would be a little crazy to try this trip…. although I am up for the challenge. I have ordered the Adventure Cambodia book you recommended so I will have a good read of that too.

    Thanks for the info on licenses, I guess most people don’t bother but it would be a good idea for me seeing as I lack experience. More for insurance than anything else I guess.

    Cheers again. 🙂

  8. Actually, I did the ride in Dec 2006. But I saw some recent photos of death highway. The death highway doesn’t seem to have changed much.

    An Enfield in India, now that’s a trip I have been trying to make. I hope to do a Tamil Nadu loop and visit the Enfield factory. Given a chance, I would also like to ride at Lakadh region. I’m a bit worried about the remoteness and cold though.

  9. Ooooh, do it! I was travelling around Tamil Nadu on my trusty Enfield, it was so much fun.

    I did the trip up to Spitti and Kinaur by bus and it was one of the highlights of my trip. It’s a really great region to explore, whatever your mode of transport. I didn’t go to Ladakh so can’t comment on that from experience but I remember people were doing that trip on Enfields at the time (around 2003)… so it must be doable. I guess it’s all about taking the right equipment, and trying to find a travel partner in case you have problems with your bike. As you said it’s remote…. As anywhere in Asia though, there is usually passing traffic, no matter how remote you think you are. Have fun if you do it! 🙂

  10. Sounds like I must really do the Indian ride one of these days. I would probably do it within these 2 years.

    My next trip would be the Philippines in 2 weeks’ time. 🙂

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  12. hey… you did a cool trip! i will visit cambodia next year with 2 friends and we’re thinkin about a short ride to mondulkiri from phnom penh..

    could you please send me your gps data?

    is there a deposit to pay when renting a motorcycle?


  13. Hi,

    GPS data sent.

    You would need to place a deposit. Usually, it’s your passport. If you do not feel comfortable leaving your passport, you can negotiate to deposit a sum of money (usually up to the price of the motorcycle).

  14. Hi Atticus.
    Enjoyed reading about your trips. Do you still have GPS file for the Death highway?
    I will be doing it in December and GT-rider does seem to have it. Ban Lung to Sren Monorom would do. Thanks.


  15. Did the road Feb 2012 on a dealim scooter, loved it be quick parts are allready paved and deforestation is a big thing! Take in mind that nobody can fix a broken dirtbike, a daelim gets you there cheap and everybody can fix them!

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