I had a restless sleep, waking up a couple of times in the middle of the night. The staffs at Rattanak Hotel had told me that it’s easy riding to Mondulkiri and they had done it many times. They offered to be my guide. I declined, not so much because of my desire to ride alone, but because I didn’t want to spend the extra money. Yes, I am that tight.
By 6am, I was packed and ready to move off. I had difficulty finding the pier at Lumphat. Luckily, helpful locals directed me to the right track. The pier is not located along the main housing stretch but is located further down Tonle Srepok river, towards the south eastern direction. To get there, keep left when you reach the junction at N13 30.269 E106 58.621 (right brings you to the main town). Continue following the road until you see a small grocery and fuel shop at N13 28.670 E107 00.493. The ferry is located just further down the descending road. I paid 5000R to the boatman. The GPS coordinates across the river is N13 27.927 E107 00.399.
Tonle Srepok river of Apocalypse Now fame. The Death Highway awaits across the river.
In less than an hour, we reached Kachon (N13 58.305 E106 53.331). After paying US$1 for admission, I was led to the Tompuon cemeteries located inside the jungle, a short distance from the village. According to Tompuon customs, families are buried together and tombs are companied with effigies of the deceased. Wealthier families have concrete tombs and shelters. Not very sure if it will be disrespectful, I asked the guide if I could take some photos. He nodded and I quickly snapped some shots.
I woke up to a chilly morning. Voen Sai, Chunchiet cemeteries, volcanic lakes and waterfalls were in my agenda. But I knew it would be impossible for me to squeeze in all the sights in one day. Voen Sai is 35km northwest of Ban Lung and the Chunchiet Cemeteries at Kachon is a further one-hour boat ride away. Lumkud volcanic lake is 63km to the east of Ban Lung. The waterfalls are scattered in the south and located as far as 35km from Ban Lung. Well, I will just plan and improvise along the way.
My first stop was the protected area of Yeak Lom (or Yak Loum or Yeak Laom). Located 5km east of Ban Lung, Yeak Lom lake (N13 44.009 E107 00.974) is believed to be created 700,000 years ago as the caldera of a large volcanic crater. The indigenous inhabitants of the area, the Khmer Leu hill tribe people, have long considered the lake as a sacred place where spiritual creatures reside. I reached the lake before 7am and both the ticketing booth and visitors center were closed. There was nobody around. It was peaceful. The beautiful lake was a pristine blue and exceptionally clear.
Almost perfectly round, Yeak Lom lake is 45m deep and 750m in diameter.
I woke up at 430am and started planning for the day’s ride. I originally wanted to do a short 1-2 trip to Laos since the border is so close to Strung Treng. But Angkor Motorcycles would not agree to accept my international driving permit in place of my passport, unless I leave with them a hefty deposit of US$1000. Without the attraction of Laos, I couldn’t decide if I should stay the night at Strung Treng. In the end, I thought I should just make my way to Strung Treng anyway and decide later.
I left Kratie at 630am and reached Phnom Sambok temples just before 7am. According to guidebooks, there are three levels in the temple. The first level is the living quarters, second level houses a reclining Buddha and the third level provides a view of the Mekong River. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out as I quickly left the place when a nun started shouting at me.
The Northeast Cambodia loop takes us from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham, followed by Kratie, Stung Treng, Ban Lung (Ratanakiri), Sen Monorom (Mondulkiri) and Prey Veng before bringing us back to Phnom Penh. It is best to plan at least seven days for the trip. In order to ride at a reasonable pace with adequate time for sightseeing, I would suggest planning ten days for the loop. Personally, I spent nine days for the trip, with the last 2 days in Phnom Penh. The total distance I traveled was around 1500km.