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Around Banlung


Road conditions vary dramatically in Rattanakiri; while the road to Yeak Laom lake, and on the Vietnam border is now surfaced, others remain in poor shape. If you’re heading out alone it’s worth telling someone at your hotel or guesthouse about your route, as punctures and breakdowns do happen. Hiring a moto in Banlung, though a little pricier than usual, at $15 per day, is worthwhile as the drivers not only know their way around the province, but are adept at negotiating the rough roads; many also speak some English and can give you a bit of local background too. Four-wheel drives with driver can be hired via guesthouses and hotels, where you can also ask about hiring a local guide. The only scheduled local transport is the bone-shaker of a bus that leaves Banlung market in the early morning for Voen Sai (2000 riel).

Trekking is the most popular activity in Rattanakiri; every guesthouse will be keen to sell you a trek and there seem to be tour operators on every corner. Treks usually involve a bamboo-raft ride down the river, a bit of a walk and an overnight in a hammock; inclusive rates are around $30 per person per day for two people or $20 per person for four. But on these you’ll scarcely get into the forest. Far better are the organized treks arranged by the Eco tourism Information Office of the Virachey National Park Headquarters (t 075/974013, w, located in the Ministry of Forest compound three blocks north of the post office, 2km from the centre. This is the only outfit that actually treks in the park area; regardless of what other operators may tell you they only trek in the outskirts. On offer is a range of treks from two to eight days; costs are inclusive of park entry fee, transport, food, indigenous guide and contributions to a community project. Their most popular trip is the O’Lapeung River Valley (three day/two night) trek, which includes walking on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, kayaking down the river and a homestay. Transport costs mean that treks can be very expensive for solo travellers (up to $150); getting a group together (maximum of eight) will reduce the cost dramatically (to around $60–70 per person for three days).

The best of the private operators are The Dutch Couple (t017/571682, w; they help support the indigenous communities where they trek and claim not to use the same trails each time.

The problem, as ever, is that trekking can never be eco-friendly; contact with Westerners, and indeed with Khmers, and loss of their land is changing the way the chunchiet live forever.


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