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The small town of BANLUNG sprang to prominence in 1979, when it was chosen as the new provincial capital, replacing Voen Sai. Set out along wide red-dirt roads, it’s reminiscent of a Wild West town in both looks and atmosphere, and although there are no particular sights of interest in town, you could enjoyably base yourself here for a few days while exploring the area and perhaps going on trek.

The town’s market is a modern concrete building on a rubbish-strewn patch of land south of the Independence Monument. It is most colourful in the early morning, when the chunchiet women walk many kilometres to town, khapa laden with produce, to set up shop on the surrounding land. Chatting among themselves while customers gather round, the women puff on bamboo pipes or large cigars made from tobacco rolled up in leaves. The fruit and vegetables they display neatly on the ground are cheap (strangely, you’ll be charged substantially more to buy the same items in chunchiet villages) and often include varieties you don’t find in the lowlands, such as big red bananas. Here you can also check out the forest food that they collect: strange-looking flowers and roots are sold for a few hundred riel.

North of the centre, the tranquil lake of Boeung Kansaing is a nice spot in the late afternoon when the sun sets over the hill behind it; it’s quite accessible now thanks to a new paved walkway around the edge. There are also good views, especially at sunrise and sunset, from Phnom Svay, where you’ll get panoramic vistas over the rolling countryside. The hill lies about 1km west of the airport crossroads off the Stung Treng road, from where a track runs behind Wat Eisay Patamak up to the hilltop. The wat’s impressive reclining Buddha replaces one destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and faces north towards the misty hills of Voen Sai.

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