Banlung City is the provincial capital of Ratanakiri Province in Cambodia's mountainous northeastern corner. Heavily jungled and home to 12 different 'Khmer Loeu' ethnic minority groups, Ratanakiri province has a real edge-of-the-world feel to it. Most visitors to
Ratanakiri base themselves in Banlung City from where they make excursions/treks to Khmer Loeu villages and jungle areas, waterfalls, gem mines, and Ratanakiri's famous Yeak Laom volcanic lake. The city of Banlung
is fairly small but offers some interesting shopping and a
few decent hotels.
Getting to Banlung
Overland from Phnom Penh There are two main legs to the trip, Phnom Penh to Stung Treng and then Stung Treng to Banlung. The first leg usually requires a ferry ride for part of the way in order to bypass the extremely bad road between Kratie and Stung Treng. Either: 1) Take a taxi (2 hours, 8000 riel) or ferry (15,000 riel) to Kampong Cham, and then take a ferry from Kampong Cham to Stung Treng (9 hours, $15), or; 2) Take a taxi (5 hours, 13000 riel) or ferry (5 hours, 30,000 riel) to Kratie, and then take a ferry from Kratie to Stung Treng (5 hours, $7). Once in Stung Treng take a shared taxi or truck from Stung Treng to Banlung (25,000 riel, 3.5 hours in the dry season. 5-10 hours in the wet season.
Motorcycle taxi (motodup), rental motorcycle and bicycle are the primary ways of getting around town and the immediate area. Motodups run 500 - 1500 riel almost anywhere in town and $7-$10 for the whole day (limited to the area around Banlung.) Good English speakers that also act as guides may charge more. A motodup from the airport to town is about 1000 riel.
For motorcycle or bicycle rental, it is easiest to ask at your guesthouse or hotel. 100cc motorcycles are $5/day. There are very few 250cc bikes to rent in town but your hotel can probably find one for you. Bicycle rental is $1/day. There is also a bicycle rental shop near the monument in the center of town. Rental prices of trucks and 4WDs begin around $30-$40/day.
The repair shop just west of the central monument is the only place in town that can service big bikes.
Mountain Guesthouse $2 - $10 BRF Wooden guesthouse. Very popular with budget travelers. Fan rooms, some with attached bathroom. Free laundry. Restaurant with Cambodian and some western food. Tours and treks. Motorcycles and bicycles. Tel: 011-662007
Ratanak Hotel $5 - $20 B/FRF Popular with travelers. Good reviews. Slightly older 32-room hotel with fan and air-con rooms, all with attached bathroom. Good restaurant on the ground floor serving Chinese, Cambodian and some Western food. Lots of information, trips, tours, treks. Tel: 012-958322 E-mail:
Terres Rouges Lodge Range: $30-$70 B/SRF Beautiful wooden building and stylishly decorated rooms
and suites in a quiet garden setting on the lakeside in town. In most ways, the finest lodging in Banlung. All rooms are finely appointed with local artifacts. Very nice restaurant serving Cambodian fare. Full bar. Boutique with local handicrafts and Cambodian silks. Tours, treks and expeditions. French and English spoken. Tel: 075-974051 E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org Web site:
Tribal Hotel and Guesthouse $5 - $15 Newish hotel with wood floors and tribal décor. Fan and a/c rooms. Cable TV. Unique 2-storey wooden house for $50/night. Internet. Inexpensive restaurant with international menu. Contact Mrs. Kim for tour and travel information. Tel: 075-974074 E-mail:
Yaklom Hill Lodge $8 - $12 BRF Price includes breakfast. 12 bungalows in a beautiful jungle setting just outside Banlung City. Wooden bungalows with fan, some décor and furniture, and attached bathroom, all immaculately clean. Good restaurant serving Thai, Cambodian and Lao food. Lots of maps, information, tours, treks.
Yaklom Hill Lodge was recently certified by Green Globe 21
a Benchmarked Accommodation after having been in Affiliate
status for 1 year (2004) and consequently a benchmarking period for
12 months (2005). We are very proud that our place is the first and
the only one in Cambodia to be recognized by this global travel and
ecotourism certification program. Tel: 011-725881 E-mail:
email@example.com Web site:
There are not many restaurants in town and some of the best food is served at the hotel/guesthouse restaurants. After dark the town gets quiet fairly quickly. Terres Rouges Lodge offers a restaurant bar with cold beer wine and cocktails. It closes at 9 or 10 PM. Ratanak Hotel promises to open a small bar in the near future.
American Restaurant Inexpensive, small local restaurant serving Cambodian, Chinese and some Western fare including burgers, fries and 'stuffed pizza.' Pretty good food. Very inexpensive. English language menu although you don't always get what you order.
Breakfast Restaurant Very popular local restaurant serving Cambodian breakfast (noodle soup or fried meat with rice and pickles.) A noisy, frenetic place with no less than four TVs. Breakfast from 6:00am - 9:30am.
Ratanak Hotel Popular with travelers and locals. Good international food focusing on Chinese and Cambodian with a few western dishes. Indoor and street side seating. Reasonably priced.
Le Jovial Jarai in the Terres Rouges Lodge The finest restaurant in town. A wooden building in a garden setting with refined décor and ambiance. Cambodian Thai, Chinese and some western fare. Western breakfasts. Full bar with cocktails. Open from 6:30am - 9:00pm
Tribal Guesthouse Very reasonably priced guesthouse restaurant serving international, Cambodian and some western fare. Covered open air seating in a quiet area just outside the center of town.
Yaklom Hill Lodge Covered, open-air restaurant in a jungle garden setting. The sounds of jungle birds and traditional wind chimes (bird chasers) add to the atmosphere. Very good Thai, Cambodian, Lao and some western food. Excellent attention to hygiene and use quality ingredients. Lots of maps and information.
Banks and Money
There are no banks or ATMs. No place in town accepts credit cards, though most of the hotels exchange currency and accept traveler's checks. Moneychangers are located on the road in from of Phsar Banlung.
Internet and Telephones
Internet is slow and expensive but it is available and does work well enough for e-mail and limited surfing. There is an Internet shop in the office with Royal Phnom Penh Airways opposite Phsar Banlung, and the
Tribal Hotel also offers Internet access. $5/hour.
International calls run from $1.30 - $1.70 per minute. Buy an 'Access card' for $5, $10, or $20 at the phone shop near the market. Use the card to make international calls either their at the phone shop or from the landline phone at most hotels.
What to Buy
Semi-precious gems and Khmer Loeu handicrafts and artifacts are Banlung's main souvenir offerings. The handicrafts are uniquely authentic - as likely made for use by local people as for the souvenir market - 'back-strap baskets', fabrics, gourd vessels, gongs and more. There is one souvenir shop in town located in the first row of shops in front of Phsar Banlung. The gem and drink shops on the corner next to the central monument have a few souvenirs, especially gourd vessels and baskets.
Terres Rouges Lodge has just opened a boutique offering handicrafts and Cambodian silks.
Semi-precious gems mined in Ratanakiri (primarily amethyst, zircon,
period and obsidian), are cut and polished in Banlung and sold as unset gems. Gem cutting/retail shops dot the main road and market area, and there is a cluster of shops near the central monument. Look for the distinctive glass display cases lined with bare yellow light bulbs. Know something about gems before you buy very much.
Markets and Shopping
The main market, Phsar Banlung, is a relatively unextraordinary traditional market offering the usual range of items for local consumption. There is one souvenir shop in front of the market, and food stalls set up in front of the market in the evening. . For most travelers' needs (soft drinks, water, beer, liquor, toiletries, snacks, souvenirs, etc.), the small drink shops next to the monument in the center of town carry most everything.
What to Do
For nearby destinations a motodup or even driving yourself is relatively easy. But for more distant expeditions to Khmer Loeu villages, the gem mine, and into the jungle it is best to consult with your hotel/guesthouse for the latest information and conditions, and to arrange transport and guides.
Elephant trekking/rides 3-hour - 1 day elephant treks to local waterfalls, Khmer Loeu villages and Yeak Laom Lake can be arranged through your guesthouse/hotel.
Gem Mining As you may have guessed from the numerous gem dealers in town, Ratanakiri is a gem mining area. In the Bokeo mines 36 km from Banlung, miners work shallow tunnels extracting zircon, some of which ends up cut and on display in the Banlung shops. See rubber and coffee plantations, and visit the Sean Lae Waterfalls ('Seven Step Waterfall’) on the way.
‘Hill tribe’ people and villages Ratanakiri has a population of about 60,000 'Khmer Loeu' people. ('Khmer Loeu' refers to all of various minority peoples of the different tribes and is a controversial term.) The Khmer Loeu are actually 12 different groups of tribal peoples (including the Tampuan, Krueng, Kavet, Kachok, Charay, Prouv, Phnoung and Lan), living in the jungle and mountains, still practicing many of their traditional ways including slash and burn agriculture, animism, traditional clothing and housing, etc. Tours and treks can be tailored to your requirements, but most guides suggest visiting more than one tribal village over two to four days to see different aspects of tribal life as well as the different peoples. Popular excursions include visiting Tampuan and Charay villages to see their distinctive cemetery totems and long houses, and Krueng villages to see their traditional farming techniques and unique 'boy high houses.'
Phnom Svay and the Reclining Buddha Wat Rahtanharahm ('Wat Aran') sits at the base of Eisey Patamak Mountain about 1 km east of town. Follow the road past the wat and up the mountain. Just below the crest a large reclining Buddha sits amongst a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.
Phsar Banlung First thing in the morning, many Khmer Loeu people come to the Phsar Banlung wearing traditional "back strap" baskets laden with vegetable, fruits and forest products which they sell at the market. It can be an interesting and photogenic scene. Most have packed up and left by 10:00AM.
Waterfalls There are several local waterfalls. They are best during the rainy season when water volume is at its peak. On your way to the local falls you will pass through rubber plantations and rural countryside. On most tours of the area:
Cha Ong: 18 meter waterfall in the jungle. The rock behind the falls has been carved out by the action of the water, making it possible to walk behind the falls. 2000 riel entry fee.
Kan Chang: Wide, approximately 7-meter tall falls with a large pool at the base where it is possible to swim. 2000 riel entry fee.
Ka Tieng: 10 meter falls in a jungle setting. Swimming.
Virachey National Park is 37km northeast of Banlung bordering Laos and Vietnam. It is a heavily jungled and mountainous area and has not been completely explored. Park
Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake is a 700,000 year old volcanic crater lake in a peaceful jungle setting in the Yeak Laom Commune Protected Area. The lake and the area are considered sacred by many of the Khmer Loeu peoples, and are steeped in local myth and legend. There are a couple of docks on the lakeside and swimming and picnicking are encouraged. The lake is 800 meters in diameter and 47 meters deep, and is ringed by a 2.5 km hiking trail. The Yeak Laom Cultural and Environmental Center on the lake trail displays Khmer Loeu handicrafts and fabrics. 4000 riel entrance fee to lake area. 5km from town.
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