Ratanakiri is in the region of 635 km from Phnom Penh and the Vietnam/Laos border. It is famous for the Ban Lung City and its all-round natural beauty where visitors get to enjoy a trek or excursion into jungle areas or Khmer Loeu villages, as well as a variety of other popular tourist sites in the local area.
Most travellers on the Cambodia travel packages to Ratanakiri head to Ban Lung City, where it is possible to signup for treks to tourist sites like the Yeak Laom volcanic lake, gem mines, waterfalls and jungle areas. Even though the actual city of Ban Lung is relatively small, there are still plenty of decent hotels and interesting shopping options.
This city is rich in adrenaline fuelled activities. Whether it is trekking in the vast Virachey National Park, showering under the waterfalls or swimming in clear volcanic lakes, there are plenty of things to see and do.
One of the biggest businesses in Ratanakiri is Gem mining with high-quality zircon mined throughout the province, as well as other stones.
The small roads that lead to Ratanakiri are far from ideal. If travelling during the dry season, you are likely to have serious issues with red dust that can leave your hair ginger and skin orange. A preferred time to travel to this region is November which is when the wet season has finished and before the roads and dust start to become an issue.
The Ratanakiri Province has three seasons, which is similar to most other areas in the country. The dry season is the best time to plan the Cambodia tour packages to Ratanakiri and lasts from November to March when the temperature is in the region of 20°C to 32°C. In the rainy season (May to October) the journey on the local roads can be quite difficult and can leave the vehicle travelling on unbelievably slippery roads and getting stuck.
The average temperature in this region of Cambodia is lower than most other areas of the country - with the exception of the Mondulkiri Province.
Ratanakiri is in the region of 635 km from the city of Phnom Penh with an altitude of about 200 to 400 m. It is bordered by Mondulkiri on the south, Stung Treng province on the west, Laos PDR on the north, and Vietnam on the east. This province has a total area of 10,782 km².
How to get there
Ratanakiri is one of Cambodia’s finest provinces, but one that is quite a distance from anywhere else. However, making the journey to this region is certain to be worthwhile on any Cambodia Adventure Tour. Tucked away in a north-eastern area of Cambodia, it is possible to travel from Phnom Penh in about 6-7 hours.
The bus service is the preferred option to travel to this province and travels direct from Phnom Penh to Ban Lung, with a single stop at Kratie. The cost is in the region of $12-$13 per person, but the price can increase throughout the busy tourist period. Most of the road leading to town is smooth and paved to give the most comfortable journey.
Other options include the shared taxis that are picked up in the central market of Phnom Penh, but the vehicles are quite packed and can get uncomfortable on longer journeys. Although, it is possible to pay double the rate to get your own seat. The trip by minibus or taxis is the fastest options, but there is a greater risk of an accident with the drivers often swerving around cows and trucks.
Where to stay
The places to stay in Ratanakiri and especially in Ban Lung town have seen a noticeable improvement in recent years with plenty of well maintained hotels and guesthouses. The most attractive prices are certain to be available out of the busy tourist season on the Cambodia travel packages when there are a lot less travelling in the region.
The local hotels include the small and modern Phnom Pich Hotel that is located about 200 m from the main bridge. Most of the rooms are spacious with air-con, satellite TV and Western style bathroom. Plus, it has a very nice attached restaurant. The cost to stay is $6 to $15 per night. For the budget traveller, the Vimean Sourkear Hotel is certain to appeal and still includes rooms with hot water and air-con.
Other places to stay include the Thmar Keo Guesthouse, Hotel Orchidee, Hotel T’mei and Hotel Than Sour. Whether you are looking for the jungle or urban styled accommodation, there are plenty of choices here that can range in price from about $2 to $160.
Eat and drink
Similar to Kampong Chhnang, most of the restaurants close quite early, but there are still plenty of noodle cook shops and food stalls that offer tasty food. Most of the cook shops are near the market at NH No 5. Restaurants in the local area include the Magic Fish Restaurant, which is able to specialize in fish dishes; the Lam Siveeng Restaurant is a great choice for breakfast or lunch with a simple and friendly menu that includes coffee, French bread and omelettes. The River Front Restaurant is likely to be finest spot to enjoy an evening meal. It is located close to the river and offers plenty of options to socialize, as well as watch the local’s fish and swim.
Nightlife in the local area is quite limited, but there is the Stung Pursat Restaurant & Nightclub and Boray Thmei Restaurant & Nightclub. The nightclubs include live bands starting at about 8.30PM with food that is rated as fair to okay.
The best shopping opportunities in Ratanakiri are offered at the Ban Lung market. You can enjoy a shopping spree here with the chance to buy a variety of goods from gemstones to wood carvings and intricate stone. Many of the items are authentic and made by the local tribes that live in the outskirts of town. Pipes, clothes, necklaces, bracelets, gourds (water containers), crossbows and baskets are among the most popular items to discover in this market.
Things to see and do
Virachey National Park
The Virachey National Park is situated in north-eastern Cambodia and one of the largest protected areas in the entire country. Cambodia has two ASEAN Heritage Parks with Virachey National Park being the largest and one of the popular Cambodia vacation spots to see. The entire Park stretches 3,325 km² and overlaps parts of the Ratanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces.
This National Park is perfect for the tourists that like to explore the isolated jungles with many parts still mostly unexplored and hold a large assortment of mountains, waterfalls and wildlife. The park is split between mixed deciduous forest, bamboo thickets, upland Savannah, mountain forests and dense semi-evergreen lowlands. The elevation of the National Park is in the region of 400 m to 1500 m.
Virachey has a well organized eco-tourism program in place that is mainly focused on adventure trekking and learning about the local nature and culture. The aim of this program is to help the local minority communities. To experience this type of trekking tour of the National Park it is necessary to visit in the information centre in Ban Lung.
Because of the size of this National Park, there are still plenty of areas that haven't been fully explored and includes plenty of rare animals (sun bears, tigers, clouded leopards and elephants) although the chance of getting a first hand view of these creatures is quite low. But other wildlife that may be seen include the Germain’s peacock-pheasants, giant ibis, great hornbills and other rare birds.
A proper trekking tour of the National Park is best arranged through theIndochina tour packageagent that can organize a full trekking experience. The guided tours make it possible to explore the Phnom Veal Thom grasslands that are very rich in wildlife. Plus, most of the tours are all-inclusive and can include boat transport, hammocks, porters, guides, food and park admission. Also, for those that want to get the most authentic experience it is also possible to enjoy an overnight homestay in one of the Brau villages.
Yak Lom Crater Lake
The Yak Lom Crater Lake is a very relaxing destination for an afternoon swim and located about 20 minutes from Ban Lung. The lake is surrounded by stunning scenery that includes dense jungle and is relatively close to nearby hill tribe villages. Getting to the lake is possible by hiking an easily navigated trail (at a length of approx. 2.5 km) following a scenic looping path. The natural lake is formed by a volcanic crater with crystal clear water and about 800 m in diameter. Even though the water can be slightly chilly it is still a pleasant destination to spend the afternoon, which can easily be combined with trekking into the local jungle trails. The surrounding hill tribes and nature make this lake very special and for stronger swimmers it is possible to swim from one side to the other. For refreshments, there are several stalls located near the stairway leading to the lake selling food and drinks. This area is also popular with local families that come to enjoy a relaxing picnic.
There are several beautiful waterfalls in the local Ratanakiri region with many within a relatively short distance from Ban Lung. Most of the waterfalls are easily reached via a trekking trail or by motorbike or car. The roads to the popular falls are accessible in the dry season, and can make a great journey on a bike. But, in the wet season, the paths can become slick with mud and quite treacherous, so extra caution is needed.
Alternatively, on the Cambodia package tours with a guide you can make a day trip of the best waterfalls and other locations like the Yak Lom Kake.
One of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region is Cha Ong Waterfall which is set in a jungle gorge that makes it possible to explore behind the actual waterfall. This is one of the largest accessible waterfalls in the region close to the town of Ban Lung, and also the tallest in the region. In the rainy season, the fall has surging water 30 m in height. But, in the dry season, there can be little water and this leaves the fall virtually dry. Even if the waterfall is dry, it is still able to provide stunning local views. There is an entrance fee visit the fall and explore the carved out cave area behind the fall, which costs 2000 Riel.
The Katieng Waterfall is another of the waterfalls that lets you climb all the way behind. Also, there are plenty of vines nearby that make it possible to swing for some adrenaline fuelled action. The Katieng Waterfall offers a very relaxing and shaded spot with a convenient wooden staircase to safety reach the pool and local area around the fall. Also, there is a suspension bridge that can get you to the bottom of the waterfall, but this is very slippery in the wet season. This area has plenty of stalls selling food and drink, so a great place to enjoy a picnic. This entrance fee for this waterfall is 3000 Riel.
The Kachang Waterfall is surrounded by magnificent landscape that includes a lot of fresh mist and pleasant waters that are great to sit and relax and enjoy the natural scenery. The journey to this fall can be quite difficult in the rainy season, with the clay-like trail becoming horrendously slippery. This might not be the best trip on a bike for the complete novice. This is another fall with a convenient staircase that leads to the waterfall while also having the stalls selling indigenous wooden statues, souvenirs and drinks. The entrance fee for Kachang Waterfall is 2000 Riel.