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    Friday, 7 August 2009

    Treks and Jungles and Rain!

    Boeng Yeak Lom Lake [Enlarge & More]
    In every country we manage to find the wettest spot to spend some time. I suppose it has to happen at some point, but in Ban Lung it has rained nearly non-stop for the past three days. We had planned to spend five nights here, but we’ve decided to cut it short by one owing to the bad weather. Of course, as soon as we made that decision and bought our tickets out of here, the weather brightened up somewhat. Typical!

    We had a reasonably uneventful bus journey from Kratie to Ban Lung, with the bus leaving at 1pm. We were slightly apprehensive as that would mean we’d arrive in Ban Lung in the dark – the journey was just over 5 hours long in total. The journey was fine until we passed the town of Stung Treng near the Lao border – after that we passed into “unsealed road” territory, and the ride got a lot more bumpy. After being thrown around in our seats for about 3 hours, and watching the carrot coloured slush fly past the bus windows as we drove through the red mud, we arrived in Ban Lung – the small provincial capital of the Ratanakiri district in north-east Cambodia. Our bags were unceremoniously dumped out of the back of the bus into the mud, and we were thrown into the usual mix of slightly desperate moto-drivers and guesthouse touts, all wanting our business. Eventually, we managed to persuade two moto-drivers to drive us 4km out of town to Norden House, our chosen hotel.

    Taking a Dip [Enlarge & More]
    After a motorbike ride similar to that-one-where-we-thought-we-would-die in Mandrem, Goa (India), in which my backpack slid around on the bike, the driver negotiated crater-sized pot-holes, and it started pouring with rain, we arrived at Norden House, fronted by a nicely lit up (but empty) restaurant. We quickly discovered that we were the only guests at the hotel, and that the internet connection (one of the reasons we’d chosen the hotel) was not working due to satellite issues. However, as it was pouring with rain, we resolved to spend the night there and move on the next day. We enjoyed one of our nicest meals in Cambodia to date in the restaurant, had attention lavished upon us by the staff, and then went off to our bungalow with a free DVD in tow to watch on the DVD player.

    Boeng Yeak Lom Lake [Enlarge & More]
    The following day we ended up staying in Norden House, as we decided that despite not being what we expected, it was a lovely place and met our needs well. No other guests arrived, and over time we’ve started to think of it as “our hotel”! On our first full day in Ban Lung we visited Boeng Yeak Lom, a volcanic crater lake (or meteor impact crater depending on who you ask), just down the road from our hotel. We had a swim in the clean light green/blue coloured water, and then walked around the perimeter of the lake, trying to ignore the persistent showers which followed us around. The lake was well worth the visit, and we were determined to make a return trip to it in order to have another swim, but we have not quite made it back unfortunately.

    First River Crossing [Enlarge & More]
    Also on that day, we organised to do a trek in the jungle with a guide in Ban Lung – he was to pick up the two of us the following day, take us on an amble through the jungle, provide us with a tasty lunch and then walk us back to the bikes and take us back to town. Well, that night it poured with rain, and we half expected that he would not turn up in the morning – so we were relieved but not particularly pleased to see him waiting for us in the rain the next day. The trek was a nightmare – I wouldn’t do it again. We didn’t really have much concept as to what we should expect – I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess I was expecting a walk through the woods. Well, we rode to the place the trek was due to start on the back of two motos. Even before we got there I was already wet up my arms, despite wearing my waterproof jacket and trousers. Despite this, I was completely determined that I would not get any wetter – surely the water had just gone up my sleeves after all.

    Getting Wet! [Enlarge & More]
    The rain continued, and we walked downhill through small trees towards the jungle. Within half an hour, we came across our first stream – well, actually, it was a river. There was only one way to get across – by fallen tree. We were a little nervous at this unexpected turn of events, but our guide helped us across – no problem. However, I managed to drop my water bottle into the river while crossing, which was a bit disastrous – so we were now down to 2/3rds of our water! We continued on and entered the jungle. The rain also continued on, and it was starting to get further into my rain jacket. A weird-looking breed of fly was also starting to turn up, and was biting bare skin where it could find it – I suffered a few bites on my hands and neck.

    Made it over another 'stream' [Enlarge & More]
    Next, we came across an even bigger river – and this one had no tree to cross! We were both a bit surprised as our guide hadn’t mentioned that we would be crossing rivers. We didn’t want to get our boots wet, so we took them off for the crossing, and waded through up to our knees in water. On the other side of the river, we wiped our feet dry and put our boots back on – my socks were a little wet, but not too bad. However, within a few metres of leaving the river we both stepped into a deep puddle, halfway up to our knees, letting water into our boots. How frustrating after all the effort we’d put in! When we came to the next, even larger, river, we decided to just keep our boots on for the crossing as they were already wet – but, as we discovered, they weren’t THAT wet yet! Once we stepped into the river, they quickly got soaked.

    By this point we were completely wet, and as the rain went on, and we crossed more swollen rivers, we did not get any drier. At around lunchtime the rain stopped in time for us to eat, but the humidity persisted. With the sweat that resulted, it was very difficult to get dry, particularly as every river we crossed seemed to get deeper and faster. The final river was the most difficult, and the three of us had to hold hands to cross so we did not get swept away! By the end of the day we were completely knackered – I barely even had the energy to smile for our photo at the end!

    So that was the main story of our trip to Ban Lung. The following day we did nothing – we had to rest! Ban Lung is definitely an up-and-coming tourist destination – in a few years when the road is sealed and there are a few more hotels and restaurants it will be big business. For now, it is still a small and relatively sleepy town, and the hills surrounding it make it particularly wet at this time of year. Despite the rain, I have enjoyed it – it’s been an experience!

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