Wonders Of The Northeast

The current issue of the Cambodian Scene Magazine contains an article about traveling northeastern Cambodia thaat may be of interest:

Words and photographs by Moeun Nhean

The northeast of Cambodia is the place to visit at the moment: it’s seriously green, strangely volcanic and noticeably cooler than the rest of the country. Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism H.E Lay Prahos is very excited about the area’s increasing potential—an area attracting more and more tourists.

Lay Prahos says 1,005,648 tourists visited Cambodia in the first nine months of 2005. “Even we’re surprised at that number!” he says. “That amount is a 37.4 percent increase for the same period in 2004.” He expects numbers for the whole of 2005 to be about 1.3 million and hopes that number will be even higher this year. The Minister admits that as tourist numbers grow, Cambodia must look to providing better services, particularly in the less-explored regions, which also have much to offer.

“Most tourists come to visit our country because they want to see the famed Angkor Wat temples. But many don’t realize this country has kept hidden some of its more natural attractions. We have wonderful pristine environments in the Kingdom like Koh Kong for instance, and Cambodia’s northeastern provinces are perfect for eco-tourism,” Lay Prahos says.

He says the northeast covers Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratatakiri and Stueng Treng provinces. “These areas all have enormous potential.”

“For years we’ve focused on promoting the world

heritage site of Angkor Wat as our prime tourist destination. Then we’ve promoted Phnom Penh, the center of government, economics and culture and Sihanoukville, our coastal area with its beautiful white sand beaches,” he says. “But now there’s a fourth notch in our belt, and that’s eco-tourism in the northeast of Cambodia.”

He says the government has greatly improved road conditions between Phnom Penh and most provinces in the country, and will soon turn to more remote and smaller village areas.

“We have many places to invite tourists to and we want to make it enjoyable for them to travel around the kingdom. With good road conditions linking everywhere, tourist destinations are more easily accessed and explored. Nationwide it is possible to go anywhere easily by car and we have paved the way for tourism in the Kingdom. Now the northeast provinces seem a much closer destination for travelers because of the acceptable road conditions.”

I recently heard foreigners saying that when they go to [the northeast] they … feel like they are ‘return[ing] to nature.’ They enjoy seeing hill-tribe people living off the land and reaping the benefits of their natural surrounds. It’s quite difficult to see these sorts of unaffected places in other more developed

countries, even in neighboring countries. It is hard to find a place quite like the northeast of Cambodia.” He says each of the country’s provinces has its own unique scenery and way of life, with many different ethnic groups scattered throughout.

“But in Mondulkiri for instance, this uniqueness is very pronounced: there are upland forests and great expanses of grassy fields reminiscent of European countries, but different in that they’re untouched. This is nature at its original. And in Ratanakiri province it’s different again, with landscapes of streams and tropical forests.”

Director of the Ratanakiri provincial tourism office Tra Nut Seang says there are 12 natural tourist destinations in the province, some of these include hill-tribe visits and half are waterfalls including Ka Chhang, Cha-Ung, O’Sin-Lae, Koh-Andet and Ka-Teang.

“However, one of the best waterfalls is O’Sin-Lae: a beautiful seven-tiered waterfall. It’s as beautiful as a painting,” Tra says. “Around the area of this waterfall there is also diamond mining. Families in these parts have mined for generations and still use traditional tools to look for the jewels. The diamonds here are younger than those found in Pailin, therefore cheaper to buy.”

Ratanakiri boasts much more than waterfalls and diamonds though, including Yeak Laom, a lake at the center of an extinct volcano; Veal Rum Plan, an ancient lava field and the beautiful Virachey National Park.

“Tourists never miss Yeak Laom lake … which is 48m deep and 800m across,” Tra says.
He says according to Ministry of Tourism figures, 40,000 visitors came to the province in the first nine months of 2005. “Interestingly, 50 percent of those were local visitors.”

Travel details:

– A daily pick-up from Phnom Penh’s Central Market to Banlung will take you 14 hours. For nationals the cost is $20 and for foreigners $25.

– Flights are preferable. There are direct flights from Phnom Penh to Ratanakiri. Contact Phnom Penh International Airport for more details.

– Accommodation in Banlung ranges from $5 to $30. Terra Rouge Lodge is recommended by most guide books.

– The best time to visit is between November and April when the weather is much cooler than the capital.

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