Phnom Penh to Banlung, Rattanakiri via Kratie and Stung Treng, by Minibus

It is one of these rare opportunities my job provides to visit Rattanakiri, and I travel the pleasure to travel there with my colleague Phal. Not the first time, since we went there before, in 2003, to undertake interviews. The plan for today is to travel to Stung Treng via Kampong Cham and Kratie by mini bus and ideally all the way to Banlung in Rattanakiri province. I tune out the work-related aspects of this trip and report what may be interesting for the traveler.

We leave Phnom Penh early in the morning with a mini bus run by Mekong tours. Tickets to Stung Treng were purchased the other day, at modest $12 each. We find the bus at the Mekong office close to the port at the riverside and both vehicle and driver appear capable. There are not more passengers than seats on the bus, something rather rare in Cambodia. Halve of the passengers are foreign tourists. We are confident to reach Stung Treng early enough to find a truck or taxi to Banlung today, the provincial capital of Rattanakiri province.

There is a nicely paved road from Phnom Penh through Kampong Cham and Snuol all the way to Kratie and we spend relaxed and eventless hours driving through rural Cambodia. At one point we stop and by accident meet this guy who is feeding milk to a baby bear. He tells us that he works for the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary and that he is taking the bear there.

We reach Kratie and spend more time than expected, because the driver aims to fill seats left empty by passengers who stay in Kratie. We spend the time walking the water front and having one of those tasty fruit shakes at the riverside.

The next 20 km or so are pretty bad road.

This changes when we reach the stretch of National Road 7 that is under construction, with Chinese assistance. Though not paved, this road is wide and even. Many new bridges have been constructed or are close to completion. I guess the road will be paved, soon.

I keep quoting the same recent arcticle from the IHT. The article references an interview with Chanthol Sun, minister for public works and transport in Cambodia:

“Heading north toward Laos and then to China is Route 7 through Stoeng Treng Province, across the Sekong River where it joins the Mekong.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese have revamped that road and are building the crucial bridge, “probably one of the longest bridges in Cambodia also, around 1,057 meters,” Sun said.

He is a firm supporter of Chinese road-building for its quality and speed and says Route 7 could be finished a year ahead of schedule. When it is done, he wants the Chinese to build eastward to link with roads to Vietnam.”

A new bridge is built not far from Kratie town next to the old bridge that has collapsed long ago.

At some point we stop and have a snack. One meal on offer at the roadside restaurant is made from what locals refer to as ‘crocodile that lives in the jungle’. People also serve grilled monkey.

The sun is setting down when we approach Stung Treng town and it becomes obvious that we won’t make it to Banlung today. We check in at the Sok Som Bath Hotel at the northwestern corner of the market.

We get lucky as in the evening we meet a driver who works for CIDSE and is kind enough to offer a ride in organization’s 4WD the next day. After early breakfast we head east on Road 78. In many places the dirt road is in pretty poor shape. However, it was just perfect when I came more recently. I assume that right now the Stung Treng – Banlung ride will not take more than 2 hours. Will post a report of this trip soon.

We reach a place where a truck got stuck in the middle of the road. People try to pull it out with another truck and we witness the steel cable breaking during one such attempt, with the heavy cable whiping dangerously fast through the air.

A Toyota Camry passes the truck with remarkable ease. Our driver tries with the 4WD and passes only after a number of attempts, and we continue.

There are some really heavy trucks on their way through the forest, very slowly dragging through the mud and further spoiling the road.

We stop at the driver’s house along the way. He owns a number of domestic animals, goats among them.

After some time a bunch of goats arrives, under the supervision of the drivers young sun. The infant goat wants to drink and with obvious routine and not very gently, the boy grabs the mother goat’s feed, pulls them to make it fall so the youngster can drink.

This is when we reach Banlung.

The market.

We spend the rest of the day and the next with work.

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