From Kaoh Nheak to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri

The plan for today is to ride from Kaoh Nheak to Sen Monorom, where we want to spend the next night before heading back to Phnom Penh. This is the second part of our trip from Rattanakiri to Mondulkiri through forest and mountains. We get up fairly early and have breakfast, before we hit the trail again.

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From Banlung, Rattanakiri to Kaoh Nheak in Mondulkiri

I have been looking forward to this part of the trip for a long time. During the next two days we attempt to travel from Banlung (Ban Lung) in Rattanakiri to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri, straight through forest and mountains. This trip is considered one of the most exciting in Cambodia. The authors of the Adventure Cambodia guide book have dedicated a whole 6-pages section to it, entitled “The Death Highway” (their account is posted further down on this page). This title may be a bit exaggerated but they did it (the other way around) during the wet season and ended up doing much of the journey with broken dirt bikes on oxcarts and tattered Russian jeeps.

We plan to spend the night in Kaoh Nhek, a village about half way to Sen Monorum. Tomorrow we continue to Sen Monorum. What thrills me is that we don’t have any spare clutch lever or front tube left before even getting into the rough part of the trip.

Continue reading From Banlung, Rattanakiri to Kaoh Nheak in Mondulkiri

Kratie to Banlung in Rattanakiri via Stung Treng

The plan for today is to ride from Kratie (Kracheh) to Banlung (Ban Lung) in Rattanakiri (Ratanakiri). This is not a big deal in terms of distance but we anticipate the road to be in poor shape, particularly between Stung Treng (Stoeng Treng) and Banlung. We start the day with a generous breakfast at the Red Sun Falling Restaurant, a great place for Western food in Kratie and the only one as far as I know, run by a guy named Joe from Chicago. They even serve delicious brownies but unfortunately not this morning.

Continue reading Kratie to Banlung in Rattanakiri via Stung Treng

Rattanakiri: Waterfalls, Gem Mines and Villages East and South of Banlung

The plan for today is to again go on a trip with great guides Lim and Lot, this time on a loop from Banlung to the east and south. We travel by motorbike and visit Ou’Sean Lair Waterfall and the Bokeo mines in the Ou Ya Dav area (hope I got it right).

If you require a guide in Rattanakiri just call Lim: 012517418.

Continue reading Rattanakiri: Waterfalls, Gem Mines and Villages East and South of Banlung

Rattanakiri: Banlung to Virachey, Voen Sai, by Boat to Taveng, Cemetary in Kachon, Tribal Villages on the Way Back

The plan for today is ride to ride on motos from Banlung to Voen Sai at the edge of Virachey National Park (Virochey, Virachay), which is about 35km northwest from here at the banks of the Tonle San River. From there we will take a boat and follow the San River to the east to Ta Veang (Taveng, Taveaeng), taking in a Tompuon cemetary at Kachon village on the way. In Ta Veang we change transportation again and return to Banlung by moto. We travel with Lim and Loth, two great and capable chaps we met during our working days in Banlung. Lim and Lot work part time as guides in and around Rattanakiri.

If you require a guide in Rattanakiri just call Lim: 012517418.

Continue reading Rattanakiri: Banlung to Virachey, Voen Sai, by Boat to Taveng, Cemetary in Kachon, Tribal Villages on the Way Back

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.

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

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.

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Travel to and first day in Stung Treng

There are not many options for us to go to Stung Treng, particularly when considering our tight schedule. So we decide to rent a pick up and start very early in the morning, which costs us about $40 for the four hour ride. However, we thought this way we can meet the government representative there before the extensive lunch break and start conducting interviews as early as the afternoon of the same day.

We start at about 5 am, which really is very early for me. I do not get much sleep anymore anyway. So as soon as we sit in the car I try to go back to sleep again. Surprisingly the car is the same with which I made the trip from Strung Treng to Banlung when I came here the first time.

After we have been driving for some time we have some minor problems with the car.

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Last Day in Rattanakiri

This is Monday. I spend the day again talking to several local activists and organization. In addition, I am still busy typing all the notes I took during so many interviews. And I have to arrange for the transportation to Stung Treng province the next day. So I take only very few pictures.

This is a place close to the market. Youngsters come here to hang out and play billiard.

Continue reading Last Day in Rattanakiri

Day four and five of the Second Field Trip to Rattanakiri

This is Saturday. In the morning we went to see the guy who is working as education advisor for CARE. He has been working in indigenous education all his life and is actually from Australia. We had a long and very open discussion. I enjoyed having a discussion in English without translation, which makes the event much more delightful for me. I learned a lot about the education project, the governments approach to indigenous rights in general and indigenous education and the local situation in comparative perspective in particular. Furthermore he liked ‘my’ theory of indigenous rights. After a good discussion we agreed to keep in touch and provide each other with documents and information.

Even out here in Rattanakiri there are Pagodas and monks who are traveling the streets in the morning to collect food from the people.

Continue reading Day four and five of the Second Field Trip to Rattanakiri

Second Day of Second Field Trip to Rattanakiri

Again, I cannot but make this a very short report. In the morning of the next day we meet some of the authorities as well as major local NGOs. We are happy enough to be provided by the local PLG project (which is actually a UNDP project) with a capable car including driver for just covering the costs of petrol. We have a tight schedule and want to meet a number of Commune Councils as well as members of the local indigenous communities.
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First Day of the Second Field Trip to RAttanakiri

This is the report of my second trip to Rattanakiri. Unfortunately I did not even complete the article about the first one. Due to the fact that I am leaving tomorrow again I try to make this short and get it done quickly. It is not likely that I will find time after this field trip, since I will be busy analyzing the collected data and writing my final report. This leads to another consideration: I think it would be interesting to include reflections about my work in this article here. However, I will have to write my final report with exactly those reflections. Therefore, I do not want to double my work and make this a article primarily about traveling with more general information. I am more than happy to provide the countless minutes I take or my reports once they are finalized. For better readability I will divide this journey into a number of smaller reports.
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Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Banlung (Rattanakiri)

This time I went to Rattanakiri. I thought it would be a good idea to travel on the ground, particularly since I am here for only three month and cannot afford to spend so much time in the air. I divide this trip into more than one pieces and start off with our journey to reach Banlung.

This time I was traveling with the Administrative Assistant of our project. He was so kind to give me company and help me out with translation. I had arranged the ride to Kratie via minibus the other day. Kratie is about half the way to Banlung, which is the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. What we had to pay for the ride to Kratie was cheap 10 dollars per person. It was open how we would proceed from Kratie. Our expectation was that we would have to spend the night there and continue the journey the next day to Banlung via Stung Treng. Stung Treng is half way between Kratie and Banlung and the provincial capital of Stung Treng province.

We met at 6:15 am and went to the port by moto. We left at 7 am with the minibus. This is where we had food after we have been traveling for some hours and passed Kompong Cham already, which is the provincial capital of Kompong Cham province. The guy to the right is my co-traveler.

This is how it looks like when people cook

This is our quite comfortable means of transportation. The guy to the right is the driver.

This is how it looks like in Kompong Cham. There are many plantations of rubber and timber.

Those are the last cars of about 15 trucks accompanied by police cars. You don’t get to see police cars in the countryside very often and not in such high numbers. My co-traveler indicated this might have been Prime Minister Hun Sen himself.

This is how it looks like in our vehicle. The guy to the left in the very back is from Israel. We got to know him during this ride and met him later several times in and around Banlung.

We crossed a number of bridges which where mostly constructions similar to this one.

Those are pictures randomly taken with my camera out of side from the top of the car somewhere in Kratie Province. This ‘read soil road’ is not the main road but some sort of shortcut. Once in a while we pass a settlement of very simply shacks.

A truck had damaged the road and local people came to repair it.

We were able to pass after only a few minutes of waiting.

We arrived at the port of Kratie at about 11:30.

We learned that a speed boat to Stung Treng would leave at 12 and we managed to get tickets for 5$ (Khmer) respective 8$ (Foreigner), I believe. I was impressed to find this boat. It looked fast to me. Almost like an airplane. However, I was glad that this vehicle would not loose contact to the fluid ground.

Most seats in the boat were already occupied and I found it to be a privilege that we could travel on the roof.

Those are settlements along the river. There were a number of bigger ships as well, mostly wooden ones.

This picture shows a very specific weather phenomenon which I have not seen before. We are aiming at an area with very heavy and dense rain. This rain however is limited to a very small area and its boundaries can clearly be distinguished.

This is the cockpit of the boat.

I got myself a seat because I did not feel like having a shower. Moreover it became sort of stormy outside. Inside this boat is not so much different from an airplane.

This is the rain front from the other side. We hit a good number of them before we reached in Stung Treng. The boat is actually quite fast and reasonably comfortable. I heard this is particularly true when compared to the road, which is the other option for traveling from Kratie to Stung Treng.

After maybe one hour we reached this settlement, which I could not find on any map in my tourist guide.

The course of the boat was not steady and obviously the captain tried to avoid hitting the ground. I tried to figure out pattern in how he was steering the boat, but could not identify any. However, most of the time we were traveling very close to the main land.

It is about to rain again when we meet this boat. This happened a number of times to pick up passengers or discharge goods like chicken (more or less alive) or a spin for those long and slim boots.

Again, we travel most of the time close to one or the other bank. Frequently we pass side arms of the Mekong.

We pass those bigger wooden boats shortly before we arrive in Stung Treng. I have seen this sort of boat earlier close to Phnom Penh discharging wood. What seems to happen here is that they are loaded with something, most likely timber.

This is when we arrive in Stung Treng. A good number of people are waiting to promote guest houses and transportation or to sell snacks to travelers and carry cargo. Given this situation it does not generally appear to be a problem to find accommodation or a ride to the next destination.

It is still not even late in the afternoon. I was surprised how easy traveling to Rattanakiri actually turned out to be. It did not take us long to settle for a ride on the back of a pick up for 5 dollar per person. We have company of those people. The fellows on the ride hand are Frenchmen. The guy to the left is the guy form Israel I mentioned earlier. We had good conversations about the relationship between France and Cambodia today, about the United States and the war in Iraq.

This is how it looks like most of the time during the first part of the journey. Later on we traveled through partly dense and almost impenetrable jungle.

Another of those bridges. This exemplar is pretty long compared to most of the other bridges I saw.

This is when we have a break. At this point we are already pretty much in the forest. However, we passed numerous clearings apparently created by mankind involving fire. Most of the time there is a small house on those clearings, housing obviously pretty poor people. The house in the background is pretty much the wealthiest house I have seen on the way.

It is getting dark very quick.

At this point a number of short rains showers had already hit us. It is a bit colder around here and together with the wind caused by the speeding car it becomes kind of chilly.

The quality of the road was pretty poor and we had a hard time holding on to the car. I tried to take pictures of the road using a small stand on the of this pick up’s cabin. However, the flash is not strong enough.

However, shortly after this shot it started to rain very heavy and did not stop. This was about the strongest rain I ever encountered. This was an interesting experience particularly on the back of a truck. I was happy to have rain jacket. Together with my sunglasses I was even able to open my eyes. However, I did not see much. The jacket did not prevent me from getting wet. This was like going for a swim in a rain jacket hoping to remain dry. However, it helped me not to become cold.

It was still raining when we arrived in Banlung, which is the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. This was at about 8:30 pm. In general I was surprised that we made it here during only one day.
Continue reading Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Banlung (Rattanakiri)

Campaign remote from hill-tribe reality – Phnom Penh Post July 18-31, 2003, p. 7


Yan Tuel is feeling ignored. With just two weeks until Election Day, Tuel does not know who he will vote for. He cannot tell the difference between the logos of the parties running in his province, and like 80 percent of the people in remote Ratanakkiri, he is illiterate. But so far, no party has come to tell Tuel why he should support them.

“We do not really know who we will vote for, we will just tick any box because we cannot read or write,” he says. “The CPP came here but they did not show us what their picture was. We want to know the policies of the other parties, but they have not come here so how can we know?”

Tuel belongs to the Tumpuan tribe, one of eight ethnic groups indigenous to the highlands. Collectively known as chunchiet, they comprise over two-thirds of Ratanakkiri population.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been firmly entrenched in the province since 1993, and the one seat up for grabs on July 27 looks likely to stay in its hands.
But Tuel has other concerns. .His wife is ill, and he cannot afford to take her to hospital. Instead he will pray to the gods for her recovery.

His Problem is not uncommon in Ratanakkiri, one of the poorest provinces. Decades of war and isolation have taken their toll: healthcare is basic, education limited, and people suffer at the hands of unscrupulous businessmen.

Sam Oeun, a student and volunteer at Ratanakkiri-based NGO Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP), says the chunchiet’s day-to-day concerns often outweigh political ones.

“Some of the just think whether or not they have enough to eat today and tomorrow,” he says.

Bringing voter education to the villagers is also a problem. The indigenous groups speak different languages, and this, combined with high illiteracy levels and low education, means information is best spread by word of mouth.

Meas Khlemsa of Comfrel, an election monitoring NGO, says the organization has been running training courses and distributing pamphlets detailing the policies of all 23 competing parties.

“Comfrel tries its best to tell the people it is their duty and their right to vote to make a change in the country,” he says.

But despite the best efforts of NGOs, information does not appear to have reached the length and breadth of the province. The political parties are not making much headway either.

“Only the CPP has come here,” says Jarai villager Cheu Ven, 45. “I also want to know about the other parties, but they have not come.”

The apparently lackluster campaigning could be due to the inaccessibility of the villages – roads turn to rivers in the rainy season. Perhaps before polling day there will be a flurry of countryside visits. Or, in what looks like a one horse race, are the other parties despondent?

“My assumption is that Funcinpec cannot get enough votes for the one seat,” says Hor Ang, Funcinpec’s security chief in Ratanakkiri. “The strength of the CPP at the local level means Funcinpec cannot penetrate.”

The CPP has long had an iron grip on the province. Deputy provincial chief Muong Pay says his party owes its continuing success to development and its role in defeating the Khmer Rouge.

“One hundred percent of people living in Ratanakkiri support the CPP,” he says. “There are many reasons. The government helped free the people from Pol Pot … There is no prejudice against the ethnic minorities and there is protection against the return of the Pol Pot regime.”

This popularity is visible along Road 19, which runs through the heart of the chunchiet areas up to the Vietnamese border. CPP signs are frequent, as is praise for the ruling party.

“The CPP has been helping us for 28 years,” says Bouy Cheng, of the Jarai tribe. “They dig wells, build schools, give us containers for crops … they have helped us to live in peace and they improve democracy and freedom. The other parties say they will help but they have not yet.”

All the villagers speak of gifts from the ruling party, but the competition is skeptical about the CPP’s handouts.

“I have never seen any help except handing gifts to the people,” says SRP candidate Kong Chan. “It is the money from the government, but they say it is from the party. Like building roads – that is money from the ADB or Japanese aid. The actual love from the heart of the people is not 100 percent true.”

Funcinpec’s Hor Ang insists the CPP’s popularity persists only because of this material support, and maintains its policies are actually harming livelihoods.

“On the surface it seems that the CPP is helping the people, but in fact the land and the forest are being destroyed by the CPP,” he says.

Ang is referring to illegal logging, which has plagued the heavily forested northern provinces for years. The indigenous people also found that land they had lived on for generations was claimed by outsiders. NTFP’s Sam Oeun describes one such case.

They were offered new motorbikes and gifts and persuaded to make their fingerprint agreeing to give away their land unwittingly,” he explains. “Minority people know very little about law. They think the axe and knife are powerful for them … They did not think their fingerprint would harm them.”

However Ang says such incidents do not damage the CPP’s vote.

“Most people don’t care about violations on land because they move away,” he says.

But opposition parties are not admitting defeat. The SRP recently gained popularity in the province when it won the only non-CPP commune chief position here in 2002. In a province with a large and porous border with Vietnam, the SRP’s hard stance on immigration and border encroachment could prove popular with the Khmer electorate.

However none of the chunchiet the Post spoke with said such issues worried them. Even near the border, villagers expressed no concern about their neighbor. Most chunchiet villagers say border squabbles are not a priority – they are still waiting for the basics.

“I would like to live like people in the rest of Cambodia,” says Jarai villager Cheu Ven. “Most Khmer people have education so they can improve their lives. This commune does not have a school. Even the well that was promised has not come yet.”

Tumpuan villager Tuel just wants to be able to make an informed choice at the polls and improve life for his family: “We want parties to understand us and our needs. We need everything.”
Continue reading Campaign remote from hill-tribe reality – Phnom Penh Post July 18-31, 2003, p. 7