Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ratanakiri and onwards, to Lao

Busy Busy.

Well well, it's been a while - i got a bit bored of the slow internet (and being in internet cafes in general) so have been a bit slack on the blog...
*please excuse the low quality of spelling and grammer*

The last week or so in Sihanoukville was good, went kayaking a couple of times, once on a nice calm day, once in big waves that were not exactly suitable for a a river kayak, but a good workout for the arms.

Also took a catamaran out in the big swell, ably helmed by Camille, a French volunteer from CCPP. (sadly i bottled it when I saw the size of the seas - last time I sailed a cat was on a calm(ish) lagoon in the S Pacific).

Spent a couple of days in Phnom Penh with some friends who were heading home after their stint at CCPP, more markets, great food and a decent nightclub. Sad goodbyes all round.

Pictures here: and here.


Finally, after much talk and little action I got on the bus to Ratanakiri, in the NE of Cambodia.
Well worth the 11 hour bus ride as the area is amazingly beautiful - lush forests, many waterfalls, old french rubber plantations, local villages of the minority people... all visited on the trusty moto (Honda Wave 100) - I love those bikes, they go anywhere, through mud and rocks, and on one occasion, across a river. The bridge was down due to heavy rain, and rather than having to turn back, a bunch of boys from the village on the other side waded across (about 3-4 foot deep) and offered to carry the bikes over for a small fee (about 75c each). Fifteen minutes later we were on our way again. Cambodia - land of possibility. All in all we did about 100km, in a fair bit of rain and mud, i managed to stay out of the mud, but did end up in a ditch once. (the others fared less well).

Another day we went to a lake in the crater of a volcano.
Almost perfectly round, clear cool water, surrounded by forest and bamboo.
The crater edge is about 45 degrees so you can dive straight down from a wooden platform and not touch the bottom, disconcerting at first, but a beautiful place to swim, the water is sheltered by the rim and forest around, so is almost totally flat.

Banlung itself is a dusty little place, one paved road - the rest is red dirt and mud. Not much to see, just a good base for exploring the local countryside and villages (decided not to go on an organised tour to see the 'minority people' as it seems a bit like a zoo sometimes. (better experience of that in Lao later).

Two days was enough so I booked a ticket to Don Det in Lao, expecting a simple bus journey.
The minibus picked me up in the morning and had a terrible (hungover) four hour drive on the bumpy dirt road to Stung Treng (Cambodian for armpit perhaps?), where we (me and my new dutch friend) were told to wait an hour or so for the bus to the border...

some time later a man strolls up and asks: "don det?" - "yes" we say.
"this way" - pointing us to a waiting taxi - apparently there weren't enough passangers for the bus, so they paid a taxi to take us...

got to the border, easy crossing and the cambodian officials didn't notice i'd overstayed my visa by a few days (should have paid an extra $20 or so), paid a dollar to the Lao official for a stamp and then from nowhere another man walks up... "don det?"
"erm, yes"
"this way" - into the back of a truck (the driver had been paid by the taxi driver with the money from the bus company).
and so it continued including the small boat to the island of Don Det. Four modes of transport, two countries and a river. And people say it's hard to travel in the remote provinces!


Not much to say about Don Det - one of many (four thousand by name) islands on a wide stretch of the Mekong just North of Cambodia.
Very pretty, VERY relaxed. A good combination of local villges and guesthouses strung out around the island. Jump in the river, drift with the (strong) current, and get out further down.
Repeat. Eat. Sleep.
For 4 days.
(Oh yes, a short bike ride to an old french bridge and another waterfall).

Next stop Paxxe and the Bolevan Plateau...

Pictures soon...