The North – East
North of the Cambodian capital is the town of Kratie. This typical Khmer small town is located on the banks of the Mekong River and the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins are frequently spotted. Kratie makes a great stop on the way to Stung Treng, another rural town located on the Laos border. This beautiful riverside town does not have much in terms of sightseeing, but the town provides a relaxing atmosphere and chance to experience the local culture.
To the northeast, two provinces are worth exploring. Although the roads are not in the best conditions, the scenery is fantastic and the trip is rewarding. Rattanakiri province is located near the Vietnam and Laos borders and is home to a variety of Cambodia’s ethnic minorities.
An endless amount of trekking opportunities, dozens of waterfalls, and great wildlife spotting can be done in Rattanakiri. Also, the area is home to the beautiful Yeak Loam Lake, a volcanic crater whose clear waters are perfect for swimming. Mondulkiriprovince is further east and also showcases Cambodia’s natural beauty. Although the largest province in the country, it is one of the least populated and hill tribe trekking is the most popular activity for visitors.
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Kratie is a small town on the banks of the mighty Mekong River with some of the best sunsets in Cambodia. The river north of here is home to the unique Irrawaddy Dolphin, one of the rarest creatures in the region and viewing is possible throughout the year. Hanuman has pioneered the Mekong Safari to allow visitors to spend a comfortable night on a Mekong sandbar, with only nature for company. The area is very beautiful with abundant birdlife and experiencing a Mekong Safari allows you to observe the dolphins without another visitor in sight. Nearby Phnom Sambok has a temple on its summit and offers some striking views across the Mekong River. Opposite Kratie lies Koh Trong, a pretty and peaceful island to explore by bicycle. North of Kratie lies the Mekong Discovery Trail, an emerging area for visitors where cycling, trekking and homestays are all possible.
Mondulkiri feels almost like another Cambodia, isolated and windswept, remote and adventurous. Nestled against the border with Vietnam, Mondulkiri is located at a high elevation, supporting unique flora and fauna among its hills. There are several minority groups (chunchiets) in the province including the Phnong who make up half the population. There are many rare animals found in the province, including elephants, tigers, bears and leopards. Sen Monorom is the provincial capital and nearby are a number of chunchiets villages and picturesque waterfalls. Bou Sra Waterfall is most impressive in Cambodia with an impressive double drop plunging 15m then 30m into the jungle below. Other popular waterfalls include Romanear, Dak Dam and Monorom. Hanuman supports the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri, a sanctuary for retired elephants in the jungles of the northeast. Instead of riding the elephants, visitors are invited to join the herd for a day, learning about elephant behaviour, watching these majestic creatures forage and helping them bathe. Much better than an elephant ride, this is more like observing the mountain gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda.
In the far north east of Cambodia is the ruggedly beautiful Ratanakiri province, home to Cambodia’s ethnic minorities and some of its endangered wildlife. The provincial capital of Ban Lung is a good base for exploring this wild province. Serenely beautiful and surrounded by jungle, Yeak Lom is a freshwater lake within a volcanic crater and undoubtedly Cambodia’s finest natural swimming pool. Elsewhere in the province are several large waterfalls, many gem mines and the opportunity for jungle boat trips. The province also supports several minority groups including Kroeung and Tampoun. Popular adventures include a visit to a minority cemetery to learn about traditional burial customs and treks through community forest to tribal villages. Virachay National Park, one of the largest protected areas in Cambodia, is located in the far northeast of the province and includes some of the most remote areas in the country. Short two-day treks are available up to eight-day treks into the Phnom Veal Thom wilderness area.
Completely off the beaten track, Cambodia’s North East is one of the few remaining true hidden gems in South East Asia. Ban Lung, the capital of Ratanakiri Province on the Laos and Vietnam borders, is a market town with a genuine wild-west appeal. A stay at Terres Rouge combines colonial grandeur with the idyllic and remote countryside all around. As it still takes a long time to get there, it is worth spending at least three nights in the area but there is plenty to do in that time. There is the famous Yeak Loam Lake – a perfectly spherical crater lake that is a great place for a swim and a picnic, peaceful walks and a wide number of fascinating and remote ethnic villages to visit.
On route to Ratanakiri are two market towns on the banks of the Mekong River that act as a stopover point on any journey north. Kratie is most famous for being the base for the boat trips to see the rare fresh water Irrawaddy dolphins. The town and its accommodation are not particularly exciting, but like the border town of Stung Treng, it is well worth breaking up the long journey with an overnight stay.