Banlung – Paint the Town Orange

Kratie to Banlung wasn’t half as bad as Siem Reap to Kratie.  For one, it only took 5 hours and the road from the stretch of the turn-off all he way to Banlung was suprisingly good— by Cambodian and Ratanakiri standards.  The road is currently being upgraded which explain the relatively smooth going.  But it is indeed really dusty.  As we traveled on, orange dust covered trees, plants, houses, and people.  It was just dust dust everywhere.

The Sorya bus I also took from Kratie wasn’t full at all.  I had kidded the guy at the Sorya office that if I had no seat, he would refund my ticket.  The next day while waiting for the bus to pick me up at around 1pm, he kidded that there was only one seat left and that was for me.

The bus arrived around 1:30 andI was the only one that went on board.  There were more almost 10 vacant seats so I got one all to myself.  The bus was large, cold, and had ample leg room.  We had quite a number of stops as everyone seems to be needing to go to the toilet often.

We arrived at the bus station on the outskirts of town close to dusk already. The moto pick-up I had arranged earlier with the Borann Lodge was already there.  Aaaaggghhh!  The pleasure of seeing your name on a sheet of paper amidst all the uncertainty and chaos that arriving on a transport terminal in a strange place brings.  I loaded my pack in front, rode on the back, and we went wheezing off to the lodge.

I was expecting a Wild West kind of town— small buildings set on a dusty plain with no roads.  But no.  There was a sealed main road and other smaller streets.  It was still dusty though as sidewalks and the yards around structures such as houses were still dirty. Surprisingly, there were big restaurants and entertainment centers (!) and hotels.  I was to learn later that the really big establishments like the KTV on the road to Yeak Loam were built for the Chinese and Vietnamese biggies who ere funding all the developments taking place in Banlung— developments that do not necessarily translate to progress, espcially for the local community.

The Borann Lodge is away from the main drag but not far enough to need transport. It has the same owners as the highly-recommended Yaklom Hill Lodge located near Boeang Yeak Lom.  The main building is built like a traditional Khmer house but much bigger.  The moto driver was the one who arranged my check-in as the only person there, a guy who was in his late 30s couldn’t speak English.  He was very pleasant and accommodating though—always smiling and moving mildly. The moto driver took me to my room which was a stand-alone structure like a small cottage behind the main building not without giving me his card for any tours I would like to take.  I had already made arrangements with Do Yok, a Tompoun guide that came highly recommended in travel forums in the internet.

The room was big and had its own bathroom.  The large double had a thick mattress and a sturdy wooden frame, something unusual for a guesthouse in Cambodia.  There was a television with cable and a ceiling fan.  It was cold enough so a/c wasn’t needed.  Best of all, it was only $6 a night!  Outside was a small square with a swing and a wooden table with benches and across was a low tw0-level structure with four rooms all facing the square.  I like the place as it’s quiet and really peaceful.  Absolutely no noise from the streets which, when darkness came in, hardly had any people. There were dogs though and that worried me a bit as I have an inherent fear of dogs that walk the streets.

 came knocking on my door shortly and I opened it to find a short dark man in t-shirt and shorts with a smile on his face and a fairer larger man in trousers and a long-sleeved shit. He introduced himself as Do Yok and the larger man as his friend, Kun, a Khmer.    We talked about what I wanted to do.  Gita, the London-based Indian girl who was on the same bus as me and staying at the room across me, joined us and we made plans to explore Voensai the next day.  With she around, that would mean being able to split the $20 cost of the boat ride to Kachon.

Urging Do Yok on what other itineraries I could do over the next few days, Do Yok gently told me that we should take it a day at a time.  The Tompoun believe that planning what to do in the future is not good as the spirits may do something to deter the plans. That was my first lesson in the culture of the Tompoun.  I knew I had made one of the best decisions in my travel plans—-booking Do Yok.

Unfortunately,  the 3d/2n hike at Virachey National Park I had booked earlier though email with the park office  was out of the question as the lone park ranger had already left with a group earlier in the morning. Doy Yok  had reserved me a slot but I had failed to arrive on time as they were expecting me on the 26th of December which was what I informed them.  Too bad.  I would just stick to the villages then.

Really late dinner was next door at Adam Restaurant. Nice place with friendly English-speaking staff and good food.  I had chicken with vegetables.

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