07.06.2009 - 09.06.2009
Sunday we got up round 8.30am & headed for breakfast at U Hong 2, the sister of the guesthouse I had been to the previous morning. The menu was the same so jam baguettes were our breakfast of choice. Whilst there we tried to exchange our books but as is common in South East Asia,to our frustration they wanted 2 for 1! At this point we decided we'd had enough of Kratie, packed our things & walked to the bus station. Once there we were faced with the big queues of westerners waiting for the hour late bus to Phnom Penh. This wasn't a good sign as our bus to Ratanakiri province was due after! To break up the long wait I dashed around town buying travel sick pills, food & water.
The bus eventually turned up at 12.45pm, ten minutes after my timely return.
It wasn't a fun journey. The first thirty minutes had passed ok but then the time seemed to stretch into infinity as we drove down a bumpy dirt road past Stung Trueng (our original planned destination if there'd been more time) & gasped in mouthfuls of hot air as the airconditioning went on the fritz.
We finally pulled into Ban Luong at 5.45pm in the pitch black. All we could see were the crowds of touts surrounding the bus. Luckily things were easy from then. We had already picked Tribal Hotel as our guesthouse from the Lonely Planet whilst on the bus so we found the tout for it & were given free rides uphill, out of town on the back of motos, arriving ten minutes later outside Tribal. The building was quite appealing to the eye, a wooden gazebo-ttype structure, serving as a restaurant connected by a wooden bridge over a pond to a two storey stone mansion with small balconies outside each room at the front. We paid the $4 for our room & were taken upstairs where we were pleasantly surprised to find bird crap all over the room. Somehow birds had been flying in through the old ventilation shaft. The staff cleaned the room at our request & I shoved some bags into the hole to stop any more unwanted guests. Our dinner was another surprise. Unsure where the nearest restaurants were we ate Tribal's nasty $3 meals consisting of fried rice with chicken curry & instant noodles with pork & vegetables. Maybe we could have chosen somewhere better!
Monday we got up at 9ish & unwilling to risk another gourmet debacle at Tribal found Adams Restaurant (which was just round the corner - easier to spot in the daylight) where we had a sandwich & burger at $4.
We walked into town & for the first time saw Ban Luong for what it was a quiet, dusty provincial town where equally dusty big buildings rose out of the red clouds kicked up by the few cars & numerous scooters seeming to never-endingly encircle the streets. The haze from the sun mixed with the dust gave the place an American Mid-West appearance, you could almost see outlaws riding horses out off town, chased by a wily old sherriff (perhaps too much television).
In town we bought a delicious array of cakes (5 for 7,000 riel), the place a sure competitor for the bakery in Kampot. Following this we took a thirty minute walk round town looking for the mythical bike hire shop. After circling the town several times & tried getting locals to understand what we were after we found the place right by a roundabout on the edge of town (completely opposite to where we were looking & had been directed). Paying the $1 each for a day's hire we set off at 12.30pm only to return minutes later to exchange Vicky's bike for one without a flat tire. The downhill ride was a steep one, thick gravel kicking up at our heels as we rocketed down the unfinished road when it reached a bridge where we just avoided colliding with oncoming traffic that had appeared out of nowhere. We crossed the bridge & took a sudden left turn following signs directing us to the waterfalls. A dirt road took us through friendly villages before another steep slope caused Vicky to fall off her bike as the breaks failed. Luckily after a tirade of abuse aimed at the bike she was ok, just abit battered & bruised, a dusty apparition. Soon after we found the entrance to Kachanh Waterfall & paid the 2,000 riel each. We followed the sound of rushing water only to find a pathetic set of small falls & rapids. A hidden path ended our disappointment as we emerged at the bottom of wooden steps at the base of a massive waterfall with a pool underneath. It was there we bumped into Darren again along with his friends Ben, Annette & Solomi. After a brief swim in the pool with a strong undercurrent that stopped us from reaching the waterfal,l we tucked into our cakes & at two o'clock with difficulty cycled back up the roads (Vicky's bike was screwed) to the hire shop where Vix left her bike & I took a small ride down a small road near the guesthouse, turning back when I started to get lost. I dropped my bike off at 5.30pm & after bumping into Darren yet again we agreed to meet him & his friends at their guesthouse Treetop where we got to know them all, playing cards & eating delicious spring rolls (we had definitely picked the wrong place to stay).
Tuesday we were again up 9ish, ate omlettes & bread (5,000 each) at Tanam Restaurant which we found heading past our guesthouse out of town, & stocked up at our favourite bakery for our long walk to the lake mentioned in the Lonely Planet. It was a long walk, worsened by our terrible sense of direction & confusion over similar landmarks. At a second roundabout to our right an hour later we thankfully found the correct road downhill & another fifteen minutes brought us to the spectacular Lake Yeak Loam. We gladly paid the $1 each to enjoy the huge tranquil expanse of water wasting no time diving off a big wooden platform into the icy cold waters, welcoming after the long, dusty walk. Warily keeping one eye on the small hut hiding our stuff we enjoyed conversing with travellers Ronan & Kate, & a young lad named Dan as we bobbed up & down on inflatable tubes.
At 4pm we all left the lake & enjoyed sticky rice & cokes at a posh-looking guesthouse restaurant before getting a lift on Dan's moto into town one at a time. I arrived in town cheered up by the amusing sight of Ronan & Kate wheeling broken bikes half way along the road, & met Vicky who had been busy buying more cakes & booking our bus tickets to Siem Reap for 6.30am the next day at $15 each. We ate dragon fruit & four desserts (they were only small) at $1 for the latter then as we reached our guesthouse the heavens opened. The storm was a stupendous display of blinding forks of lightening splitting the sky open & cooling the hot, dusty air. Torrential rain hammered down on the roof, deafening & drenching me & Dan as we made a dash for the front porch. Huddled under it we realised the storm wouldn't stop anytime soon so ran down the dark, slippy road to Tree Top Guesthouse, Vicky joining us there as the rain slowed. From 7.30pm we watched the sky with fascination & chatted to our little group, envious as Ben managed to be the only one able to get amazing shots of the lightening! The storm ended round 11.30pm & we headed back.