Ratanakiri sits in the far northeast of Cambodia, near the border with Laos and only a few hundred kilometres from Vietnam. Getting there was a treat.
The bus took eleven and a half hours. The first eight of these were on flawless, sealed, modern roads. We had plenty of legroom and the air-conditioning, mercifully, was working at full capacity. Then the sealed roads ended. The last few hundred kilometres into Ban Lung (capital of the Ratanakiri region) are on dusty, pock-holed dirt tracks, wide enough for two buses to comfortably pass each other, but not what you’d exactly call “smooth”.
Ban Lung is little more than an afterthought on the Cambodia tourist trail. It could hardly be anything else. It’s not big enough to offer clever shopping options, and there are none of the backpacker staples like all-day bars or bungee jumping. But it was nice, for once, to be somewhere that only had a handful of westerners staying in it. It was very easy to be left alone.
The next day we squeezed ourselves onto the bike again. (Three on a bike has the same dynamics as two on a bike, except for the person in the middle, who has to live with being crushed.) Ban Lung has a selection of beautiful waterfalls dotted around it, and we spent a few hours at each, jumping in and seeing exactly what it was like to swim under a waterfall.
We were in Ban Lung for two full days. We had intended to stay longer: the nearby national park is famous for its trekking, and you can stay for up to a week in the jungle, animal-spotting and visiting local villages. The idea of sleeping in the jungle in a hammock holds appeal as well. However, not for the first time, we were caught out. We had brought $300 with us; a decent-sized trek would cost us $200; leaving us with an insufficient amount to pay for our bus tickets out of town and to pay off our hotel. There's no cash machine.
We left town reluctantly. Ban Lung is only a footnote. We weren’t there for long enough and missed out on the most interesting thing it had to offer. Still, it was nice to be left alone for a few days, and the temptation of a jungle trek is enough to persuade us back.