Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ratanakiri Province: The Hidden Gem of Cambodia

Cambodia is an amazing country; Cambodians are incredible people– resilient, creative, full of optimism and resource. The Angkor Temples are breathtaking, some of the most amazing sights anyone can ever see! Cambodia definitely lives up to its name as the “Kingdom of Wonder.”

Of all the Cambodian provinces, though, Ratanakiri is the jewel-in-the-crown.  Ratanakiri is the real Cambodia; full of kind, honest, hardworking farmers who survive off of what the weather gives them any given year, be it rice, cashews, coffee, cassava, or rubber.

Ratanakiri is beautiful. Even the name is beautiful; it’s made up from two Cambodians words, Ratanak, (which means jewels), and Kiri, (mountains). Quite literally, it means “the land of Mountains and Jewels.”
Water fall in Ratanakiri
The local crater lake, called Yak Loum, is gorgeous. It’s almost perfectly round, surrounded by forests filled with parrots, mynahs and monkeys. I recommend buying a hammock at the market, and wiling away an afternoon at Yakloum,  in peaceful solitude.

Some recommends that can make-or-break your trip to Ratanakiri:

1: Pick your season!
I know that most trips fall into a pre-arranged time slot based on one’s vacation from work, but if at all possible, come to Ratanakiri during the transition of the seasons. Here are the four times to visit, in order from worst to best.

If you visit from February to April, at the height of dry season, Ratanakiri will be furnace, and if you’re lucky enough to get an unseasonal rain, it will a free sauna. The countryside will be parched, and the fields burnt black and readied for planting. The air will be gray and dusty. It’s not a pretty time of year! If you want to see high desert, go to Australia. I’m not discouraging you, just bequeathing real expectations.

If you visit from July to September, the countryside will be cool, green, and lush. The streams and lakes will be overflowing their banks, and the rice fields will be waist high. But there’s also the possibility that you could go a week and not see the sun. This is the zenith of rainy season. Your picnic could be rained on every day, maybe all day.

If you visit in May and June, you’ll split the difference.  The monsoons won’t be in full force yet, but the province should be green, and the air will be clear. It’ll be hot as anything, but at least you’ll probably get a cooling rain some evenings, and some amazingly gorgeous sunsets.

Now for the holy grail of schedules: November through January. The air is clear, the hills are still green, it’s cool and crisp, with nights that drop into the low teens (Celsius). You won’t have to worry about rain, either. This is the time to visit!

2. Rent a motorbike and explore!
 Ratanakiri is probably the best place in Cambodia to explore on a motorcycle. There’s little traffic and tons to explore. You can tool around for days, exploring remote riverine towns and stopping in minority villages that rarely see foreign faces. You could even strap some food, water and a hammock on the back of your bike and go for your own trek through the villages– it’s safe, especially in minority villages.

Some cautions: wear a helmet! Not wearing one risks a ticket from a traffic cop, or worse, a concussion. Expect some dust in dry season, and some slick surfaces during the monsoons.

3. Don’t haggle over prices, please!
Ratanakiri is not a well-traveled place. Rural Cambodians are not aggressive, mean-spirited people. 

In fact, most shop-owners in Ratanakiri will actually sell an item at a loss, rather than risk a showdown with a pushy, aggressively bartering tourist. Often tourists come to Ratanakiri from Vietnam (a bastion of rip-offs and aggressive sales tactics), and end up making themselves a stench to the locals, arguing intensely over a dollar…. a dollar! Even the poorest Western tourist makes more than most here will ever see; so pay the extra buck.

The truly adventure travelers can find out all things Cambodian and Ratanaki at:

ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. 


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