As I sit writing this, day three of our time in Vietnam, my pack and shoes next to me remain caked in the red clay dust that dominates Ratankiri Province - the northeastern most province of Cambodia - and its capital, Ban Lung. We spent the last week of our time in the country slowly but surely exploring this rural outpost, population 25,000. It might have originally been a little oversight on our part to allot seven full days to a town with so little going on besides a days worth of waterfalls or longer treks. We quickly learned a good lesson, however, about the variation in size and scope of exploration that made our time in Ban Lung no less meaningful than the time we spent in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
So how did we spend that time? Apart from our one requisite day of checking out the three beautiful waterfalls and volcanic crater lake (Great for an afternoon cool down swim! Strange for us northerners to say that in the middle of December!) in the area via moto rides on the bone rattling backroads, it was all about the mini explorations. The little day to day things like walking around the lake on the north side of town past the merry go round with the strange almost horse-like creatures for seats. Or working our way through the market fully three times before finding the noodle soup and iced coffee lady we'd heard about from some other travelers. (A side note on the coffee: this was a magnificent hint of the chocolatey wonder we've since found in the Vietnamese iced coffee specialty, complete with a melt-your-teeth-off layer of sweetened condensed milk on the bottom.) Or discovering the joys of fresh pressed roadside sugarcane juice (with half a lime added in for good measure), which isn't nearly as sweet as I expected it to be, ending up much more like lemonade. We also go to know this guy:
He or she (we didn't get around to checking) was the 8-9" long primary resident in our bathroom along with a possible mate and a couple of smaller cohorts.
Since most visitors don't seem to spend more than a couple days in Ban Lung, we were several times mistaken for long term workers. By way of meeting a couple girls from Norway and Sweden, we learned that what that means for the most part is people coming to work in the schools or hospitals that work with the local hill tribe minorities. Their five day work weeks in the even more rural jungle areas are topped off with weekends in the city and all the creature comforts that has to offer. We met them at a small bakery with some truly excellent banana bread cake. The rest of the economy of the area seems largely focused on either the market or tourist services to visit the aforementioned waterfalls, lakes, and treks to visit the hill tribes.
With a quiet week of Ban Lung in our minds and all of its red dirt fully inundating our every pore, we boarded a wonderfully spacious minibus for the seventy mile trip to the border of Vietnam. After a quick bag search and the shortest line of all of our customs experiences (number in line: zero), a second minibus was waiting to take us the rest of the way on to Pleiku - a larger but largely un-touristed city in the Vietnamese central highlands. I'm a sucker for some topographical variation and the emerging hills and valleys on our way out of Cambodia and into Vietnam perfectly whetted our appetites for the weeks ahead.
Location:An Dương Vương, Qui Nhơn, Vietnam