My three travel companions and I had been sitting in a cramped and dirty bus for six hours now. We were bumping along towards Ban Lung, Cambodia in the remote northeast of the country. Just that morning, we had departed from Kratie, a small town along the Mekong River where Matt and I had taken a boat trip up the Mekong to view the endangered and rare Irrawaddy dolphins.
The bus we were in was literally filled top to bottom. Along with passengers, the bus held luggage, crates of over 4000 eggs, bags of rice, and four motorbikes. Yes, four motorbikes lined up along the center aisle! Ah, another adventure on the Cambodian bus system!
It was getting dark and the bus continued to bump down the muddy path, further into the jungle and darkness. “Should I start to panic now?” I wondered. No, not yet. An hour later, I again contemplated having a panic attack when we finally spotted lights. Civilization!
The town of Ban Lung itself has little in the way of sights to see, but the surrounding area has a number of beautiful natural sights, in addition to its wide expanse of jungles,to behold. Our first full day of exploring the Ratanakiri Province brought us to Crater Lake, a gorgeous crystal clear blue lake forming a perfect round circle, just a few minutes outside of Ban Lung’s city center. It is believed that the lake was formed over 700,000 years ago! We spent the afternoon basking in the sunshine and in between the short bouts of misty rain, swimming and jumping off the pier into the refreshing lake water. It was just the four of us and a few friendly local boys. It was incredibly relaxing — just the thing we needed after a long, hard journey.
The next day, the four of us rented two motorbikes and set off for the waterfalls. We were forewarned that the road in the wet season was treacherous, but we didn’t realize just how dangerous they really were. Muddy tracks and deep puddles hindered our journey from town to the falls. Matt and I managed to avoid any serious slips in the mud, though Judith and Sam took a messy fall into a mud pit. We all came out covered in red mud that was near impossible to wash off.
We finally made it to Kachang Waterfall and quickly went in for a swim to cool down and clean off the mud. I tried to climb up the rocks behind the waterfall, but slipped and cut my foot. It wasn’t until I made it back to the other side that I saw just how much blood I was losing. I, ever horrified by the sight of blood, screamed and put pressure on it immediately. I tried to make my way to a towel and with the first step, I looked down to see blood bubbled out of my Crocs, causing me to emit another blood-curdling scream. Matt and Sam had a roll-licking laugh over my absurdity, but I couldn’t help it. I was in pain and blood was literally pouring out of my shoes and oozing on the rocks, freaking me out and making me queasy.
After all the injuries sustained from the first foray to a waterfall, the next day we decided it best to skip the next mud-filled road and head back to Crater Lake where the opportunity for harming ourselves was minimal. Enjoying the afternoon at the lake, our group decided that we couldn’t tear ourselves away just yet and decided to push our onward journey to Phnom Pehn back another day.
Our long bus ride to Ban Lung was not the most comfortable of rides, but we all agreed that the natural setting around the town was well worth the discomfort. Sometimes taking a less traveled road, whether muddy or bloody, can pay off in ways you could never imagine.
Some photos appear courtesy of Matt Burchell.