Thursday, 21 April 2016

Travelling Southeast Asia: Ban Lung, Cambodia

As I mentioned in my last travel post, since we failed to find anywhere in Kratie that had coach tickets left to Ban Lung, we ended up finding an unexpected method of transport to get us to our next destination. When we asked at our hotel about bus tickets the lady at reception told us that she knew someone who might be driving to Ban Lung the following morning.

Obviously, we weren’t about to jump in a stranger’s car in the middle of rural Cambodia, but it turned out that this man was a regular guest at the hotel and frequently travelled between the two towns and would often offer to take other travellers with him. The hotel staff allowed us to take a look at his car before we decided (a nice, air-conditioned 4x4) and once we had taken up the offer they dealt with the money side of the exchange.
 As far as I remember, the $50 he charged between the four of us was less than it would have cost us on the bus, and it was undoubtedly a faster and more pleasant journey. We had no common language between us, but after a lot of pointing at maps and stopping to ask an English and Cambodian speaker for a little translation, we arrived at our next place of accommodation, Yaklom Hill Lodge.

I was already a little apprehensive about Yaklom, and had reluctantly agreed to staying in these wooden huts for a couple of nights, as we hoped to do some interesting treks from this location. We knew that as Yaklom was a few kilometres out of the already rural town, it was going to be a little isolated, but we were all surprised at just how deserted it was upon arrival. It did feel a little spooky to turn up to some wooden huts in the middle of the jungle with no signs of human activity.

Eventually the owner did appear, and after we’d ordered in our food for the next few meals (they had to know in advance if we wanted anything cooking, as they had to make the journey out to buy the ingredients), we went to take a look at where we were sleeping. Each hut had two single beds and a toilet and sink, and although there was a light, electricity was only switched on between 6pm and 9pm, so it was hard to see what else was lurking in the hut. I could already feel myself starting to panic, but we headed out on a two kilometre walk to a Crater Lake, which was supposedly the main attraction of the area.

The area around the lake was hugely crowded with people and food stalls, and wasn’t quite the idyllic setting the guidebook had described. We stopped for some food, and I think this was the first time on the trip that I experienced real poverty. The family’s beds and hammocks were all in the same space as the plastic chairs and table that we were sat at, which was effectively outside, and just behind their living area was a rubbish pile the size of a one-storey house.

We didn’t spend long at the lake, and instead got a tuk tuk into Ban Lung town. We were looking for some food and water to take with us on the trek the next day, but this was a more difficult task than we had expected.

We went to find the sunset viewing platform once we got back to Yaklom, which involved scrambling through a lot of overgrown branches and bushes to get to the rotting wooden platform that felt as though it would collapse at any second. The view itself was also mostly obstructed by overgrown foliage, so we headed back down to the main reception area where we were to eat.
I have no idea what I'm doing with my face either... 
As the electricity was only on for a limited time, we made sure we got back to our huts in time to have an hour of light to sort ourselves out and get into bed. Sam and Vicky had sprayed a bug repellent spray around their hut, just in case there was anything unfriendly in there, and so Tom and I decided to do the same, which is when everything started to go downhill.

Large ants started appearing all over the floor of the hut and thousands were streaming through a gap in our window. It’s hard to tell exactly how many there were – at the time we estimated a couple of thousand, but having since seen an episode of I’m a Celebrity in which they poured 2,000 bugs into a container, I would say our ant invasion was closer to 6,000. As someone who isn’t great with insects on a normal day, this sent me into a spiral of panic attacks. The ants had completely covered the floor and our bags, and the electricity had since been switched off so we were trying to sort everything out by the light of two candles.

Sam and Vicky came to our rescue and bravely set off into the darkness to try to find the owner of Yaklom. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much they could do about it at this point, so we were offered a different hut on the other side, but since there was no one else around, we opted to all sleep in Sam and Vicky’s hut for the night. Safety in numbers and all that.

What the others all (wisely) kept from me until the following evening, when we had left Yaklom for good, was that just as the electricity had gone off, Vicky had seen something move on their wall. A tarantula. Not knowing if it was dangerous or not, Sam had to kill it with a walking boot and attempt to get it out of the hut. 

And this wasn’t even the end of it. When we had eventually all settled into the one hut, we were kept awake by the pattering of some kind of creature. The worst thing was we couldn’t tell if it was running across the roof of the hut or across the floor. At the time we tried to convince ourselves that it was just a tiny mouse, but a lot of googling the next day confirmed the existence of giant jungle rodents the size of cats. Both Tom and Vicky had thought they saw this size of creature when walking around in the dark outside the hut already…

Although we couldn’t have had more than a couple of hours of sleep, we set off early the next day for our half-day trek with the owner of Yaklom, who was such a lovely guy. It wasn’t a strenuous trek, but it took us through a number of farming areas owned by ethnic minority communities and to an ethnic minority village. We got to learn about the different crops that were grown, help harvest some rice, meet people from the ethnic minority communities and find out about the customs of their village. It was such an informative and fascinating few hours.

We were supposed to be staying at Yaklom for two nights, but we were all in agreement that the one night had been enough, and so headed into Ban Lung town to find accommodation for the second night. And although this accommodation was cheaper, we felt like we had cheated our way into luxury.

Our time in Ban Lung was certainly an experience I’ll never forget, and although the trek we went on was extremely interesting, unless you have a lot of time to spend in Cambodia, I wouldn’t urge anyone to go there. Treks and visiting the ethnic minority areas are definitely something worth doing, but the next place we visited, Sen Monorom, proved an even better way to experience theses rural areas of Cambodia.

I also vlogged our stay which gives an even better impression of Ban Lung, so give that a watch and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss the vlogs from the rest of the trip!


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