Waking early on Monday 3rd February, I was taken by tuk-tuk the 300 yards to the bus pick up point after breakfast for an 8.00am departure. Squeezing into the 16-seater minibus, there was the inevitable waiting, and waiting, and waiting until the bus was completely overloaded for the six-hour journey to Ban Lung. However, at least the wait gave me a chance to watch the other buses being loaded and realise mine wasn’t so bad!
At around 8.30 the bus finally departed with a complement of 30 persons, giving credence to the Cambodian saying “There’s always room for one more! I was so glad to be near the window as at least I can get out in an emergency, although windows were used as exits in the rear anyway. Fortunately for us all, the journey was to be as billed; only 6 hours with one stop too…positively luxurious!
At the refreshment stop I met the other foreigners on the bus, a group of three Swiss (Stefan, Celine and Juliette) who were also off to Ban Lung. However, they were in a worse place than I; all the buses play music for the entire journey and they were rammed up against the speaker. Thank the Lord for small mercies!
Although the road we were on is the main north-south route from Phnom Penh to Laos, the quality of the road surface was the worst yet…pot holes that would put a swimming pool to shame, unsurfaced sections and some woeful driving. However, seeing as our driver was actually sharing his seat with a passenger, that was understandable! Fortunately, the road surface markedly improved as we turned off the main highway onto the Ban Lung road.
Some way along this good stretch of road, we were forced to stop by a roadblock very close to a village, although some vehicles did not think that this applied to them! Still, after about 15 minutes of standing around and not knowing what was going on there was a large explosion in the village, just off the road. Although not confirmed, I assumed that it was the detonation of some old ordnance, which was a salutary reminder to obey the advice and stay on marked trails!
As we drove closer to Ban Lung it became clear that logging and deforestation was going on apace in this region. For the last hour or so we drove past mile after mile of rubber plantations, stretching as far as you could see on either side of the road. It was quite dispiriting to see these monocultures instead of primary and secondary jungle, especially as we were supposed to be heading for a jungle trekking area.
We arrived in the middle of Ban Lung, which was actually larger than I thought it would be. As we disembarked, we were met by a tuk-tuk owner who took us four to a hotel, which was expensive at $7 per night, but seemed quite nice. However, I had to change hotel after one night as it was just too noisy; it turned out that the hotel I moved to was still owned by the say person but was of a much better quality and all for the same money!
We all decided to walk into town for an explore and a bite to eat when, just near the centre, I saw two familiar faces across the road; Steffi and Lucas who I had met in Kampot were strolling down the street towards us! It was good to see them again and we arranged to meet up the next day and visit the waterfalls on motorbike the next day.
As usual, the next day dawned bright, clear and warm and I was fully refreshed after a night in my posh room and a good meal with great company the night before. I picked up my super-duper motorbike, met up with Steffi and Lucas and we were off on Cambodia’s roads again to see the sights. Unfortunately, as we travelled between the three sets of waterfalls, it was clear just how far the deforestation has progressed; it’s just so very sad. The waterfalls themselves were fun, though, and I even went into the plunge pools; most unlike me. On our travels, we did witness a Dutch guy ahead of us lose control and come off quite spectacularly; the short and flip-flops did not give him much protection from the gravel on the dirt road. He wasn’t too bad, just mostly scratched and bruised but I don’t think that he appreciated my disappointment that the Go-Pro he was carrying wasn’t on; it would have made a great film!
The next day, Wednesday 5th February, I decided to head off to see a village on the border with Vietnam, which was a three-hour motorbike ride away. After an early morning breakfast of Phò, in a local Vietnamese restaurant, I set off. Unfortunately, to cut a long and harrowing day short, I managed to make a wrong turn and ended up miles from where I should have been in the back end of beyond; you know things aren’t going well when you are riding the bike down jungle paths!
However, the worst thing was the death of my DSLR lens. As I was going down a particularly steep “road” (for road, read sand track), I lost the front wheel and had to step off the bike. No harm done to me but, as I looked at the bike I realised that the seat had sprung open and catapulted my camera into a foot deep pile of very fine dust! It turned out to be the beginning of the end for the lens.
After the eventful day I managed to find my way back to Ban Lung and the hotel without further incident and also found the place that I had made the mistake; it’s a shame that I didn’t have a map with me.
In the evening I decided that I would have one more day of chilling in the hotel before heading off to Laos on Friday 7th February. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen Steffi and Lucas and found out that they left on the Thursday, my rest day. Still, I had a relaxing day before I would head into Laos and up to Tha Khaek for the famous Loop.