|Ban Lung, Cambodia
Located in the remote northeast province of Ratanakiri, Ban Lung is reminiscent of the old wild west of the United States. Many of the inhabitants were displaced during the turbulent years of civil war in Cambodia and have only recently returned to resettle the area. Due to the removal of landmines four years ago, the land is now safe for farming and gem mining – the two main occupations of the area. None of the roads around Ban Lung are paved making it dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet season.
Again, we hired two knowledgable guides to help us explore the area on thier motorcycles. Chum Rum Bei, a gem mining village north of Ban Lung, provided us with a totally unexpected glimpse into the gem mining industry of Ratanakiri. Although we have learned never to have expectations when travelling, upon hearing the term “gem mining”, we automatically assumed there would be a giant tunnel in the side of a mountain and, again, we learned never to have expectations when travelling. The gem mines, as it turns out, are a series of holes approximately 1 meter in diameter and approximately 15 meters deep with connecting tunnels underground. One person descends into the hole digging through the earth while another person operates a pulley apparatus to bring up buckets of dirt. The buckets are then emptied while a third person (or more than three people, usually it is a family operation) sifts through it to search for the gems, either amythest or zircon. This is a very dirty and dangerous undertaking. In fact, the week prior to our visit, two miners died when a tunnel collapsed. Although we did not climb down into the tunnels, we did get our hands dirty in the sifting and searching process. We managed to find many zircon gems that were worthless to the miners but priceless to us.
|Gem miners hard at work.||Brian hard at work searching for gems.|
|These zircon gems that Brian found are worthless to the miners because they are broken and too small.|
|These gems are being cleaned and sorted by their size and quality.|
|Another interesting site that our guides showed us were the cemetaries of the Kachon, one of Cambodia’s tribal groups. The Kachon graves are built under small structures and are decorated with effigies of the deceased. Husbands and wives are often buried together and the carved wooden effigies depict the likeness and profession of the deceased. For example, one woman died giving birth therefore her wooden effigy showed her large pregnant belly.|
|Our guides and Karen driving through a rubber plantation. Karen is wearing a krama, a traditional Cambodian scarf, to keep from breathing in dust.|
|Effigy of a Kachon tribal man, obviously he liked to smoke.|
|Back in the town of Ban Lung, we were fortunate enough to stay at the Ratanak Hotel, a lively and friendly place owned by a very special man, Mr. Leng. Every evening after exploring the wonderful Ratanakiri countryside, we would come back to the immense hospitality of Mr. Leng. A typical evening involved a gathering of various nationalities (usually a couple of Germans, French, Italians, Swiss, Mr. Leng and your humble narrators) around a table of many, many bottles of liquor. Our gracious host, Mr. Leng, would procure for us either a bottle of Hennessy, gin, wine or Mekong whiskey and the conversation would flow along with the booze. One night, Mr. Leng invited us to a friend’s wedding where we ate, drank and danced our way through the evening. Then, believe it or not, we wound up at the local disco. There are frequent power outages in Ban Lung so when the power went out in the disco, we were escorted to our table from the dance floor by the light of a kind gentleman’s cell phone. We all stayed in the dark laughing until some sober soul fired up the generator. Mr. Leng is a unique man with a kind and generous heart who made us feel like part of his family and was personally responsible for our lengthy 10 day visit (damn near 11 days after the send off party he gave us).|
|Brian and Mr. Leng after a long night of partying. Notice all of the empty bottles of liquor on the table.|
|One of the many waterfalls that dot the landscape of the Ratanakiri Province.|
|Oh yeah, by the way, Ban Lung also boasts the best swimming hole in Cambodia. Boeng Yaek Lom, a volcanic crater lake, offers a clean and refreshing swim after a hot, dusty day on motorcycles. You can walk around the lake on a path and watch the sun shine through the bamboo that surrounds the lake. Although remote and difficult to get to, Ban Lung was our favorite destination in Cambodia.
Thank you, Mr. Leng.
|Boeng Yeak Lom, the best fresh water swimming hole in Cambodia.||The sun shinning through some of the bamboo that surrounds Boeng Yeak Lom.|