Mekong Expedition 

Swimming in a volcano in Ratakaniri

Table of Contents

See the route of my journey on Google Earth

Stung Treng was my first taste of a Cambodian town, and it probably wasn't the best introduction. Around the market where scores of people were buying and selling I was overwhelmed by the huge amount of rubbish. Discarded packaging and plastic disfigured the whole town. It seemed at once dirtier, messier and poorer than Laos.

It was a long bumpy dusty ride from Stung Treng to Ban Lung, the capital of Ratakaniri province. When we arrived we drove around town dropping off passengers. The process was infuriatingly slow. We stopped, the driver hopped out, walked around the van to open the door, the passenger would get out and try to find their luggage which would involve a few more people getting out. We'd load back up, the driver would shut the door, return to the front, drive 50m down the road and repeat the same process for the next passenger!

Ugly Stung Treng

Ugly Stung Treng

My main reason for coming to Ban Lung was to visit a nearby volcanic lake called Yeak Laom. The name Ban Lung actually means 'dusty', which was a fair description of the town. As my motorbike zoomed towards the lake the driver revved up huge clouds of red dust, I had to close my eyes, which given the quality of the road and the driving was probably wise. The lake was a relief from the oppressive heat. It was several kilometres around and apparently up to 50m deep. Certainly within a couple of steps of the shore the bottom fell away and you could feel the cool of the deep water.

Yeak Laom volcanic lake

Yeak Laom volcanic lake

I have a little list. All the places I want to visit. It's always the way though – just as I'm on a three month trip to tick off a few places I've been wanting to explore for ages, I discover about some new part of the world to which I suddenly want to travel.

That evening I chatted to a Dutch woman staying at my hotel.

"I spent five years in Africa... Uganda is lovely... you must go to Namibia... when I was in Sudan..."

Stop it! This stuff is like feeding drugs to a addict. Repeat after me. There are places I don't have to visit. I don't believe it. And the list grows longer.

No establishment in Cambodia appeared complete without two things

Kid selling drinks from a big orange crate

Kid selling drinks from a big orange crate

I didn't mean to go to Phnom Penh. I had been meaning to catch the bus only as far as Kratie for a spot of dolphin-watching. After the long bumpy ride from Ratakaniri, we approached Kratie and dropped off one passenger. I assumed we'd do a slow tour around Kratie in Ban Lung style, dropping off people one-by-one until we reached the bus station. Ten minutes later as we sped off into the countryside, I realised that no, that was it, that had been our single stop in Kratie and I'd missed it. Ah well. Only another five hours to Phnom Penh.

Read the next entry: Parks and prisons in Phnom Penh