Revisit Ratanakiri and beyond

As mentioned in my PS of a previous post, February would be our active month for Let’s Document Cambodia, conducting Docu-FilmCamp Ratanakiri. While you can browse some of our activity snapshots here, let us rather explore other parts of this Northeastern province.

  • Lumkot Lake

Of course, the most important site and lake in Banlung is Yeak Loam. Yet, very few people have gone the extra miles and gotten to Lumkot lake. On our camp’s eve, our trainers and I headed there for our curiosity. This pool comes in a relatively bigger size than Yeak Loam. Yet, it looks more pristine. However, bear with 45 minutes of commuting from town. After reaching that site, our border with Vietnam is 60 kilometers away!

Half-View of Lumkot Lake
  • Svay Hill

Late last year, I’d pass by the bus terminal in Banlung a couple of times. Then, I’d spot a colossal Buddha on top of a nearby hill. Little did I know I could ever get up there and enjoy the town overview. What great moments to enjoy both sunset and sunrise over that sacred hill! For the last several years, that unveiling spot has attracted more locals for their evening outing. (Oh yeah, no sign of food and beverage stores as yet!)

Sunset over Svay Hill
Sunrise over Banlung
  • Restaurants of Choice

Although trivial it may sound, I bet you can get stuck with it comes to places to eat in Banlung. So I’d recommend to you these restaurants for your basic and affordable appetite. We’d enjoy our breakfast at Tanam’s, right in the town hub. Chakriya’s is chosen for our regular lunch, due to its proximity to our training venue. Every evening, we would opt for either Chantrea or Chey Chumneah. The former feels, though, mainstream for both local and international tourists.

Collective Dinner at Chey Chumneah
  • Cafe for a Cause: RNN

If there is a place in Ratanakiri I could call “home”, that would be “RNN“. From the onset, I thought that our local ally, Pisey “privately” owned that cafe. Of course, he works at Save Vulnerable Cambodia after settling down in Banlung for a dozen of years. Only during our camp did I realize the cafe has been financed by Ratanakiri NGOs Network (RNN). This social enterprise also serves as a co-working space for those NGO members and other “social” workers! For ten days in a row, we were blessed to make the most use of that instrumental space 🙂

Outdoor space as RNN Cafe
Inner Room as RNN’s Co-Working Space and Event Venue

Hey, are you expecting more from Ratanakiri? So I am. Then, schedule another visit and, I suggest, roam around this province as close to Nature as its neighbors: Mondulkiri, Stung Treng, Kratie. And my next destination up there is Virak Chey National Park. So stay tuned until that next long-anticipated voyage!

PS: As usual, here’s my bonus clip from my last “camp” to Banlung!

A Resilient Family Trip From Northwest to Northeast of Cambodia

Due to our current lockdown, our family trip for important holidays such as Pchum Ben turned inbound! This year, we roamed Northwest to Northeast of Cambodia, covering Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri. Although this itinerary felt personally familiar with me, revisiting these four charming provinces with family felt like a total package!

1- Preah Vihear

The province is named after its temple complex, known for its bordering disputes. The ruins sit on a steep hill overviewing inland Cambodia. Before getting there, we dropped by Koh Ker, marked with its own historic uniqueness and architectural style. On a professional level, the two last times I visited this latter temple complex were dedicated to producing our documentary called “Koh Ker the Lost Wonder” in 2014. Recently, Ahkara was lucky enough to have translated the book on the same complex. Between these two sites, we stopped by a new site called Poeung Preah Koh, thanks to its outstanding huge rock on land!

Full House in Preah Vihear Temple

2- Stung Treng

We would rather consider this province our transit if it was not for Sopheakmith waterfall or Lbak Khaon. This natural site boasts its ceaseless water flow, especially in the rainy season. In contrast, the dry reason will reveal more rocks blocking this waterway. I still felt mixed on the way from Preah Vihear to Stung Treng. On one hand, I doubted the unusual silence for over 100 kilometers of a road paved with jungles on either side. On the other, we could spot some wild animals like monkeys or birds from time to time.

Squeezed Shot at Sopheak Mitt Waterfall, Stung Treng

3- Rattanakiri

I didn’t expect us to stay in such a delicate place as Ratankiri Boutique Hotel. Yet, our swimming experience at night was all the fun we could make out of our stay there. Of course, the following day, we followed a familiar itinerary like Kachanh waterfall and Yak Loam lake. The lengthy rains of our late monsoon didn’t keep us, though, all sane from breakfast till we left this indigenous province.

3/4 Family Shot at Yak Loam Lake, Rattankiri

4- Mondulkiri

There was where I found the lodging contrast of a guesthouse labelled as a (three-starred?) hotel! Anyway, all the landscapes we visited in this cool land memorized us all along. Once there, keep in mind: Dos Kramom hill, Bou Sra waterfall, Coffee Plantation Resort. This time, I got to see a second Sea Forest less eye-catchy, yet more organized, on Bai Chhao hill. Also, the zig-zag to a grassland hill, named Anlong Snae, felt fresh to me/us.

Anlong Snae, from a Hill Top, Mondulkiri

To wrap up this journey, despite its intensity, we all learned to love each other’s company better. Although this may be our first time to travel with a local agency for an indoor tour, we were pleased to support this threatened industry, once reliant on international tourists. Come what may, life goes on, with more heart-warming trips ahead!

Koh Ach Seh – Cambodian Worthy Aquatic Paradise

As part of a joint project about environment conservation, I didn’t plan to visit Koh Ach Seh (កោះអាចម៍សេះ) at all. But GEM needed at least a SFA member to complete this first mission of our Green Tale about seahorses, funded by Korea SHE Foundation. So I offered to go on this journey of 3 nights and 4 days on that remote island in Kep province. The timing fell nicely as we, at Ahkara, wrote about Koh Ach Seh before for ZillionHome. After our discovery, below were my takeaways, probably for your additional insight about this isle and tips about aquatic challenges.

1- No Plan is Sometimes the Best Plan!

This is the best part of this unexpected trip. I was asked to replace our absent member a few days ahead of the departure. As I had only heard about that isle, I offered to come along, counting it as another “fun” journey. To get there, you need to leave Kep pier for Rabbit Island. But past that famous island, head straight further for another half an hour. We were then driven by Cambodian staff of Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC). Yet, little did I expect an expat to welcome me ashore! That man is named “Amick Haissoune”, Project Coordinator of MCC, coaching us virtually about everything on and around Koh Ach Seh.

Approaching Koh Ach Seh for the first time ever!

2- Global Problems Need Holistic Solutions.

We all may be aware of environmental issues at one point of our lives. But only when I learned about MCC’s “invention” did I realize this could be the best solutions for all stakeholders of this global issue. The block is called “CANTS” as overfishing “can’t” happen, due to that protective gear! It looks so simple yet effective to stop fisherman from exploiting young sea lives. Eventually, the surrounding bay has become home to their growth, especially around those blocks. MCC has strategically installed and expanded these blocks around the isle for several years. Once those creatures grow up, they will swim away, as the catches by our (regular) fishermen. This way, all lives could sustain themselves around that conversation zone.

Hearing out Amick sharing his conservation efforts and experience in our Cambodian sea

3- You Can Tame Fear with Practices.

After browsing Thary’s agenda, I asked him if we were to dive, even we cannot swim. His usual response was, “Let’s see how first, bro!”. So on Day 2, we were taught how to snorkel, especially breathing from our mouths! Then, after some practices and a little courage, I made it anyway. Then, came another tougher challenge on Day 3, when we had to dive in the shallow. Well, imagine yourself wearing a 50-kg oxygen tube and mouthwatering just to stay afloat without sinking! After all, both experiences was so much fun for me. Basically, I just “floated” (not yet swam), in the shallow water back and forth. Yet, the biggest event was for me to deep-dive under the base of our engine boat! I was immediately aware that I was not ready for this depth. So I went up hastily, to Amick’s shock!

Diving – again – for the first time with my coach, Amick!

4- Conservation Contributes to Growth.

As mentioned earlier in my takeaway number 2, once a tool is invented for holistic solutions, conservation makes more sense to our living. From MCC’s work, I learned healthy preservation develops stakeholders, instead of polarizing them with different agenda. I’m not sure what larger organizations approach such global issues. Yet, I feel smaller entities tend to know what is the best for their communities. Rather than being told what to do, conservation should integrate both victims and perpetrators for common, yet balanced interests. As Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for human needs, but not enough for human greed.”

5- Passion Keeps You Tireless about Your Cause.

The first expat eco-warriors I know of before this trip, was the Belgian couple who co-founded “Osmose“. This organization was founded to protect Tonle Sap Great Lake, likewise from overfishing and preserve water bird species. British Paul Fauber co-founded MCC, with Amick simply for his passion to save our ocean. By “our”, I could feel the sense of belonging in them, as “global citizens”, not just Cambodians. Thus, only if we appropriate these matters in some way, we could be surely part of the solutions. Hence, we hope our Green Tale on seahorses could raise or promote awareness of the importance of sea lives (including animals and plants).

Leaving the isle behind those blocks to build our CANTS against overfishing!

In short, Koh Ach Seh is worth visiting with care and causes. You would find the isle basic in infrastructure, yet high in hope for the future of Cambodian marine lives. Surprisingly, seagrass and corals produce up to 90% of CO2 on our Planet. I’ll leave this data to your ecological, yet corporate minds to figure out some trade-off!

PS: As usual, below is a bonus clip of the Sunset in time lapses, from Koh Ach Seh, facing Koh Angkrong.