Affectionately known as dey krahorm ('red earth') after its rust-coloured affliction, Ban Lung provides a popular base for a range of Ratanakiri romps. The town itself is busy and lacks the backwater charm of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri, but with attractions such as Boeng Yeak Lom just a short hop away, there is little room for complaint.
Preah Vihear Province
Vast, remote and hardly touched by tourism, Preah Vihear Province (ខេត្តព្រះវិហារ) is home to three of Cambodia's most impressive Angkorian legacies. Stunningly perched on a promontory high in the Dangrek Mountains, Prasat Preah Vihear became Cambodia's second Unesco World Heritage site in 2008, sparking an armed stand-off with Thailand.
Founded as a seaside retreat for the French elite in 1908 and a favoured haunt of Cambodian high-rollers during the 1960s, today tourists are being drawn back to Kep (Krong Kep, also spelled Kaeb). Some travellers find Kep a tad soulless because it lacks a centre. Others are oddly charmed by its torpid pace.
Koh Kong Conservation Corridor
Stretching along both sides of NH48 from Koh Kong to the Gulf of Kompong Som (the bay northwest of Sihanoukville), the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor encompasses many of Cambodia’s most outstanding natural sites, including the southern reaches of the fabled Cardamom Mountains, an area of breathtaking beauty and astonishing biodiversity.
Pursat Province (ខេត្តពោធិ៍សាត់), Cambodia’s fourth-largest, stretches from the remote forests of Phnom Samkos, on the Thai border, eastwards to the fishing villages and marshes of Tonlé Sap lake. Famed for its oranges, it encompasses the northern reaches of the Cardamom Mountains, linked with the town of Pursat by disreputable roads.
While nothing much may be happening in the sleepy centre of Kompong Chhnang (Clay Pot Port), the bustling dock on the Tonlé Sap River is the jumping-off point for serene boat rides to two floating villages. Skimming through the watery streets in a tiny wooden paddle-boat as the late afternoon sun sends a shimmer over the river is a gorgeous way to end a day.
Stung Treng Province
Stung Treng Province (ខេត្តស្ទឹងត្រែង) is a transit point between the popular destinations of Ratanakiri Province and Kratie Province. A new bridge over the Mekong in Stung Treng is part of the new highway running west to Preah Vihear City, cutting about four hours off the journey from Champasak (Southern Laos) to Siem Reap, a key route on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail.
Often referred to as ‘the cradle of Cambodian civilisation’, Takeo Province (ខេត្តតាកែវ) was part of what Chinese annals called ‘water Chenla’, no doubt a reference to the extensive annual floods that still blanket much of the area. Today, this impoverished rural province is a backwater that sees few tourists.