A local Cambodian family to the rescue

Trip Start Aug 14, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Mean Heng Guesthouse
What I did
Crater Lake

Flag of Cambodia  , Ratanakiri,
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We turned up in the evening after what seemed like a long bus ride.  Once off the bus, we decided to get a lift on the back of two bikes. They were taking us to what sounded like a nice hotel, with all the amenities that we required, and all for $5. Once at the hotel it turned out that all their rooms were $8 with single beds.  We asked the bike riders about the price increase and we were then told that they knew of a hotel for $5 (not necessarily this one!) - our first experience of trying to be conned by a Cambodian! We decided to let them take us to it, but it was a dive and there was a massive insect on one of the curtains - Kate's main reason for refusing to stay there! We left the bikers and decided to find a place ourselves. A young Cambodian girl called Noun accosted us on the main street; she said that she knew of a couple of places. Two more bikes turned up to take us there, the first was $20 - a big no no - and the second was probably a twenty minute walk from town! They took us back to town and we eventually found a really nice place for $8.  Apparently, as it was the annual 4 day long Water Festival, room prices had increased and lots of places were full!

The next morning during breakfast, the girl called Noun from the previous evening managed to find us. She was trying to sell us a tour and she gave us her spiel on the local attractions. Seeing as she was a nice girl and had helped us find a place the night before, we wanted to book something through here. After brekkie (where we found porridge of all things!) we hired two bikes from her and headed off to the nearby (10km) waterfall. We had heard of the red dust of Ratakaniri (Ban Lung is in the the province of Ratakaniri) and once we turned off the main road we could see it for ourselves. This was probably the dustiest road we had ever been on.  We had to stop after a couple of minutes of cycling so we could buy surgical face masks (a very common accessory in all of SE Asia)! The waterfall was a big disappointment in comparison to what we had seen in Laos, so much so that we didn't even take a picture and we left after five minutes. We headed to the crater lake in sweaty, dusty clothes which was 15km in the opposite direction!! This was a far better attraction than the waterfall. The lake was huge and the water was warm. We had a little dip to wash off the dust before walking around a part of the lake. Whilst here, we had realised that we had both got really sunburnt! The sun cream that we had bought in Vietnam was obviously not legit - not impressed! The day had been been a bit of a let down and we were both questioning why we had even come to Ban Lung.

In the evening the girl, Noun, who we had booked a tour through met us at our hotel to show us the lake in town. We arranged to book a trip for the next day, which involved us going with her to two local indigenous villages and to a nice secluded hill side to watch the sunset. After the business was taken care of, she invited us to dinner with her family.  This was very unexpected, but we couldn't refuse such a generous offer.  She lived with her fiance's family (engaged young at only 22yrs old) which consisted of nine people in the bungalow style house, and when the older brother came to stay, he would sleep in the hammock outside.  Both her and her fiance's parents had sadly passed away and it was his aunt and uncle's house.  We enjoyed traditional Khmer dishes on their wooden platform, which is their table, as well as homemade green tea.  
After this, the four of us and her fiance's younger sisters and brothers headed to the lake as planned.  It is tradition to set off lighted homemade paper boats on the lake for good luck so we bought them a boat to wish them luck with their wedding. Next, we went to the funfair.  It was a very local event with no tourists and everyone was having fun.  The little brother went on the inflatable and then Noun's 14yr old sister wanted to go on the ferris wheel so Shane and I paid for the four of us to go on it (not sure what the safety regs were, but we got off safely)!  We ended the evening by buying sweet potato cakes before heading back to our guesthouse feeling very privileged to have had such an experience most tourists never have.

The next day we had a relaxing morning then Shane went with Noun's husband to get his hair cut for 60p - bargain!  Meanwhile, I was bought a coconut ice lolly and complimented on my fair skin by our guesthouse owner (everyone in Asia wants fair skin)!  Soon after, Noun and her older 'brother' Mr Free (not related, but he had helped her train as a guide) came and picked us up on their mopeds.  We went to three indigenous villages, which are being supported by NGOs.  In one village an elaborate bamboo shower system meant the villagers could wash themselves and their bikes using free flowing clean water. 

The women made a living by making kramas (scarfs).  I bought one for a few dollars and it was nice meeting the person who actually made your clothing!  In another village we gave out toothbrushes (free ones that we collect from guesthouses) to the older children as recommended by other travellers and they were very appreciative.
On the roadside, Noun stopped at some guys selling honeycomb.  They can get $20 for one litre of honey, but they were actually selling bee larvae - Shane ate two; needless to say I did not!

That evening we took Noun and her husband-to-be out for dinner to say thank you for being such wonderful hosts and looking after us during our stay. 

We got up early the next day to catch a 6.30am bus to Kampong Cham, but decided to stay on the bus to Siem Reap rather than spreading the travel over two days.  13hours later we got to Siem Reap!
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