A Mining Town

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Lakeside Chheng Lok Hotel Banlung
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Yeak Lom Lake

Flag of Cambodia  , Khêtt Rôtânôkiri,
Friday, June 22, 2012

Was Banlung worth the long journey? Pick up from Don Khone by long tail over to the mainland. There we sat long enough for the competing agencies to persuade passengers to let them organize a Cambodian visa for a small fee. Next we boarded a nice VIP bus headed for the border, but after only a half hour we were asked to unload and switch to another bus. We stayed on this bus for a mere half hour until reaching the border. Those of us, who hadn’t paid one of the agencies to process the visa, were forced to queue up and go through the charades of “unofficial” payments. The best was the required $1 quarantine fee aka Cambodian health insurance. If you didn’t agree to that or the mandatory corrupt extra $5 fee tagged on by the guards, there was no getting a stamp in the passport.

 But that wasn’t the worst of it. After driving another hour we got dropped off at a random restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We were told that someone would be by in a half hour to take us to our final destination, Banlung. Well, needless to say that half hour turned into five hours. It would have been par for the course if they had just been honest and told us up front that there would be this five hour layover. Clearly this is a daily occurrence since there is only one bus that comes from Phnom Penh at the same time every day, so why pretend that today the bus is “late?” The highlight was trying to figure out how to pay for things using both KIP and USD.

Banlung is predominantly a gem mining town which explains the abundance of high end SUVs driving around town. I got more of the inside scoop on just how lucrative this business can be after hanging out with a few Australian businessmen, one whose family owns mines in Australia. Over the years this one guy in particular, Ian has partnered with a couple of the local guides in search of valuable stones. It was interesting to see the dynamics of their relationship; especially Ian’s patient approached in response to one of his Khmer contacts acting out of greed. It was obvious that his other contact remained loyal and trustworthy. On the heels of a broken marriage and a glum health diagnosis, Greg the uncle and his nephew, Brian are on more of a philanthropic mission. That’s how I met them actually, with a near empty bottle of Jack Daniels between them; they were reminiscing about their good deed and trying to decide who to help next. So far they had purchased a new motorbike for their “driver,” one sturdy enough to pull the weight of a tuk tuk, opening new opportunities to earn money. Unfortunately karma wasn’t on Greg’s side this month and the booze certainly didn’t help ether. During the three weeks since I met them, it seems Greg had fallen on multiple occasions, resulting in a broken rib and other wounds, he crashed the new motorcycle they came to Banlung to buy for their Asia tour and had already returned back to Australia twice for funerals: his sister in law and his mother. I truly hope his luck turns around and he finds a reason to put down the bottle.

When I wasn’t hanging out with the Aussies I did manage to do a little sightseeing. I visited the beautiful, 700,000 year old volcanic crater, Yeak Laom Lake and a couple of waterfalls. If I had the proper gear and it wasn’t rainy season I might have explored more of the Ratanakiri region, particularly Virachey National Park for its awesome jungle trekking.
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