Eastern Cambodian Oases
My skin is red, not from sun, but from dirt. I’m riding through clouds of dust as motorbikes and the occasional truck passes me by, while kids wave to me from the side of the road. I’m on a mountain bike rented from my guesthouse and I’ve been told there are waterfalls around here. With my skin caked in red dirt and the sun beating down I’m having a hard time imagining that there is any water at all in eastern Cambodia.
What I come to realize is that there is water everywhere in eastern Cambodia. It’s just usually tucked away into a little oasis. I visit three waterfalls around Ban Lung, Ratanakiri Province, riding up and down dirt roads over rolling hills. My legs start to tire, not alleviated by the fact that pretty much everyone else has a motorbike – especially the few other tourists that I see. But I prefer it this way and stop for lunch in town before heading to the beautiful and perfectly comfortable Crater Lake. I leave my red-dyed shirt on the dock and jump into the most comfortable lake I’ve ever swum.
Down a similarly dusty and bumpy road to the south is Mondukliri Province and the only place resembling a city, Sen Monorom. I am seated in my normal spot in the back corner of the van on top of the wheel well. A few hours into the sweaty, cramped ride I realize that no one else in the van speaks a word of English. This doesn’t cause me any panic, though, because I know we’ll end up in Sen Monorom sooner or later.
I arrive in the central market area, am approached by the usual horde of anxious tuk-tuk and mototaxi drivers. I negotiate my fare and tell my destination to a guy nearby who appears to speak pretty good English. I’m driven into the hills to the wrong guesthouse. I stay the night there, anyway, having surrendered. At night I take a mototaxi into town for a beer and notice myriad stars shining overhead.
I move into a guesthouse in town and try to find a mountain bike to rent. The guy that has the mountain bike(s) is in Phnom Penh, so no luck for me. Not feeling like riding around on a moto to a bunch of waterfalls to then unceremoniously turn around and head back, I decide to just walk around to a few spots close by. I walk to the hill overlooking the “Forrest Sea” – a viewpoint where the swaying trees stretching to the horizon supposedly resemble an ocean of foliage. I walk up a big hill to the big Stupa in town to see an unremarkable view of the countryside.
After banana flower salad for lunch, I set out to walk to the Sen Monorom waterfall. On my way, two ten-year-olds riding a motorbike stop and ask if I want a ride. They motion for me to drive. I consider the hot sun overhead, and then politely decline, not wanting to be responsible driving around two strange children in a foreign place. It’s a nice gesture, at least.
The walk to the waterfall is lined by yellowing wild grass. Parts smoke and simmer, other parts ablaze. It is being burned to revitalize the soil. I stroll past charred earth and wild flames until I reach a subtly forested waterfall and a small lagoon.