Arranging transport to Voen Sai
The small town of Voen Sai is our destination for today. Apparently, we can go by car. Nick, a travel writer for Lonely Planet, would like a hike; he wants to explore a piece of untouched nature near Siem Pang. As he speaks Khmer, he offers to negotiate for us on the boat trip to the Chunchiet graveyard we want to visit. The Chuenchiet are the predominant ethnic minority in Cambodia`s Ratanakiri province.
Return to Banlung as the car breaks down
After a 15-minute drive, the car breaks down; there is a problem with the gearbox, which means we can no longer climb any hills. The driver believes it is better to return to the hotel to replace the broken part. So we head back to Banlung, whether we will make another attempt later remains an open question. We wait on the terrace of the hotel. Half an hour later we can leave with a 4WD. The road is really bumpy and dusty, right that we didn`t decide to make the trip on a motorbike.
Boat trip on the Tonle Sap river
After a good hour of being shaken back and forth, we arrive in Voen Sai. The locals solely speak the Khmer language, so Nick stipulates a reasonable price for the boat trip to a few ethnic villages and the Chunchiet graveyard. My travel partner and I board a rickety boat with an outboard motor. The setting around the Tonle San river is gorgeous, a piece of unspoiled and tranquil nature.
A stop at some ethnic villages
After half an hour of sailing, we arrive at a Chinese village. At a first house, clearly different from the Khmer houses in the villages, because more decorated, we take a soda. Then we walk west to a Lao village. The inhabitants stare at us just as hard as the environment we are looking at ourselves. Our boatswain is waiting for us at the end of the village. We carefully step back in the boat. Because it is so narrow, you have to be very careful not to tilt too hard to one side or the other, it is a delicate balance. While boarding, I see a meter long snake splitting through the water.
A Chunchiet graveyard in the middle of the jungle
The trip to the village of the Chunchiet tribe takes another hour. We both suffer from our backs, there is little room to maneuver in the boat. Once arrived we are welcomed by the village headman. This ethnic community has an entirely different physiognomy than the Khmer people. The chief guides us to the Chunchiet graveyard of his ancestors. In the middle of the jungle, there are several fenced tombstones, with some utensils and a wooden sculpture of the deceased plus his wife. We can take photos, though we try not to exaggerate.
Paying for the visit to the Chunchiet graveyard
When we return to the village, things become a bit exciting. They ask 1$ per person for a visit to their Chunhiet graveyard, but our smallest note is one of 10$. The village head disappears into his home to return after about five minutes with the change, in Cambodian riel. We say goodbye with our hands folded in front of our chest. Just by using language and some friendly smiling, we managed not to upset them.
Watching the power of water at Cha Ong waterfall
We climb back in the boat, and half an hour later, we arrive in Voen Sai again. We pay the boatswain for his services and step back into the 4WD. As the driver does not speak English, we try to make it clear that we still want to visit the Cha Ong waterfall on the other side of Banlung. We arrive on the spot via yet another bumpy road. It is a reasonably wild waterfall; with a fall of about 15 meters, you can behold the incredible power of the water here. It is also possible to get behind the waterfall, which we are eager to do.
In search of another bar in Banlung
This completes our introduction to Ratanakiri. We return to the hotel. Nick appears to be back also. While we managed to reach the Chunchiet graveyard, He did not make it to Siem Pang, as the river was flooded. That is why he wants to share a taxi with us to Stung Treng tomorrow. When I ask Nick if there are any other bars in Banlung city, he answers there is a typical Khmer karaoke bar around the corner. We will check it out later this evening.
Putting ice cubes in our beer
Around half-past 10, we visit the karaoke bar around the corner. Outside there are several sitting booths with a table and chairs. The rooms on the ground floor are karaoke rooms, on the first floor you will find the massage rooms. When we sit down, immediately two girls bring a stack of cans of beer and an ice bucket. The beer is not chilled, so we feel compelled to follow the local custom by drinking beer with ice cubes. At first, I am opposed to the idea, but you get used to it rather quickly.