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Text and pictures by Bernhard Heiser

    Part 8:  Expedition Mondulkiri  -  Through the forest from Ban Lung to Sen Monorom by bike
Finally back in Cambodia again! This time I come from Laos, using the new but still inofficial crossing on the Mekong. After paying 5$ "tea money" to the smiling immigration officer, we can go on with the speedboat to Stung Treng. It takes about 1 hour for the 60 km trip. With high speed we do the slalom ride around all these trees in the river.

See the TRAVEL INFO page for border crossing details. My Laos travelogue will be online soon.

In Stung Treng I walk over to the new Komsombath hotel, they have good rooms with TV for $5. Near the market I have the Cambodian version of padthai. When I check the price for internet access, I stop to watch an english class in the same building. Of course I get invited to join and suddenly I find myself giving my first English lesson!

We have a lenghty discussion with the other pickup driver and the local policeman about which car has to be filled first. We decide to pay for the three missing passengers in the other pickup and leave Stung Treng. And here we are now traveling the dusty road to Ban Lung. The road is still terribly bad, we are glad to have a break after riding for 2 hrs.

In the little roadside restaurant we have some fruits. We reach Ban Lung after only 3,5 hrs after we left Stung Treng. As we already expected, the pickup stops at Mrs. Kim's Mountain Guesthouse. The place is full, so we are offerd to stay in her brandnew Tribal Hotel for the same price. This busy woman seems to own the whole city.... I spend the afternoon walking around in Banlung and in a nearby valley.
Ban Lung is much bigger than I expected. There is not only a big market (photo), but also some good restaurants, more hotels, two or three karaoke bars and numerous shops. I have a fruitshake in the "American Restaurant" and return to the hotel. I meet with Andre and Fabrice, who were on the same pickup with me, and we plan to make a motorbike trip to Sen Monorom. With the help of Mrs. Kim we can find some experienced drivers who did this jungle trip before and we decide to leave in two days.
Today Andre and I do the 5 km walk to the Yeak Loam craterlake. Crystal clear, blue water invites us for a swim in the middle of a dense forest. It's quite warm, so we spend a long time inside. We stay for more than 3 hours and have lunch at one of the small snack huts. Grilled little sausages, rice, salad, beer. What a perfect day. We walk back passing scenic rice paddies and meadows surrounded by small hills.

In the evening we buy food and water for our bike trip the next day. We have an excellent dinner in the Hotel Rattanak, I order Loc Lac and orange juice.

After breakfast the "Expedition Mondulkiri" is ready to start at 7 am. Today is Friday 13th of December, a good omen for our trip. At the market I buy one of these huge ricebags to wrap my big backpack. The whole thing is put between the legs of my driver, that is the big advantage of a small Honda Dream motorbike. The first 10 km we ride down the main street. We drive fast, it's very dusty from our bikes and the cars driving in front. Soon we reach the turning to Lumphat. Now there is less traffic but the road is still good. After one hour we reach the Tonle Srepok.
This is a good opportunity to have a break and wash all the dust off my face. We are really glad that we could organize this trip, because otherwise we would have to go back all the way to Stung Treng, down the Mekong and another long trip by road to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri province. At first I was a bit sceptical if I could do the trip with a big and a small backpack and two persons on a bike. But then I remembered the old rule: "In Cambodia EVERYTHING is possible" :) The expedition might be hard work, but it will save us at least one day. Equipped with hammocks, mosquito nets and some food we are prepared to spend one night in the jungle.

But now it is still early morning. To cross the river, the bikes are one by one loaded on a small boat. We have to be careful, as the way down to the river is quite slippery. Twenty minutes later we find ourselves on the other riverbank. We have to walk up, it's far to steep for the bikes with all the luggage.

The following part of the trip leads through beautiful forests. There are only narrow, sandy paths leading through high grass, that is shining bright green in the morning sun. From time to time we pass huge glades and small lakes. The crew of the first bike can really enjoy it, everyone else has to eat a lot of dust...

This part of Rattanakiri is not very densly populated, as we can't see any villages or even single huts. Only one motorbike comes our way during several hours.

There is no track anymore, have we lost it? However, we have to improvise a little. Here we pass burnt ricefields, civilisation cannot be far. In fact we soon reach a little village where we have a break and chat with a young woman who sits in front of her house with her baby. She seems to wonder where all these foeigners suddenly come from, as this is for sure not the beaten traveller path.
We have another short break to fix one of the bikes. It's getting hot and we always look for a place in the shade. Only two of our drivers have done this trip before, but not very often. It's a hard job for them and their motorbikes too. Usually they have to go back the next day without passengers.
During our ride we have to cross many small rivers and brooks. Usually we just drive through, but sometimes the engine gets too much water and stops.
One of our drivers remembered this famous shortcut across the ricefields. Unfortunatly he forgot to mention the small dams that delimit the fields. In fact they are a bit too high for the small bikes and we almost had a bad crash. The only way to do it was stopping each time and carrying the bike across. A perfect excercise just before we reach the next village where we plan to have lunch.
Finally we reach the little village of Kaoh Nhek. We manage to find something like a restaurant. Instantly we are surrounded by curious locals and many kids. Instant noodle soup, little snails, sticky rice and a sweet dessert made of small berries are on the menu. (Of course there's not really a menu...) I decide to have everything but the snails. I ask for some water to wash my hands and face, I feel terribly dusty.

We have now made almost half of the trip. In the next village we see an old Russian truck, fully loaded with people. We wonder if they come all the way from Sen Monorom. (Later we find out that it is impossible)

Before we can cross this river, we have to wait for one of the bikes that has a flat tyre. A really scenic place for a break and we even get a perfect entertainment. Another guy is showing a good stunt when trying to drive on the ferryboat across the small plank. The poor guy looses the balance and falls into the river with his bike. Our drivers do it more skillfully and soon we can go on after we have pulled the boat several times across the river.
The trail gets more and more difficult and we have to walk more often now. After the long time on the bike this can be very relaxing though. Some uphill parts are really like hell. In the late afternoon it starts to rain. Bridges like these are suddenly becoming a real danger and we almost lost one bike.

It is already dark now when we reach an islamic village. Here we have our last break, get some fuel and join the locals who are assembled in a huge house for a mystic karaoke party. Despite the dark and the wet road we dedide to go on, it's only 25 more kilometers to Sen Monorom. The "road" remains difficult and ve have to drive very carefully in the light of the bike headlights.

A last hill and we reach our destination, the Pech Kiri Guesthouse, at 8:30 pm. Wow, what a day! A 13 hours and 200 km ride through the jungle on a small motorbike. We are more than happy to be here. After a quick wash we all meet in the restaurant to have some great food and a couple of beers. Andre and I take a double room and soon we sleep like stones...

We spend one day in Sen Monorom sleeping, eating and walking to the Sihanouk Falls. Join us for the pickup trip to Phnom Penh on the next page.


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