Many who travel in Cambodia tend to skip out the north of the country. Which is a big shame because it’s so beautiful here! It’s completely different from anywhere else in the country, with lush sceneries and rolling mountains.
There are two major towns for those who want to venture north: Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri Province and Banlung in Ratanakiri Province.
Closer to Phenom Penh, the town of Sen Monorom is set between mountains. The terrain is breathtaking and the air is crisp – for once I’m not profusely sweating!
The main attraction here is hiking and visiting an elephant conservation. While I didn’t embark on either of those activities, I did get a motorbike and visited the many nearby waterfalls and lookout points.
Another two hours north of Sen Monorom is Banlung. The road between the two towns use to be a mission to get through. There were even off road dirt bike tours available for enthusiasts riders! But luckily for the rest of us a recently paved road made the journey completely painless and comfortable – just expensive ($10!).
The town and the landscape isn’t as nice as Sen Monorom, but Banlung is where you can visit the Virachey National park. The park itself is pretty much untouched. When you participate in overnight treks, you carry your own hammocks and pin them to suitable trees when it’s bedtime.
Be aware that there’s only one company authorized to bring hikers into Virachey National Park. All others only go to the community park around the national park. Many of the tour agencies actually promote they bring you to the Virachey National park, they just don’t specify that you don’t actually go into it.
I decided to only do a one day hike, as I was feeling sluggy and tired. On the day of my hike, I was driven to the edge of the community park and my guide and I started our 6 hour hike. It was nice to be away from the town and surrounded by trees, but the further in we went, the more burned down areas there were.
I think about 70% of my hike ended up being through areas that was once a forest. It’s sad and a complete shame they burn down their forests.
Many people I met who did the hikes really enjoyed it, but they did 3 days or 5 days hikes. So maybe a one-day hike isn’t the best option here…
Don’t forget to visit the Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake in Banlung. It’s 8000 riel to get in but a great place to swim the afternoon away.