Rattanakiri is situated on the north – east plateau (approx. altitude around 200-400 metres), 636 Km from Phnom Penh. It is bordering Vietnam on the east, Laos PDR on the North, Steung Treng province on the West and Mondulkiri on the South. There are two bigger rivers crossing the province ( Sre Pork and Sresan River ). The total area of Rattanakiri is about 10,782 square kilometres.
Rattanakiri is located in Cambodia’s far northeast bordered by Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east, Mondulkiri to the south, and Stung Treng to the west. This rural rugged province is a 70% ethnic minority, which are known as “Chunchiet”. Rattanakiri was as recently as 2002 seriously off the beaten track but has since been “discovered” step by step. Still, while you won’t get any bragging rights for coming here, it’s well worth the effort to do so, and once you get away from it’s capital Banlung you won’t run into too many other tourists. So Rattanakiri is still a remote province in Northeastern Cambodia worth to visit. The word “Rattanakiri” itself is a derivative of two Cambodian words, which are combined to mean “place of gems and mountains.” The word comes from the Sanskrit words Ratna (gem) and giri (mountain). It’s quite dusty capital, Banlung, is located in the central highlands of the province, approximately 365 miles (586 kilometres) from Phnom Penh and reminds one of a wild western city, even if it’s the wild east. Its wide red laterite roads are bordered by new, recently build houses replacing the older ones. The centre of the town features a lively marked with all the needful things.
Lomphat is a small town in the southern plains, which was once the former capital of Rattanakiri. There are a few other small towns like Ta Veng and Voen Sai. The province is getting more and more popular for thousands of tourist every year. Especially for those, who seek a close contact to originality, hidden roots of ethnic groups and abundant wildlife. Therefore the Ecotourism abounds, due to lush wildlife and remote tribal villages. Most of the inhabitants of Rattanakiri are indigenous minorities. Ethnic Cambodians make up only 10-20% of the country’s total population. Remnants of an ancient volcano exist near to Banlung in the form of a crystal-clear lake that was formed after the active volcano went dormant. There are also a few ancient lava fields that testify to the fact that the area was quite lively at one time. Beautiful waterfalls, clear rivers winding through stretches of jungle, and rolling hills that meet mountains near the Vietnamese and Lao border provide a full agenda for nature lovers.
Non-structured, low-impact, custom trips to outlying villages and natural areas can be organized (strictly by yourself or with help from a guesthouse). There is a few foreigners living in Banlung you’ll definitely meet while walking in the streets you can ask for actual tour offers, prices etc (change spontaneously). You will soon realize that this area hasn’t seen a lot of tourists in the past. If you will visit the hill tribe people in the further areas outside of Banlung, don’t be surprised if they look appalled at you. They just haven’t seen many, if any, foreigners.
Yeak Laom Volcano Lake
This beautiful place is not far from town and is great for a swim, picnic, or hike around the crater rim of the old volcano. Due to the lake’s tremendous depth of 48 meters, its water is exceptionally clean and crystal clear. The lake is almost perfectly round and measures around 750 meters in diameter. It has a small informative local museum thrown in to boot. In 1995 the governor of Rattanakiri officially set aside a 5,000-hectare (12,350-acre) protected area, of which the lake is a part, and in 1996 got help from the International Development and Research Centre of Canada and the United Nations Development Program to develop an effective resource management program. This area represents Cambodia’s finest attempt at preserving a site. Full-time rangers work to ensure the area is protected. They receive regular training and have put up signs throughout the area reminding people not too littler, wash clothes or toilet in the lake. That’s amazing for Cambodia. The main swimming and picnic area features a nice wood deck that’s great to use for a jump into the crystal clean water. Nearby, park rangers erected a couple of examples of hill tribe construction in the form of non politically correct bride and groom homes, where the man gets the elevated home (his status in the relationship) and the woman has the one nearer to the ground.
The original inhabitants of the area are the Khmer Leu hill tribe people, who have always recognized the lake as a sacred place, home to the spirits of the land, water, and forest. Here those spirits interact with humans and, according to the local legend of Yeak Laom Lake, fabulous, spiritual aquatic beings reside here. The surrounding forests of the area are also said to be the home of spirits and therefore can’t be cut. This helps to explain why the hill tribe people took so strongly to the idea of protecting the area.
It’s very easy to get there – just go east from the Independence Monument circle 3 km to the Hill Tribe Monument circle (two indigenous figures) and go right for about 1,5 km to the entrance gate. The local hill tribe community connected to the lake get to collect an entrance fee, giving them a source of income and revenue for protecting their resource. It’s US$1 per person and a few hundred riels for a motorcycle.
There are 8 different hill tribes ethnic groups in Rattanakiri. Most of them live in the deeper jungle, on the hills and covered mountains in small separated villages.
Usualy they make their living through traditional ways of cultivation ( shifting agriculture), hunting and collecting fruits from the forest is a must. These old cultures believe in spirits, derived from their animism beliefs. In the whole province there are 63,333 male and 64,774 female with a total of 128,107 inhabitants living. This is 11.8 inhabitans/km².
The vast majority of the indigenous peoples living in Rattanakiri are subsistence farmers, who are planting rice, corn, pumpkins etc. Some of them grow an additional catch crop such as peanuts or cashews.
There is quite a number of wealthy Cambodians and Vietnamese, who own large plantations surrounding the capital of Banlung. Most of them plant peanuts, coffee, or cashews. Additionally, Rattanakiri boasts hundreds of square miles of lucrative rubber plantations, of which rubber is mostly exported to neighbouring Vietnam. Due to the present reconstruction of the Cambodian National Highway 19, which runs through the center of the capital of Banlung, the area’s trade with Vietnam will soon rise.
Anyhow Rattanakiri is so sparsely populated that the Provincial capital does not have an adequate market compete to other provinces of Cambodia. But in mineral wealth alone, Rattanakiri boasts gold, gemstones, granite and onyx. Fertile red soil, water sources, wild animals and quality hardwoods abound and the weather and scenery are perennial assets.
Weather & Climate
Mondulkiri province has a climate like the other areas in the country, there are 3 seasons: 80 percent of the population in Mondulkiri is made up of ten tribal minorities, with the majority of them being the Chunchiet from the tribe of the Phnong. The remaining 20 percent are Khmer, Chinese and Muslim Cham. Most of the population lives off the land, planting rice, fruit trees and a variety of vegetables. Others grow, coffee, strawberries, rubber and cashew nuts.
Usually they make their living through traditional ways of cultivation (shifting agriculture), hunting and collecting fruits from the forest is a must. These old cultures believe in spirits, derived from their animism beliefs. The population density has a total of 44,913 inhabitants (22,890 male and 22,023 female). This is 3,14 inhabitants/sq km.