Ratanakiri Province, the rustic northeastern frontier area 300 mi/480 km northeast of Phnom Penh, is home to many of the country's ethnic minorities and is considered safer than most parts of northeastern Cambodia. Hill tribes, lush highlands and the Yeh Lom crater lake are the area's main attractions. The provincial capital of Ratanakiri is Banlung, a good base from which to explore the area.
The heavily jungled Virachey National Park, along the border with Laos and Vietnam, is a little more than 20 mi/32 km from the town and offers opportunities for trekking. It is possible to arrange treks to surrounding Khmer Loeu villages with a local guide. Khmer Loeu is a generic term referring to Cambodia's ethnic minorities. In Ratanakiri province, there are over a dozen distinct tribes including Lan, Prouv, Kachok and Charay. Most still practice slash-and-burn agriculture and wear traditional clothes. Members of hill tribes can often be seen trading goods in Banlung Market.
Other options in Banlung include elephant trekking to local waterfalls and villages, and a visit to a nearby gem mine at Bokeo, 20 mi/32 km from town.
It is worth visiting Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake. Located in a protected area, the 700,000-year-old crater lake is 2,625 ft/800 m in diameter and 154 ft/47 m deep. Visitors can swim in the lake or walk around it on a 1.5-mi/3-km hiking trail. A cultural and environmental center at the site features Khmer Loeu crafts.
The roads to Ratanakiri Province are generally terrible, so we recommend getting there by boat or plane. The province's airport is in the town of Ban Lung.
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