Ban Lung and Kratie

(Emily) What we really needed after our little adventure into the wilderness was a clean, friendly guesthouse with decent showers and good food but unfortunately, on arriving in Ban Lung, it soon became clear that the town was a bit of a sh*thole!! Never mind, never mind, we came to see the lake, remember, not the town. We went to the bank to finally get some local currency and while the boys were inside, I stood watching the bikes and was approached by a middle aged guy wielding business cards. ‘Looking for accommodation?’ he asked eagerly.  Somewhat guarded, I confirmed that we were and he proceeded to tell me about his newly opened hilltop hotel just five kilometres out of town. To be honest, it did look pretty tasty from the pictures. ‘But how much?’ I asked (it looked way out of our budget.) ‘Special offer – just $10 per bungalow.’ SOLD! It’s slightly more than we usually pay but much better than expected and hell, we deserved a little treat! Besides, we’d hardly spent a thing over the last 48 hours so it kind of evened out. It turned out to be one of my better decisions (perhaps redeeming my ill-fated ‘Let’s take this small road…’ of two days before); we followed the guy in his landrover out of town (no regrets there) and up into the hills to find said hotel which looked, to our relief, just like the picture on the business card (James: time and time again we’ve found that a photo is not necessarily a true guide to how a place will really look!). It was better, in fact! Gorgeous teak bungalows in perfectly manicured grounds, fresh white linen and beautiful views. A sign by reception indicated that prices were usually $35 (still a steal quite frankly) so we felt very pleased with ourselves.

Once we’d reappeared after a much needed shower (prompting the staff to do a double take – are they the same people who just turned up dirty and dishevelled on motorbikes?), we sat down to enjoy a long, cold beer in the glow of the evening sun. Already the last two days were a distant memory; did it really happen? (James: the aches, pains and general lack of energy were a decent reminder though!) Service at the hotel was super attentive and we took full advantage of the complimentary fresh roasted peanuts – we were the only guests and they seemed quite happy to keep refilling the bowl (James: this might sound like a minor and inconsequential detail to you but the nuts were the main subject of conversation that evening!). Despite having not eaten anything but a packet of biscuits since breakfast the previous day, peanuts were all we could manage at the moment – our bodies had moved beyond hunger! We decided that the warmth of the evening air, the setting sun and our elegant surroundings all combined to make this very much a Gin and tonic moment – amazing what you can convince yourself you ‘deserve’ after a few days of hardship (no wonder our friend Dean drinks so much beer – he’s constantly at the end of a long day off road!) But sadly, the plethora of spirits behind the bar did not include gin so we were denied (probably just as well – unlike the rooms, the drinks menu was not offering discount prices!) No matter, the beer was going down nicely!

Not long after a simple dinner of mixed fried rice, we retired early and were pretty much gone by the time our heads hit the pillow; aside from being woken in the early hours by the extra-ordinarily loud mating call of a large lizard who’d taken residence behind part of the wooden frame in our bungalow, it was one of the best night’s sleep we’d ever had. The next morning we took things easy but eventually rode down to the lake at Boeng Yeak Lom, the description of which – ‘a crystal clear, perfectly circular crater lake and the best natural swimming pool in Cambodia’ – is what had us coming way out east in the first place. James jokingly told me that it’d better be worth it after the palaver it took to get us here… and it’s a good thing he was joking (James: er, was I?!) because it really wasn’t!! Crystal clear? Was it b****cks! I mean, it was nice enough, and we had an enjoyable dip, but worth going 500km out of your way? Not so much! Still, we all agreed that we were glad we’d come out this way – it had certainly provided some great experiences and there was no doubt that we’d had a taste of rural Cambodia at its finest!

Two nights relaxing in the luxury of the hillside retreat did just the job after all the excitement of our little detour but now it was time to hit the road again. We knew that the route west from Ban Lung back to the main highway south was dirt track but the guys at the hotel assured us it was pretty good so we parted ways with Juan, who went off ahead planning to blitz it all the way to the capital Phnom Penn (500+km away) that day, and started on our way. Leaving the outskirts of Ban Lung, it was funny to see the tarmac end abruptly and the dirt begin – here we go! The road has been ‘under construction’ for the last three years but there certainly wasn’t much indication of any work going on along the way (I guess that’s why it’s taking so long…) However, despite the lack of paving, it was in essence a main road – wide and fast with plenty of trucks to kick up dust into our faces. We pootled along at about 70kph; we could have gone faster, and indeed Juan is an advocate of hurtling along at top speed on this sort of road as it’s actually more comfortable to fly over the bumps and stones, but occasionally there were patches of gravel hidden amid the general dirt so we wanted to give ourselves time to clock them and slow down (in fact, we heard from Juan later that he nearly had a serious accident when caught out by one). After 60km or so, about half way to the main road south, the road suddenly became much narrower and bumpier and we realised that no other vehicles had passed us for ten minutes or so. It was really strange – we were sure there hadn’t been any junctions or turnings but it really didn’t seem like the same road we’d been on all morning. We pulled over to consult the map but sure enough, this was the only road west. Eventually, a car came in the other direction and we waved them down to ask if this was still the way to Kratie and Stung Treng: affirmative. Oh well, we shrugged and set on our way again, wondering where on earth all the traffic had disappeared to. Bizarre!

It’s amazing how quickly you forget things– when we’d been struggling in the sand a few days before, we’d have given anything for this sort of road but now we were cursing every bump as the rutted track jarred our spines to pieces. There’s no pleasing some people! Not a moment too soon, we finally got to the junction where we turned south onto perfect tarmac – yes! From this point we made good progress and were in Kratie, a sleepy town by the Mekong and one of the possibilities for a night stop, by 2pm. We found a stall for lunch and a fruit shake (I may not have mentioned it before but Juan and I were literally obsessed by the yummy fruit shakes in Laos and Cambodia, carelessly disregarding the inevitable tummy troubles due to the unfiltered water!) and discussed our options. Kratie didn’t seem to have huge appeal so I was all for cracking on to Kompong Cham, the other potential night stop… until we looked at the map and saw it was still 250km away (as the crow flies it was a lot nearer but on closer inspection we saw that the road would take us on a much longer route). Sod that!! So it made sense to stop here despite the earliness of the hour, and anyway, I’d been having some problems with my bike – it was cutting out every time I came off the throttle to change down a gear – which we could do with sorting before heading off again (not to mention my bent handlebars!) We asked about rooms at the four or five hotels located handily across the street and settled on a $7 double.

Later that afternoon, we doing a bit of maintenance on the bikes – oiling chains, tightening bolts and addressing my stalling problem  – when another overlander rode in through the gates. Coolio! It was Masa, a Japanese guy on a very beat up and well worn Honda Africa Twin, who’s been on the road for three and half years and counting. (Funnily enough, it was the second Japanese overlander we’d met called Masa – the first being the round the world ‘walker’ we’d met way back in Montenegro.) He’s a lovely guy and while we were chatting to him, who should turn up but Juan!! Of course! We were a bit confused – hadn’t he left before us that morning with the intention of bombing it to Phnom Penn – but it turns out he’d he stopped for lunch in Kratie, got chatting to some fellow Spaniards and was still there three hours later! It’s fair to say that our four big, muddy motorbikes got more than a little attention lined up as they were along the front of the hotel! We’re always pleased to see Juan but it was particularly fortuitous this time as we could ask him about my engine problem (Juan’s a mechanic by trade and worked for Yamaha back in the day!) He suggested we start by looking at the air filter – perhaps with all the dust from the last couple of weeks, it was having difficulty getting enough air to the engine. It did indeed look a bit clogged up and Juan was horrified to discover that we’d only cleaned our filters three times before on the trip… apparently we should have been doing it every 5000km, oops! Luckily we had the right stuff to clean them with so we set to work, doing James’ too for good measure, and sure enough, the engine seemed to run a lot more steadily after that. Thanks, Juan! Masa, who designed engines for Honda, confessed that  he was even worse when it came to maintenance so that made us feel a bit better! (James: Juan, ever the mechanic, could only shake his head!)

Later on we found a bar selling cold beer (and G&Ts – it was run by an American ex-pat who was camp as Christmas! The on sale calendars of ‘Kratie’s Handsome River Men’ were somewhat disturbing!! ) and the four of us had a chilled evening talking bikes and swapping stories. The next morning we would do the remaining stint to the capital, Phnom Penh…

Latests pics.

6 Responses to “Ban Lung and Kratie”

  1. Lorna Souch says:

    wow! sounds like you deserved every second of luxury and sleep on those fresh white linen sheets. What an adventure. lots of love to you both. L,P, J and H xxxx

  2. Julian says:

    You’ve been busy with the blogs! Thanks! All very much appreciated. X

  3. Darren says:

    New sunglasses Jemble? Found some K&N air filters for your bikes if you want me to send them out. Only need cleaning every 50000km and gives u an extra 10bhp (so it says on the tin).

  4. Clive says:

    Hi guys,was put on to your blog by will and kate who you met in Thailand,as we are plannning a simaler trip but going the the opppisite way from oz the info has been great,are you coming to oz?

  5. Motoventurers says:

    Hi Clive,
    Good to hear from you. We’re just looking at flights to Melbourne now! Will be in touch when we know when we’re coming… where in Oz are you?
    Em and James.

  6. M&M says:

    Another great read thanks guys (Martha: my favourite bits are where you reach relative luxury and a cold beer after your latest trials and tribulations!) xxx ps Oz??? Really??!!

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