We left Siem Reap at 0800 via Asia Van Transfer minivan to Ban Long which cost $29 each for the entire Siem Reap-Ban Lung trip. It took 4.5 hours to cover the 300 km distance to Stung Treng, which was a stop along the way. The road was in good shape, but at times we were traveling at 100 km/hr (max speed limit was 60 km/hr). It seemed dangerous since we had no seat belts and many near misses on the way, but nothing out of the ordinary by standards in most of our southeast Asia travels. We recommend that fellow travelers consider taking the slower, and bigger, bus.
We noticed that harvested rice fields along virtually the entire route were burned, thus explaining the poor air quality we experienced the whole time we were in Siem Reap.
We left Stung Treng at 1 pm for Ban Lung after transferring to another minivan. We were treated to loud Cambodian techno-pop music throughout; even with earplugs it was an unpleasant experience. The driver also seemed quite fond of the sound of his horn! We arrived at a lovely place called Tree Top Ecolodge at 3pm. We paid only $20 per night but no breakfast was included.
We had a few unwelcome guests in the bathroom in the evenings such as mice and a toad that blended perfectly with the wall. We have memories of Pete listening to his Quicksilver album while trying to chase the two mice out of the room while saying “ya mule”! We reasoned that those animals lived there and we were the guests. The setting was beautiful and quiet at night except for the loud music from a nearby Wat until about 9 PM. The room reminded us of a Swiss Family Robinson type wood/grass hut. It did have hot water, a fan, mosquito nets, hammocks, and a very nice restaurant. Temperatures were comfortably cool at night due to it being at an elevation of about 1,000 ft.
The area around Ban Lung has been heavily deforested; huge rubber plantations now dominate the surrounding countryside. Some of the old growth that is left gets smuggled out of the country to nearby Vietnam. It appears that there is some money to be made here, as we saw a few Lexus SUVs running around town, but not nearly the number we saw in Siem Reap.
While in Ban Lung we saw two waterfalls and Crater Lake. Crater Lake is a beautiful place that holds spiritual significance for the local native people. It was explained to us by our guide that the lake will be owned by native people until 2021. As a result, the old growth trees have been left intact along with the animals. It is clearly an oasis among the heavily deforested land surrounding it. There was opportunity for swimming in the pristine water, hammocks, and a 1.5 km trail around it. Denise swam for an hour and walked the trail. She saw monkeys and soon after entering the forest a man appeared from nowhere wearing a loin cloth and carrying a home-made bamboo bow and arrow. It seemed to be surreal and it happened so fast that she was unsure at first that she had seen it.