Bordering Laos and Vietnam in the far northeast corner of Cambodia, the province of Rattanakiri used to abound in lush jungle. These days most of the region’s ancient forests have been systematically logged of their valuable hardwoods and replanted with cash-crop plantations, mainly rubber, cashew and cassava, although the vistas of misty mountains and gushing waterfalls remain, if nothing else. As befits a province whose name means “gemstone mountain”, traditional gem-mining also survives amid the hills, a difficult and dangerous activity, with miners dragging soil to the surface from deep holes where it is painstakingly sifted for the gems you see in every Cambodian market.
The town of Banlung, located pretty much in the centre of the province, is the region’s one and only tourist centre and the place to come to organize treks and tours into the surrounding countryside. Notable attractions include the magical lake of Yeak Laom, set in the crater of an extinct volcano just outside Banlung, along with a cluster of nearby waterfalls. North of Banlung, the small town of Voen Sai is the jumping-off point for visits to nearby Chinese, Lao and chunchiet villages and for treks into the vast Virachey National Park. South of Banlung, the surreal, bomb-scarred landscape at Lumphat offers another interestingly alternative sort of destination.