Situated on the Sekong River, 140km north of Kratie and about 200km west of Banlung, the welcoming town of STUNG TRENG is a bit of a backwater. Hopes that it was going to attract tourists heading to Laos have been somewhat dashed as the town is now largely skipped by traffic heading for the border on the excellent National Route 7 which flies across the swanky bridge a kilometre east of town. The town’s only true sight is a rather mediocre temple, Prasat Preah Ko, but there are various attractions in the countryside around, and guesthouse owners can arrange visits to a silk-weaving centre, fruit orchards, lakes, waterfalls and boat trips to remote villages. One of the best outings is a Mekong trip to the Lao border, with the chance to do some dolphin-spotting and have a look at the waterfalls that make the river impassable here.
Smack in the centre of town, Stung Treng’s market features various products from Laos not available elsewhere in Cambodia, including textiles in plain colours with geometric borders, and wicker rice-steamers. A hardware stall along the main north–south alleyway stocks hand-rolled beeswax candles used for various religious ceremonies; resembling tapers, they’re sold by length. Sizes include “finger-tip to armpit”, “chin to belly button” and “circumference of the head”. As well as the usual gold, a couple of jewellery stands sell silver, some produced in Laos. These days the market spills into the surrounding streets; in the mornings the chunchiet women come to town, selling produce and whatever herbs or roots they’ve foraged from the countryside.
A statue of a pasay fish can be found in the patch of gardens on the riverfront, celebrating a prized delicacy which is caught locally in June and July near Stung Treng; although the statue is about the size of a whale, the real fish is quite modest, weighing 1–1.5kg. Strolling west along the river road brings you to some of the town’s oldest buildings, notably a bow-fronted Art Deco mansion next to the single-storey Ministry of Public Works and Transport (itself over 100 years old). Further on, petite Wat Pre Ang Tom is the most attractive of the town’s pagodas, reconstructed in 1992 after being destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. The huge bodhi tree in the corner of the courtyard shelters some local shrines. Beyond the wat, the road runs past village houses and gardens until it turns south to the dry-season dock on the Mekong, from where you can cut inland to return to town on the back road. Heading east, an agreeable improvement to the riverfront is the construction of a new promenade with its backdrop of the new bridge and a good view up-river. Keep going along here and you’ll end up at the town’s disused airport, where the local guys go to cruise on their motorbikes.