Our destination was Ban Lung in the province of Ratank Kiri. Our plan was to go jungle trekking for two nights, but I will admit here to being a bit of a coward and knowing that I couldn't go three full days without a cold shower. We downgraded to two days and one night and frankly, it was perfect. Our guides were two local boys (really, so young) and a member of the local hill tribe. Hill tribes is the generic term for the non-cambodian ethnic groups, other than the Chinese, Lao and other national minorities. They speak their own languages, are usually animists, traditionally live in isolated rural areas and are not part of the main stream economy or culture of Cambodia. There are a dozen or so different groups, and we think this one was the Kroeung (though not sure, as no one could clarify this point of data). Our hill tribe guide, Neng, was a fascinating individual. Tough as nails, served in the army for a dozen years, fought for and then fought against the Khmer Rouge, randomly climbed trees to get mangoes, cut vines for water survival-style, and could definitely out jungle trek all of us. Our two boy guides were sweet and fun, dressed in jeans and cool kicks (amazing considering the heat and the landscape) completely different from Neng.
We spent time in a couple of the villages where there is no electricity and no running water and lots of kids running around without much in the way of education or supervision. I'm sure some crunchy hippies would think this is wonderful, but mostly it's very sad. The poverty is pretty grinding out here and though everyone seemed healthy enough, with chickens, cows, water buffaloes and fruit trees, its a hard hard life. We hiked past the villages and into the jungle where the domesticated animals were replaced with a surplus of bugs. Bugs, bugs, bugs, leeches, weird bees, mosquitoes, and more bugs of some sort or another. We camped out by a waterfall that is more of a suggestion this time of year. Come back in 4 months and water would be pouring down the rock face and flooding the area where we slept, but now we only had a muddy little pool to try and clean our sweat off in.
I will forever have a memory of Camilla freaking out as our guide pulled a couple of aggressive leeches off her socks, and of a lovely boat ride up the river to the village.
After a night in faux-US army mosquitoes nets-cum-hammocks (maybe for an afternoon nap, but not comfy for a whole night) we hiked back to the river. The day finished up with a visit to Yeak Lom. It's a crater lake where the locals go for an afternoon dip. Surprising clean and trash free compared to the rest of the country (Cambodia suffers from then same disease all developing countries do - a mixture of poor or non existent trash collection system and a general lack of education about the issue). Splashed around with some kids and generally had a good time. Now we are home, showered and beer in hand.