mondulkiri to ratanakiri


Mar 29, 2004
Mondulkiri to Ratanakiri(Cambodia)

On 21-03-04 I did a 9 hour trip from Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri Province to Banlung in Ratanakiri Province along the old logging road and cow paths route via Kaoh Nhek and Lumphat.

This was part of a week long circuit beginning and ending in Sihanoukville and returning from Banlung via Stung Treng and Kratie.I was travelling alone on my Honda XR250cc dirtbike.Here’s a few details and suggestions about the Sen Monorom to Banlung road.

Distance is approx 190km.The first half to Kaoh Nhek is what you would expect from an abandoned logging road,ie,no maintenance done for quite some time.Lots of holes and ruts from previous rainy seasons,plus rocky areas where you pass through dry river beds,(dry this time of year).Just what you want if you enjoy dirtbike riding.

The second half between Kaoh Nhek and Lumphat includes approximately 50km of sandy cow paths.We’ve had several months of dry weather so this stretch is very churned up.This is slow going and not so much fun.I hit this stretch in the midday heat after already being on rough roads for 4 hours.

Near Lumphat,you cross the Tonle Srepok river on a small ferry(3 canoes lashed together with boards across the top).I paid 5000 riel for this crossing,probably too much.

After this,you are basically home free.It’s just 35km from Lumphat to Banlung on reasonably good dirt roads.

Be careful you don’t get lost.The cow paths between Kaoh Nhek and Lumphat have some forks and junctions where it is not clear which way to go.Some road maps of Cambodia show a beautiful straight road linking Sen Monorom to Banlung.This simply does not exist.Even the “Gecko”road map,(considered the best),does not show the correct route between Kaoh Nhek and Lumphat.

The best solution is to ask the locals and keep reconfirming the route as you go.

A good source of info is Mr.Long Vibol who runs Long Vibol Guest House in Sen Monorom tel 012944647.Vibol has done the route himself and gets feed back from moto drivers as well.He drew a rough map for me with village names written in English and Khmer script.He also included approximate distances.

Make sure you get the village name pronounciation correct as some people you ask en route may be illiterate.Also learn some simple Khmer phrases for asking directions.I found the villagers in the countryside to be friendly and helpful.They don’t put their hand out just for giving advice.However,offering some cigarettes or whatever would go down well when asking directions.

Be prepared for problems like getting stranded for a night or breaking down.

I took a hammock,mozy net,food/extra water for one night,spare tubes,tyre levers,pump,toolkit,clutch cable,chain joining link,first aid kit,flashlight and compass.Keep well hydrated and buy bottled water wherever possible to keep your supply topped up.Topup with fuel in Kaoh Nhek so you’ve got plenty in reserve if you take a wrong turn.

I went alone but I admit it would be best to travel with someone.Either way,minimize potential problems by being well prepared.It’s quite desolate out there and help is several hours away on bad roads if something goes wrong.Cellphones don’t work outside of the major towns.I gave Vibol a call when I reached Banlung to let him know I arrived safely and update him on the road conditions.

It’s a good idea to depart early morning from Sen Monorom and cover as much distance as possible while it’s relatively cool.

How long does it take??I took 9 hours travelling at a moderate pace with plenty of stops for water and lunch.
I heard of one guy doing it in 6 hours on a dirt bike,(pretty serious effort),but most people I talked to did the trip over 2 days with an overnight stop in Kaoh Nhek(only place en route with basic food and accommodation).

When to go??Definately the dry season.In the wet season the section between Sen Monorom and Kaoh Nhek would be very slippery and those rivers intersecting the road would be flowing.Perhaps earlier in the dry season(January),the sandy areas would not be so churned up.

How hard is it??Over one day it’s exhausting but doable if you’re reasonably fit.Halfway through the sandy stretch,I met a moto driver coming from Banlung.He was returning to Sen Monorom.The previous day,he and his mate took 2 fully loaded western backpackers from Sen Monorom to Banlung on the back of their 100cc Dailems.I salute them.

Whats to see??Not much if you do the trip in one day and you’re concentrating on the road.Much of the roadside forest is fairly thin due to the prior logging.Perhaps staying in Kaoh Nhek for a night or two would allow for some exploration away from the main route.I regard the route more of a challenge than a sightseeing trip.

Nevertheless,one is rewarded upon arrival in Banlung.The next day I visited the pristine Boeng Yeak Lom crater lake.It’s great for swimming and is surrounded by forest.A nice walking trail encircles the lake.
If you take the route in the opposite direction,you are equally rewarded in the Sen Monorom area.The impressive Boa Sraa waterfall is 37km out of town on a rough road.The water was still flowing in March and one can cool off in the rock pools below.

For pictures,go to: