As a large DMC, we remain firmly committed to our roots and always go back to utilising the expert knowledge of our in-country product teams. We observe a philosophy of bespoke, innovative travel and our local teams are often looking to create new and exciting itineraries that bring your clients authentic ways of travelling Asia.
Join EXO Cambodia’s Product Manager, Trevor Ranges as he uncovers this exciting new Eastern Cambodia Explorer that covers all grounds from natural and cultural experiences, giving-back to the local communities and adrenaline-pumping adventure!
Day 1: Phnom Penh
Beginning and ending in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s charming capital city, this nine-night, ten-day exploration offers the best natural, cultural, and historical attractions of Cambodia’s eastern provinces. Thanks to new roads connecting once-isolated provinces, the Eastern Cambodia Explorer offers exciting and exotic off-the-beaten path experiences heretofore unavailable to all but the most intrepid travelers.
Day 2: Mondulkiri
The first destination on the journey is Cambodia’s least densely populated province, Mondulkiri, which is predominantly populated by ethnic minority tribes. Along the way, stop to break up the ride with visits at a roadside rest area famous for serving stir-fried spiders and an impressive but infrequently visited Angkor-era ruin. Spend the night in one of several charming local hotels, each of which offers distinctly Mondulkiri lodging, either set amidst natural surroundings (Mayura Hill Resort and Nature Lodge) or providing lodging within traditional, tribal-style bungalows (Indigenous People’s Resort).
Day 3: Mondulkiri – Elephant Valley Project
Rise early to spend the first full day in Mondulkiri at the Elephant Valley Project (EVP), a 16,000-hectare reserve that serves as an elephant sanctuary, hiking into the forest to spend time with formerly-captive elephants relearning to live in the wild. Experiencing a morning amidst these peaceful creatures in their native habitat is a magical and memorable experience. In the afternoon, opt to either volunteer on upkeep at EVP or spend additional time amongst the elephants: get a chance to visit a different area of the reserve to get to know a different group of elephants, each of whom have their own backstory and their own distinctive personality.
Day 4: Bousra Ecopark
The following day, visit the Bousra Ecopark, which features Cambodia’s largest waterfall. After a safety briefing from experienced local guides, cross a wooden bridge to the far side of the uppermost falls to begin a zipline adventure. Following a route of progressively higher ziplines, sail through the forest from platform to platform until one arrives at the forest at the edge of the lower falls. Clip in, hang on to the camera, and fly across and above Bousra Falls, a one-kilometer-long zipline that passes 100m above the lowermost pools! After catching your breath, join a local Bunong guide for a 30 minute trek through the forest to the base of the falls over which you just passed. Along the way, learn about the different plants that native people use for various aspects of life.
On the way back to town, stop at an overlook nicknamed the “sea forest” because of the expanse of tropical jungle that is visible from the breezy viewpoint: while logging has cleared much of these parts of Cambodia, it’s a sight to behold such an expanse of dense tropical forest. Much of the forest that has been cleared has been done so to convert to crops that grow exclusively in Mondulkiri’s cooler climate: passion fruit, cashews, and coffee. Enjoy lunch at The Coffee Plantation, which allows visitors to walk through the groves and learn about coffee cultivation. Don’t forget to pick up some roasted beans before heading back to Sen Monorom town.
Day 5 & 6
Ratanakiri – Reclining Buddha, waterfalls, Yeak Laom Lake, homestays, visits to tribal villages
Depart early on day five for the drive to Banlung, the capital of Ratanakiri province. The 180 km route was once known as “the death highway” both because it was heavily bombed by American B52s during the Vietnam War and because it was once a multi-day slog of potholes and treacherous river crossings. The recently-built road is now arguably the finest in Cambodia and the drive only takes less than three hours!
Upon arrival in Banlung, visit Eisan Reclining Buddha Pagoda, which offers panoramic views of the rapidly-growing provincial capital. After dropping your bags at the hotel, grab your swimsuits and head out to several nearby waterfalls, including Cha Ong, Katieng, and Kachanh, each of which are distinctly appealing, featuring traditional tribal houses and shrines to animist spirits in addition to cascading falls.
That afternoon, head out to Banlung’s star attraction: Yeak Laom, an almost perfectly circular lake in the middle of the forest that was created by a volcanic eruption around 700,000 years ago. Take a walk around the lake, stopping at wooden decks along the waterfront to swim and relax with local visitors. Enjoy the fresh, clear waters from one of the decks or while reclining in a hammock, or take a forest walk around the lake: a 2.5km journey that offers areas to swim along the way.
Like Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri is largely populated by non-Khmer ethnic groups. Consequently, Banlung is an ideal launching point to explore the rural tribal communities that live in the Ratanakiri countryside. Depending on the season and the road conditions (these provinces have some incredibly muddy roads!), visit one or more tribal villages where ethnic minorities live largely traditional lifestyles as they have for thousands of years and witness life as it has been lived for generations, including stilted houses built for wedding ceremonies and cemeteries featuring colorful and exotic decoration.
Either by car, boat, or a combination of transportation methods, travel to a Tampoun or Kroeung village, stopping along the way to visit natural attractions including waterfalls, forests, caves, and millenia-old lava fields.
Lodging in Ratanakiri is similar to offerings in Mondulkiri, including the rustic comfort once provided to colonial-era explorers at Terres Rouges Lodge and the natural atmosphere of living within the forest at Treetops Ecolodge, both located on the fringe of a rapidly modernizing provincial capital.
Day 7 & 8: Kratie
Departing the remote, tribal provinces, follow the Mekong River south from near the Laos border, stopping on the way from Banlung to Kratie at Wat Sorsor Mouy Roy, the ‘100 Pillars Pagoda’, an important historical and cultural building, and the adjacent Turtle Conservation Center, where they’re working to protect the world’s rarest and largest freshwater turtles. In Kratie, have an opportunity to cruise on the Mekong River in order to catch a sighting of the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy Dolphin.
In the charming riverside town of Kratie, either spend the night at the charming guesthouse run by Le Tonlé Tourism Training Center, a social enterprise that trains local youth in the principles of hospitality (where you will also enjoy lunch the first day), or on Koh Trong Island, in the rustic but comfortable Rajabori Villas. Either way, get to explore the island by bicycle, experiencing typical Cambodian village life, where people’s livelihood largely depends on rice farming and fruit cultivation (Koh Trong is famous for its pomelo: a citrus fruit akin to a grapefruit). Highlights on the island tour include a local Buddhist pagoda and a tree-planting project initiated by a local farmer where you can plant your own tree.
Day 9 & 10: Kratie – Phnom Penh departure
Finally, on your journey back to the capital city of Phnom Penh, stop briefly at Wat Rokakandal, a beautiful temple from the early 19th century; the charming riverside town of Chhlong, where you will enjoy lunch a renovated French-colonial mansion; and Wat Moha Leap, one of only a handful of wooden temples that escaped destruction by the Khmer Rouge. End the journey with an night back in Phnom Penh to enjoy a night on the city at leisure and reflect on an amazing adventure in Eastern Cambodia.
Trevor Ranges has lived, worked, and studied in Southeast Asia for nearly two decades. He is the author of the National Geographic Traveler: Cambodia guidebook and co-host of Talk Travel Asia podcast. As EXO Cambodia’s product manager, Trevor is passionate about protecting the environment, including reducing plastic waste.