Ratanakiri is sparsely populated; its 150,000 residents make up just over 1% of the country's total population. Residents generally live in villages of 100 to 300 people. Ratanakiri is among the least developed provinces of Cambodia. Its infrastructure is poor, and the local government is weak. The vast majority of Ratanakiri's population engages in subsistence agriculture. Health indicators in Ratanakiri are extremely poor, with nearly one in four children dying before age five. Education levels are also low; three quarters of the population is illiterate.
Knowing that western delights would soon be almost nil we stocked up on western products at 7am in the morning before boarding the bus. It became clear at the bus station that the bus was actually a small mini bus crowded with Khmers. We got on to cries of delight from the Cambodians “Barang” [Foreigner!]. The Cambodians then proceeded to talk about us for the next 10 hours in Khmer without any shame to the fact that we might be able to understand.
Our first stop was a “service station” somewhere in the province of Kampong Cham. The service was typical: small children selling fruit, older people selling fried bugs and toilets that aren’t the best. A rarity at this top were the broaches the children were wearing – Absolutely massive tarantulas. I tried not to show my utmost horror as these creatures crawled over the kids as they pointed it out to me an said "spider". Ugh! Other stops were necessary on the way to stock up on fruit/bugs/rice/toilet. Khmer buses like to stop a lot (say once every hour) and this journey was no exception.
Eventually we made it to Banlung. Just like the wild west - Red and dirty dust billowed from the unsealed roads as large trucks thundered in and out. Everything else very understated and quiet. Thankfully our accommodation was amazing. Yaklom Hill Lodge is pretty much a nature reserve where you stay in amongst the jungle in your own cabin. Fantastic but the sounds of the night were so loud! With the chirruping of the cicada (more like a drill/machine gun sound) combined with the calls of a large lizard sharing our room it wasn't quiet at all!