The town of Banlung is one of the most off-the-beaten track locations in Cambodia but this is arguably one of the main reasons to come here.
If you are looking for an authentic slice of Cambodian countryside then you will certainly find it and this is also the home of Virachey National Park, the biggest draw in the area.
Other highlights include the Yeak Laom Lake which sits in a scenic crater as well as a wealth of splendid waterfalls, sleepy villages, and a bounty of flora and fauna inside the national park. One thing to note if you venture here however is that it is not a heavily visited area and as such the tourist infrastructure is not as well established as it is in other parts of Cambodia.
When to go
Much of Banlung is covered in dirt roads and fields which are actually a pretty red hue. In the dry season however it can be extremely hot and the dirt turns to dust which can make for a rather oppressive atmosphere.
In the rainy season however, from June to October, the rains turn everything to mud and if you want to explore the national park then it may make for a rather wet and soggy visit. The park remains open throughout the season, although some more remote parts can’t be visited when the rains are in full force.
As such, November or early December are good months to come to Banlung as the rainy season should be over and the heat has yet to reach its peak.
Despite the fact that this is not firmly on the tourist trail, Banlung offers quite a good selection of places to stay to suit a range of budgets.
If you are really trying to keep costs down and don’t mind basic accommodation then you can opt for a bed in a dorm, or twin or private room in a hostel. Most come with a fan and some have hot water depending on the kind of room you choose. Some options that are all under USD10 per night include Bamboo Backpacker Guesthouse (Street 62, Banlung) and the Banlung Balcony Guesthouse (Boeung Kan Siang Road), or Tree Top Lodge (Street 78A).
If you have a bigger budget then consider some of the mid-range places that can be snapped up for under USD30 and usually include better facilities, softer beds, and amenities like hot water and air conditioning. Some good picks are Thy Ath Lodge (Lakeside) or Green Plateaus (just off Lakeside).
At the top end, for under USD75 you can opt for spots like Ratanak Resort (National Route 78) or Terres Rouge Lodge (Boeung Kansaign) and for this price you can expect a communal pool, lush surroundings, onsite restaurants, and upscale rooms.
You will find a mix of different dishes in Banlung including traditional Khmer plates as well as a range of Western style eateries. Many meals here will only cost you around USD1-2 depending on how much you want to eat.
A good all round choice that has Khmer, Thai, and Western food is Bamboo Restaurant (Street 62) as Banlung Balcony Restaurant (Boeung Kan Siang Road). If you are craving some hearty Western dishes then Sal’s Restaurant (Street 502) has classics like shepherd’s pie. Other good choices include A’Dam (east of the market) for draft beer and Western bar snacks or Cafe Alee (Street 78A) which has Western and Khmer delights.
If you are looking for a bit of a party in a more glamorous setting then head to the Sky Bar at Yeakloam Hotel (Street 29) where you will find a bar menu full of cocktails, beers, and bar snacks.
There are not a huge number of choices for getting around Banlung and no ‘public transport’ really exists. The best options include hiring a motorbike or a bicycle and driving or cycling around by yourself.
Another option is to rent a motodop which is a motorbike that comes with a driver which can be helpful if you don’t know where you are going.
Getting to Virachey National Park
If you want to go to Virachey National Park then you will need a guide who works for the Ministry of Environment as these are the only guides allowed to enter the park. As such if you book a tour with another company they will take you to the park gates and no further. With this in mind it is best to book a tour directly with the Ministry of Environment who has an office in Banlung. They will arrange transportation for you as part of the package.
Getting in and out
Banlung is about 7 hours away from Phnom Penh although it can take up to 9 hours in the wet season.
Another choice is to get to Banloung from Siem Reap which is 8–9 hours away and can also be reached by minibus. Tickets costs USD24You can also get the bus to Kratie.
Asia Van Transfer and Virak Buntham run minibuses from Banlung to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, stopping in Kratie on the way. These usually leave around 8am.
You can also take a big bus instead of a minibus with *Virak Buntham and Ratanak Sambath** for between USD9-12. Note however that the bigger buses can take up to 11 hours to make the journey.
Banlung is known for being a safe place to visit although incidents of crime have been rising in recent years, particularly muggings in remote areas. Violent crime, particularly involving foreigners, is rare but you should still exercise caution and not carry valuables around with you.
Cambodia has both malaria and dengue fever so take care to avoid being bitten as much as possible. Wear repellent and long sleeved clothing particularly around dusk.
You won’t find much in the way of healthcare in Banlung so if you get seriously ill it is better to travel to Phnom Penh for treatment.