Banlung is the capital of Ratanakiri province in the Northeast of Cambodia. It borders Vietnam and Laos and is known for its mountainous terrain, waterfalls and difficulty to get to. Most transportation goes from Phnom Penh but getting there from Siem Reap is also possible. A few companies offer the 460km drive by bus, minivan or you can hire a shared or private taxi.
From Siem Reap to Banlung by bus
However you decide to go, the trip will take you at least 8 hours depending on the season, driving through Stung Treng on your way. The buses used to drive through Kampong Cham which is closer to Phnom Penh but now that the road from Siem Reap to Stung Treng is paved, the trip has gone from 14 hours to 8 hours if there are no delays.
They used to transfer passengers to a different bus or van halfway in Stung Treng of Kampong Cham without giving notice. Most companies will drive the whole distance now, although it is a good question to ask beforehand.
There are not many companies that make the trip directly from Siem Reap to Banlung by bus, the large buses in Cambodia go between the larger cities, of which Banlung in Ratanakiri is not one.
Anyway, buses leave at 7am or 8am and take at least 8 hours, and offer similar services, price and trip length. The ticket costs about USD13 and they will make a few stops on the way for food and toilet. These are large buses with your own seat and have air conditioning.
Tip It is a good idea to fully charge any entertainment and bring some water and snacks because there is little variety and limited power along the way. There is no need to book this trip too far in advance, a day or two before departure is normal, unless it is a holiday in Cambodia, as many people go back to their hometowns and transportation and the roads will be busier.
There are also big buses plying the same route though the operator does not boats a good reputation: tickets cost USD21 and buses pass through Kampong Cham, the whole trip taking 11 hours.
From Siem Reap to Banlung by minivan
Minivans are the most popular way to go since they are small enough to drive fast and can carry up to 12 people so the company can do more trips. There are a few companies that drive the route from Siem Reap to Banlung, but sometimes they share vehicles or just do not have a company name, so you will need a travel agent or your guesthouse to call a minivan for you as you need to know their local phone number.
They usually do one trip a day, leaving early in the morning, and the ticket will cost around USD25. The minivan will take about 8 hours with a lunch and toilet break.
You may have a tight squeeze as most travellers are locals with a lot of goods to transport. Nobody will speak English so be sure to have your arrival information ready and know the word for toilet in Khmer as you can ask to stop anytime. The minivans drive very fast in any road conditions, so be ready for a wild ride.
These companies provide minivan service and are reliable enough, so you may want to consider one of the following:
– Rith Mony Bus Company sells tickets at USD25
– Asia Van Transfer have similarly priced tickets (USD24) and serves a variety of other smaller destinations where big buses do not call
From Siem Reap to Banlung by taxi
Taxis are a common way to travel in Cambodia, as they are often faster as the driver goes as quickly as he can in order to do another trip. You can get a shared taxi or hire a private one.
Shared taxis may have 7 people or more in a normal sized car, they will fill the car to maximum capacity so many people often buy two seats in order to have more room.
There is no regular departure time for these cars as they wait until they have enough people to leave, but as the usually only drive during the daytime since the roads are not lit, they will load the car early in the morning for the long trip.
A private taxi will also drive crazy but you will get there more quickly in comfort and can tell him to stop wherever you like along the way and will drive you directly to your destination, not just the bus terminal. However these may be expensive as it is a very far drive and the price can vary depending on the driver, if he is with a company or not, could be anywhere from USD80 to USD140 based on the season, the day of the week or the weather.
Normally you can book a taxi through any travel agency or your guesthouse – but it is a good idea to check which car you are going to drive in unless you are booking with an official taxi company.
Why go to Banlung
Banlung is the capital and largest town of Ratanakiri province. It is one of the most remote parts of Cambodia and does not get as many tourists for this reason, however it is also one of the most beautiful landscapes and has many different tribes due to its remoteness.
The landscape is different than the typical rice paddy floodplains in Cambodia, as its rolling hills are the beginning of the mountains of Laos and Vietnam. Ratanakiri is home to Cambodia’s largest national park, Virachey, which has all kinds of wildlife and natural scenery, and is located 60km North of Banlung.
The town of Banlung is actually quite small but is the entry point to Ratanakiri province and the take-off point to explore the eco tourism of wilderness, jungle and waterfalls that the area is known for. Jungle trekking is popular throughout the national park taking a few days where you will cross lakes and rivers, ethnic minority groups, hike mountains and sleep under the stars with a local guide. Or many people go to explore during the day on their own by renting a dirt bike and driving along the forest trails and countryside off road.
Onward travel from Banlung
Banlung is one of the remotest towns in Cambodia so it is quite easy to get back to larger towns from there. Phnom Penh is the most common trip and is offered by many companies, taking about 8 hours and costing USD9-USD15. Siem Reap also runs every day and you can book to most other towns with a day or two notice.
Going further into the countryside of Ratanakiri is more irregular but widely available through travel agencies, guesthouses or people in town will gladly offer you transportation. Getting to the national park should be arranged by an agency or guesthouse as you will need a guide to show you around and where to sleep as there is no accommodations inside the park, but plenty of trekking and tour companies that offer the service.
It is also easy to buy a ticket to Laos from Banlung. It is more difficult to get all the way to capital, because you will have to transfer many times and should buy the tickets as you go to each stop since the transfers are unreliable and you may end up waiting a long time. It is better to buy a ticket to the 4000 islands, Don Khong or Pakse in Laos than Vientiane.
The same goes for Vietnam, as you can easily find a bus to take you to the Town of Pleiku 4 hours away and then get tickets to Vietnam’s larger towns from there. Just remember to bring passport photos for your visa or arrange ahead of time.