Why Visit Banlung?
Nestled in the heart of Cambodia, the town of Banlung offers a truly off-the-beaten-track experience, making it a compelling destination for intrepid travelers. If you seek an authentic slice of Cambodian countryside, Banlung won’t disappoint. Notably, it is also home to the renowned Virachey National Park, the biggest allure of the region.
Highlights of Banlung include the picturesque Yeak Laom Lake nestled within a scenic crater, stunning waterfalls, tranquil villages, and a wealth of flora and fauna within the national park. It’s worth noting that while Banlung is not a heavily visited area, the tourist infrastructure is not as well established as in other parts of Cambodia, adding to its allure.
When to Visit Banlung
Banlung’s terrain is predominantly covered in red-hued dirt roads and fields, which can turn oppressively dusty during the dry season, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Conversely, the rainy season from June to October transforms the landscape into muddy terrain, potentially dampening your exploration of the national park. While the park remains open throughout the season, some remote areas may be inaccessible during heavy rainfall.
Therefore, the optimal time to visit Banlung is in November or early December, after the rainy season has subsided and before the scorching heat reaches its peak.
Despite its status as an offbeat destination, Banlung offers a decent range of accommodation options to suit various budgets.
For budget-conscious travelers seeking basic accommodations, dorm beds or twin/private rooms in hostels are available. Most establishments provide fans, and some offer hot water depending on the room type. Affordable options under USD 10 per night include Bamboo Backpacker Guesthouse (Street 62, Banlung), Banlung Balcony Guesthouse (Boeung Kan Siang Road), or Tree Top Lodge (Street 78A).
Mid-range travelers can find comfortable options for under USD 30, often featuring better amenities, softer beds, and facilities like hot water and air conditioning. Recommended choices include Thy Ath Lodge (Lakeside) or Green Plateaus (just off Lakeside).
For those with a higher budget, luxurious options such as Ratanak Resort (National Route 78) or Terres Rouge Lodge (Boeung Kansaign) are available for under USD 75 per night. These establishments offer communal pools, lush surroundings, on-site restaurants, and upscale rooms.
Banlung offers a diverse range of dishes, encompassing traditional Khmer plates as well as Western-style eateries. Many meals in this town cost around USD 1-2, depending on your appetite.
Bamboo Restaurant (Street 62) and Banlung Balcony Restaurant (Boeung Kan Siang Road) are excellent choices for Khmer, Thai, and Western cuisine. If you crave hearty Western dishes, Sal’s Restaurant (Street 502) serves classics like shepherd’s pie. Other recommended options include A’Dam (east of the market) for draft beer and Western bar snacks, or Cafe Alee (Street 78A) for a mix of Western and Khmer delights.
For a touch of glamour and a lively atmosphere, head to the Sky Bar at Yeakloam Hotel (Street 29), where you can enjoy cocktails, beers, and bar snacks.
Getting Around Banlung
Transport options within Banlung are limited, and there is no official “public transport” system. The best choices for getting around involve renting a motorbike or bicycle for independent exploration.
Another option is hiring a motodop, which is a motorbike with a driver. This can be helpful if you are unfamiliar with the area and need assistance getting around.
Exploring Virachey National Park
To visit Virachey National Park, you will need a guide affiliated with the Ministry of Environment, as only these guides are allowed to enter the park. If you book a tour with another company, they will only take you to the park gates. It is advisable to book a tour directly with the Ministry of Environment, which has an office in Banlung. They will arrange transportation as part of the package.
Getting to and from Banlung
Banlung is approximately a 7-hour journey from Phnom Penh, but it may take up to 9 hours during the wet season.
Another option is to travel from Siem Reap, which is 8-9 hours away and can be reached by minibus. Tickets cost around USD 24. You can also take a bus to Kratie.
Minibuses operated by Asia Van Transfer and Virak Buntham run from Banlung to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, with a stop in Kratie. These buses usually depart around 8 am.
Alternatively, you can opt for a larger bus instead of a minibus. Companies like Virak Buntham and Ratanak Sambath offer fares ranging from USD 9-12. However, be aware that the larger buses may take up to 11 hours to complete the journey.
Banlung is generally considered a safe place to visit, although incidents of crime, particularly muggings in remote areas, have been increasing in recent years. Violent crimes involving foreigners are rare but exercising caution and avoiding carrying valuable items is advisable.
Cambodia is prone to malaria and dengue fever, so take precautions to minimize mosquito bites. Wear repellent and protective clothing, especially during dusk.
Healthcare facilities in Banlung are limited, so if you become seriously ill, it is advisable to seek treatment in Phnom Penh.