Shattered Dreams and Broken Promises*

What was initially a month-long planned trip to Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An for P’Chum Ben had been turned into a flurry of indecisiveness and budgeting woes over where to spend the holidays at. When the plan to visit Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An was scrapped, the idea of going to Luang Prabang, Laos came to surface. That, too, was scrapped most unfortunatley due to the soaring airfares which my friend and I could no longer afford. A trip to Kampot or Kratie presented itself, but again nothing came of it. Finally, we concluded that Koh Kong was the best place to go to — waterfalls, beaches, jungle trek, mangroves. We were utterly excited!

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Smiling kid at Katieng Waterfalls

We met up at her apartment to book bus tickets, hotel rooms, and tour options. But as life would have it, it was not to be. Why, Heaven, why?? Are we to find ourselves stuck in the dim, and the drab, and the dark cloths of the Kingdom of Wonder’s capital?

“Weather conditions are bad in Koh Kong,” says the EcoTours people. They won’t be able to accommodate us due to bad weather. Fan-effing-tastic!

“That’s it, we’re going to Ratanakiri!” We agreed.

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A happy swinger at Katieng Waterfalls

The thing is, I’ve been to Ratanakiri already some several years ago, which is why when my friend suggested it among our options, I shrugged it off for Koh Kong. But clearly, I am to head there back again. Which brings to mind the question: Is it really sweeter the second time around? Well, I am clearly on the path to finding out.

Saturday morning, I bought us the bus tickets while my friend made arrangements with our guesthouse. Early Sunday morning, we met up at the crowded bus station and found ourselves seated on the last row of aisle and window seats at the back.

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Hanging bridge at Cha Ong Waterfalls

What a merry ride we had from Phnom Penh to Ban Lung, Ratanakiri. In fact, allow me to recollect the sequence of events from this unforgettable bus ride… to HELL!

A) All throughout the ride, an angel of a child seated behind us had the most fantastic time puking his breakfast and lunch, and perhaps even his snacks in between, with such unwelcome vigor that we found it most very wise indeed to plug our ears with a selection of roaring tunes from our music players and to sleep off the entire damn bus ride for as much as we possibly can.

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Vegetation around Yaklom (Crater Lake)

B) A small TV screen installed in front of the bus played melodramatic videos of Khmer music that are just piercing to the soul, which fatefully happens to be blaring through the speakers situated just right above us. All. The. Bus. Ride. Long. Which is why we sleep. Either that or suffer internal bleeding.

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Vegetation around Yaklom (Crater Lake)

C) Sleep nearly became next to impossible with the airconditioning blowing warm air upon us. Soaking discomfitingly in our bodily fluids, the ordeal was only made worse when the bus conductor had everyone open the windows, letting in dust and red earth blowing through and rendering us prone to an impending asthma attack. Had not my scarf been with me to spare my lungs and olfactory sensitivities, I would’ve most certainly met with a dreadful end.

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Vegetation around Yaklom (Crater Lake)

D) At one point, the man seated behind me had been eating corn and went about tirelessly picking his teeth with his tongue, causing the most vexing sounds that drove my friend mad to the point of wanting to strangle the offender. I probably would’ve helped her wholeheartedly.

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Vegetation around Yaklom (Crater Lake)

E) Worse of all, we had to bear with all these for 15 merciless hours! Not 6 hours. Not even 11. Fifteen sorry ass hours! And I do mean our bums were sore to the bone from sitting. We were lied to and our hopes of reaching Ratanakiri at a decent hour were all dashed in the dusty winds of false hopes.

We left Phnom Penh at about 7 A.M. We arrived in Ban Lung nearly 10 in the evening.

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Tree Top Eco Lodge

Our guesthouse however was a great respite, thank God Almighty! It overlooks a bit of Ban Lung — lush vegetation over sloping hills against a cerulean backdrop. There was even a chipmunk in the property, scurrying freely towards dense bushes or over rooftops. What a thrill to see such an unusual animal in this country! Best of all, the air is fresh and the climate cool!

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Man Beneath the Waterfalls (Kachang Waterfalls)

Our main agenda was to see the waterfalls Katieng, Kachang and Cha Ong, and the crater lake, Yaklom. By a wonderful stroke of luck, or rather, by God’s Divine Providence, we were joined by Netta and Nathan, two Israeli backpackers with whom we shared a 4WD ride. In my thoughts, I found it fascinating that there I was with 2 Israeli tourists and 1 Iranian-American friend, sharing a ride, pleasantly exchanging life experiences, peacefully and cordially communicating good vibes. That’s how the world is meant to be, whereby the people in it makes it very difficult indeed. I could sense that both parties did their utmost to avoid talks of what’s going on in Gaza and I appreciate the effort they’ve shown to keep the atmosphere as friendly as possible. When we all had dinner at a restaurant that evening, I was very surprised to discover that my dear friend happens to be half Iranian and half Jew. Well how about that? Amazing!

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Not worth the life of me.

At one point while we were waterfall-hunting, I took off on my own towards the edge of a rocky bed, hoping to get a shot of rushing water flowing down the rocks. There were parts of it that were slippery and I was mindful of it; doing my very best to be careful not to slip. But as soon as I stood up after taking a shot, I found myself slipping not once, but twice towards the edge, nearly falling into the water had not something broken my fall. I don’t know what it was but for sure God was most definitely looking after me, because a few inches more and I would’ve been soaking wet and carried away by the current, with my cries muffled by the roaring sounds of gushing water.

 

TLC – (Don’t Go Chasing) Waterfalls**

I have risked my life — for what? For an unimpressive and crappy photograph of water flowing. Duh! It was so not worth it. I would’ve died happy had there been something extraordinary to it — like a faery perhaps, a water nymph, some mythical creature arising from the depths of the waters, that sort of thing. But no. I just had to be stupid for one freaking moment. So I thank God for snapping me out of my reverie and reminding me that while there are risks, there, too, are unnecessary risks.

This was why I chose not to swim in the crater lake. I was not only sore from the fall, but I’ve had enough risk-taking for one day.

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Yaklom (Crater Lake)

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Relaxing at Tree Top Eco Lodge

And speaking of risks, after a beautiful morning of sleeping in the next day and languidly but pleasantly reading a book on a hammock on the veranda of our little bungalow, my friend had the urge to go do something and suggested we visited one more waterfall known for its 7 tiers and cool pools. The idea of swimming sounded good in my head, although I hated the idea of leaving what was already an enjoyable and relaxing time in the hammock. She arranged for rides and what we got instead are two motorbikes (drivers included).

She was aghast! It was her first time to travel a great distance aboard the back of a bike.

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Dirt road to O’Sinlair

The roads were impassable (save for motorbikes and 4WDs)!! It was heavily potholed, muddy, and unpredictable. Not only did the ride prove terrifying, I had a rather sore back from the fall, so the bumpy ride really tested my mettle.

But, oh, O’Sinlair was beautiful!! The powerful descent of raging waters down seven seeming layers of rock bed was just… a magnificent sight to behold! We sat by the edge of the rock cliffs just soaking in the view, the sun, and the waters. At one point, the waters engulfed a butterfly flying leisurely on its surface. For a wee bit, my friend and I took a dip in its very cool waters, staining my white shirt with traces of red earth.

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The raging O’Sinlair

We left the place half-heartedly for another hour of bumpy ride over the menacing dirt roads.

To make matters more worrisome, our drivers were driving fast.

It was the end of P’Chum Ben.

The ride back to Phnom Penh was much better. The roads were paved, but that meant taking a huge detour towards Sinoul to drop off some passengers — the place is nearly by the border of Vietnam. There were no TVs or Khmer music blaring through the speakers, nor were there passengers throwing up and being a friggin’ nuisance. The travel time was also much improved — 11 hours..

But sleep, sleep, oh sweet marvelous sleep. We still did much of that just to speed the ride up.

We reached home while there was still a bit of daylight.

Hallelujah!

We made it back alive!

…on my friend’s birthday!!!

Hurrah!!!!

Knowing her better through the ups and downs of the trip had been immensely wonderful! It’s been a real pleasure traveling with her and learning that in many things, we share a lot in common.

We are never going to travel to Ratanakiri — by bus — ever again!

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My birthday present for my dear friend the morning of the 24th of September before we left Ratanakiri for an 11–hour ride back to Phnom Penh.

 *“Shattered Dreams and Broken Promises” is my friend’s brainchild and description of our Ratanakiri experience. 

**TLC’s “Waterfalls” had become our Ratanakiri theme song.

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