Leaving the temples and the crowds behind, we decided to enter the Ratankiri Province in NW Cambodia to the small city of Banlung. The area is sort of an adventurous paradise with lots of waterfalls and one significant crater lake known as Yaklom that is a good swimming spot. The town itself is nothing significant but that is the charm with a central market and some walks in the quiet town.
Our first hotel stay wasn't great as the room was full of ants and with no screen on the bathroom windows an open invitation for mosquitos to make a meal of us. Speaking of Mosquitos we've been pretty good about spraying ourselves with Deet but also lucky since we're not taking Dyxocycline due to side effects and the fact that it is a mild antibiotic and doesn't really provide adequate protection. We figure the best course is to wear pants in the evenings and stay covered.
On the bus from Siem Riep we had met Jared an American working at a hotel who invited us to view the sunsets from the commanding terrace of his hotel atop a mountain a few kilometers from town. Calling the hotel, they graciously decided to pick us up and we spent a few hours watching the forest views and the psychedelic pink and purple sunset while sipping tea. The place and the surroundings were too beautiful so decided to check in the next day and spend a few relaxing days at Motel Phnom Yaklom. Word spreads fast and after chatting with a few fellow travelers convinced them to come along on the bumpy ride to the hotel.
Our first day was spent swimming at the crater lake, which after I got my courage up jumped in (something spooky about it's mint green waters). The Ratanakiri Province is also known for it's blood red earth so after visiting a few waterfalls were both completely red but a little swim in the falls was the perfect cleansing. One of the falls had elephants to take you to the waterfalls but we instead opted to feed them a few of our bananas and oranges, which they happily snatched from us and even let it put it in their wet mouths. One even became so bold as to try and open my bag zipper to get at the remainder of our food.
The Christmas celebrations consisted of a few downloaded holiday tunes off of Jared's laptop and a fire with a few travelers around to close off the evening before heading off for the Laos border the next day.