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There’s not a whole lot written about Ratanakiri province because not a whole lot of people have been there. Located in Cambodia’s far northeastern corner some 630 kilometers from Phnom Penh, it is bordered by Laos to the north and Vietnam to the east. Minority hill tribes - generically referred to as Khmer Leou, meaning ‘highlander’ - account for about 80% of the province's 70,000 or so inhabitants. Depending on who you talk to or what you read there are anywhere from seven to twenty separate minority groups.

I first came to Ratanakiri expecting a province of wild jungle, shy hill tribes, and virtually no infrastructure in any form. After all, it was one river in this province, the Tonle Srepok, that reportedly inspired the movie "Apocalypse Now". Although there is jungle and old-growth hardwood forests - unfortunately subjected recently to heavy deforestation by Hero-Taiwan - I was surprised to find that much of the province is rolling hills and fields, farmed by the many indigenous hill tribes. As for the infrastructure, there is not even a mile of paved road in the entire province; and many villages are virtually inaccessible after a heavy rain. Very few of the villages have electricity. And those areas that do have electricity find that it often doesn't work. And the province is poor, dirt poor. With this poverty are many of the associated health problems. In March 1999, a cholera outbreak killed several hundred residents, even decimating entire villages. Malaria, typhoid, and various infections continue to cause problems for the populace.

What follows are lengthy accounts and numerous photographs of my three visits to this most interesting of Cambodian provinces - a province so enigmatic that many Cambodians throughout the country raise an eyebrow in wonder at the mere mention of the name 'Ratanakiri'.


Note: Due to numerous spelling variations of many of the place names in Ratanakiri province some of the spellings I use may not match up with what is used elsewhere. Also, I humbly admit that I'm not entirely sure I have the three waterfalls identified correctly. Apologies for any confusion this may cause.



A shy remote province remains reticent to the visitor.


First visit: October 15-18, 1999

Second visit: October 23-27, 2000

Third visit: February 6-11, 2002

Practical Information on Ratanakiri

A missionary speaks. A response to my less than flattering comments on the role of missionaries in Ratanakiri. See Second visit for these comments.




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