Stung Treng is a northern province of Cambodia. It was formerly called Xieng Teng and was once a part of the vast Khmer Empire, then the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang and later the Lao kingdom of Champassack. During the period of French Indochina it was again ceded to Cambodia.
The provincial capital is also named Stung Treng and is an important trade hub with a few hints of Lao influence scattered about, owing to the fact that the Lao border is about 50 km away. It’s a friendly, quiet country town situated on the confluence of the San River and the Mekong River. It actually sits on the banks of the San River, with the mighty Mekong coming into the picture on the northeastern outskirts of he town.
The San River goes by three names, depending on which of the locals you speak to. Some call it the Kong River because the San and Kong Rivers merge together about 10 km northeast of Stung Treng town, confusing people about which name the river should bear. Others call it the Sekong River, which is the combined name of these two rivers. Whatever name the fiver beside the town goes by, it’s another one of Cambodia’s beautiful picture-postcard river towns. It’s a nice place to kick back and chill out if you are on a circuit tour of the Northeast River Scene, from here to Laos.
The San River is fronted in Stung Treng by a nice stretch of paved road. It’s the centre of socializing (as in most Cambodian river towns) in the late afternoon and early evening hours as the locals ride up and down the stretch enjoying the view and each other. Drink and dessert stands spring up earlier to serve the daily merrymaking crowd. It’s a nice spot for a walk or jog any time of the day as the river road turns into a pleasant rural road that leads to the airport 4 km north of town.
The river port area just in front of the small city park is fairly busy, handling trade between Cambodia and Laos. The ferry across the San River to where National Highway No 7 continues north to the Laos border is also at this pier. The fare is 300 riel per head. We went for a ride on this stretch (2,000 riel for taking a big bike on the ferry), but there is not much to see along the way besides light jungle and some remnants next to the road that was a target of carpet bombing during the Vietnam War years (the road was recently overhauled and is now one of the best in the country).
The road works its way eastward so it does not afford views of the Mekong River as one would hope. The few residents we saw along the way were truly amazed to see the likes of us, who would want to be there.
Stung Treng province, which covers an area of 11,092 square kilometres, is a remote and sparsely populated province in the northeast of Cambodia. It borders Lao to the north, Ratanakiri to the east, Preah Vihear to the west and Kratie and Kompong Thom to the south. The province is divided into five district, 34 communes and 128 villages.
Stung Treng is a unique province quite distinct from other Cambodian provinces in the Mekong basin. Extensive forests, intersecting rivers and streams and low population density characterize it. Stung Treng includes also the western chunk of the massive Virachey National Park, accessible from Siem Pang, a small beautiful town on the Tonle Kong. The province also features three big rivers the Tonle Kong, the Tonle San and the mighty Mekong with its hundreds of small islands scattered on the river stretch in Stung Treng Province.
The population of Stung Treng constitutes just 0.7% of Cambodia's population. The population density is 7 people per square kilometre, which is nine times less than the national density. As the population is low and the province is endowed with natural resources, the immigration rate is very high. This fact has been proven by the population census in 1998, which shows that 19.4% of the province's population has migrated from outside, of which male migrants constitute 55%. The most commonly stated reasons for immigration were moving with family, followed by searching for livelihood.
Similar with other provinces, the female population is higher than the male population. The result of the census in 1998 demonstrates that 50.5% of the population is female. In Stung Treng, about 79.4% of the population is involved in the agriculture sector. The secondary and tertiary sectors account for 2.4% and 18.2% respectively. There are 54,488 males and 55,217 females with a total of 109,705 persons.
The country has a tropical climate - warm and humid. In the monsoon season, abundant rain allows for the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism. Travellers need not to fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.
Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable. The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April.
General information about the provincial climate:
- Cool season starts from November to March with the temperature of 20ºc-28ºc
- Hot season starts from March to May with the temperature of 30ºc -35ºc
- Rainy season starts from May to October with the temperature of 23ºc-30ºc and with humidity up to 90%.
Stung Treng’s economy is based on fishing and silk weaving. However there is also some agricultural farming what is the smallest economical source of the province. Hopefully the ministry of tourism can manage its newly created development plan.
The last river dolphins (Irrawaddy) in the Mekong River are at the heart of an ambitious development program to tackle poverty and attract tens of thousands of visitors to the province. The Mekong River Discovery Trail Project will draw visitors to view the endangered fresh water dolphin, which lives in 10 deep-water natural pools in a 190-km stretch of the Mekong River, mostly between the quiet provincial capitals of Kratie and Stung Treng.
How to get there:
There was once the Royal Air Cambodge and President Airlines covering some flights to Stung Treng, but by the time being there is no more flights to the picturesque town of Stung Treng (probably not enough occupancy).
Coming from Phnom Penh, Stung Treng town is accessible via National Highway No. 7 (348km). There are several bus companies, such as PPT and Sorya going daily to Stung Treng. The easiest way to get there is to buy a ticket at the central bus station southwest of the central market. Sorya goes twice a day, at 7am in the morning and 12am noon. The trip will take around 7-9hours and costs approximately US$8.
Bullet Boat to Kratie:
Unfortunately, the bullet boats usually don’t journey beyond Kratie. The stretch between Kratie and Stung Treng is loaded with small islands and clumps, with a fair number of dead trees thrown in for good measure. The journey is made only when the water is very high, which doesn’t occur during a good portion of the rainy season. When the boat is running it beats taking a share taxi as, unlike the road, the river affords a smooth ride. The trip downriver to Kratie takes around 4.5 hours and six to seven hours coming upstream from Kratie. As of May 2000, the bullet boat was running every other day at a fare of 20,000riel. If the boats are making the run, take it. It’s a pretty stretch of the river. It’s not sure if they still run, probably just occasionally.
Shared taxis go two routes from Stung Treng, one to Banlung (Rattanakiri) and the other south to Kratie.
For the trip to Banlung, bring food, water and mosquito repellent because if there is a breakdown (not uncommon) on this bumpy backwoods laterite road you may be caught in the jungle for the night. Share taxis usually go in groups in case of a breakdown, but as the other taxis are usually full as well, people do end up stranded and sleeping out in the elements at times. The five-hour trip stretches to seven hours during the rainy season (fare: $8-10 for taxi/$5-7 on the back of a pick-up). From Stung Treng to Kratie, the fare is about 20,000 riel.
Banlung to Stung Treng
The 146 km journey from Banlung to Stung Treng takes 5.5 hours during the rainy season, so knock at least an hour off of that in the dry season. The road is generally lousy, passing through areas of bomb craters that create deep lakes during the rainy season, but you can skirt around the perimeter of most of them. Where you can’t, the road goes zigzagging through the jungle, which is slow and slippery in the wet months.
Having said that, there are a few decent stretches and the last 19 km (after the road merges with National Highway 7) are fairly easy ones. The same suggestion we made in the share taxi part of this section applies for riders on this road. Bring food, water and mosquito repellent. If you have a breakdown, there may not be anyone else coming by, depending on the time of day. It’s always best to get an early start to improve your chances if you do have a problem.
Stung Treng to Kratie
The recently new paved National Highway No 7 has now become one of the best roads in the whole country. The trip is 142 km and takes about 1.5 – 2.5 hours. There is no problem regarding security.