Stung Treng sits on Cambodia’s northern border with Laos, at the point where the Mekong River drives into Cambodia after swirling around southern Laos’ 4,000 Islands. Originally part of its northern neighbour, it was transferred to Cambodian possession by the French but to this day, you’ll still hear a lot of Lao spoken in this extensive province. Most travellers stay in the eponymous provincial capital on the east bank of the River San, a tributary of the Mekong.
Stung Treng however holds considerable promise for those with an adventurous spirit (and a fair amount of free time) as a number of riverine trips can be undertaken, and you can explore the western bank of the Mekong, which very few travellers bother with — motorcyclists in particular rave about the off-road opportunities in western Stung Treng en route to Preah Vihear.
And things are starting to change around here. The completion of a 1.7-kilometre bridge over the Mekong links Stung Treng with western Cambodia, and in particular Siem Reap. Already the town is seeing higher tourist numbers, though the response to that seems to be slow in taking off. That will surely change as locals start to realise the potentials.
For most travellers still Stung Treng is but a glimpse from their bus window as they’re shuttled to and from the Lao border and the larger town of Kratie to the south. Around 23 kilometres south of Stung Treng town, the road east to Banlung in Ratanakiri begins, so overlanders coming from Laos but bound for Banlung will need to pass through Stung Treng. As with many of the low-key destinations in Cambodia, the capital can be a little underwhelming, but give the place some time and you’ll find enough to keep yourself busy for at least a day.
Stung Treng doesn’t sit on the bank of the Mekong, but rather on the southern bank of the San River, which flows into the far larger Mekong about a kilometre west of town. Arriving from Phnom Penh, Ratanakiri, or places in between, you’ll come in from the south, along Street 63, with its wide avenue and central gardens. The town is flanked to east and west by two long bridges, one connecting with western Cambodia via Preah Vihear City, and the other leading straight to Laos.
The town itself is a rather rundown affair, with its major asset being spectacular sunsets and friendly people. The one attraction of sorts is a weaving co-operative at the eastern extremity of town, which is worth visiting both for its lovely fabrics and to support a worthwhile cause.
Aside from the co-operative, the main pastimes are boat trips and watching the sunset — both of which are worth doing. One-hour boat trips leave from the dock in the centre of town and cost around $15 per person, or $30 for a whole boat. There are some homestay options as well as joint boating/trekking trips to nearby temple ruins, one set of which dates back to the pre-Angkorian Chenla period. Trips vary according to who’s around to guide you. Check with the motodops at the eastern end of the provincial taxi station on the riverside. Prices will likely vary.
More interesting kayak and bicycle trips north along the Mekong to two stretches of semi-submerged forests are worth looking into, though prices are quite high for solo travellers. Given many travellers are now only transiting through town rustling up a group can be a challenge.
A tourism office is located east along the river road from town, but it’s often closed and there’s no real tourism industry to speak of, other than a few guys who’ve figured out what foreigners like to do. Xplore Asia have an office overlooking the river on the road heading east of town, just beyond Golden River Hotel. They organise Mekong Discovery Trail tours, which was originally a joint government/NGO initiative that aimed to boost tourism to the northeast Mekong region, but ran out of funds.
The trips, by foot, bicycle or canoe, take in the river and wider province, and range from easy meanders to highly ambitious expeditions. You’ll need assistance to complete some of the recommendations but if you use sleepy Stung Treng as your base, you’re virtually guaranteed to see a slice of Cambodia untainted by mass tourism.
Fans of vulture culture could take in a meal with the giant scavengers under a project administered by the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) — a wonderful organisation based in Siem Reap. They’ve created a “vulture restaurant” that attracts three species of critically endangered vultures who come to feast on fresh buffalo or cow every two weeks. Contact ACCB for more information: email@example.com, (088) 938 6506.
Stung Treng is also a good base from which to explore the Preah Rumkel ecotourism site. Established in 2007, the site incorporates homestays, the chance to go dolphin spotting, cycling, swimming, birdwatching, cultural performances and waterfalls on the Laos border. The site is on the other side of the bridge to the west, and another 60 kilometres from there. A motodop can get you out there for about $10-$15. Homestays are $5 a night, and meals with your host family are $1.50 for breakfast, and $2.50 for lunch and dinner. An English-speaking local guide is $10 per day.
Nearby the stunning Sopheakmit Waterfalls on the Cambodia/Laos border are not to be missed. There is a restaurant here too, with panoramic views across the gorgeous landscape.
Pharmacies are dotted all over town. Staff are unlikely to speak English, so you’ll need to know what you’re looking for first. For anything complex your first port of call should be Phnom Penh, or Bangkok if things are more serious still. Canadia Bank, on the block behind Golden River Hotel, and Acleda Bank, on the main street, Street 63, six blocks back from the river, both accept international cards in their ATMs.
You can pick up snacks, toiletries, clothes, shoes and souvenirs at the local market, which had just been gutted by fire when we visited in May 2016, and shifted to the main arterial Street 63. Excavations were already underway for its reconstruction on the original site abutting Street 63, just two blocks back from the river. We also found a large (speaking relatively of course) shop on Street 14, in between Streets 57 and 61, and there is a handy little shop, the Phally Mini Mart, just beside Riverside Guesthouse behind the provincial taxi station.
By Nicky Sullivan. Last updated on 13th November, 2016.