Lots on the river
Published/Last edited or updated: 15th May, 2016
First and foremost when it comes to things to do in Stung Treng, there is the San River (Tonle San) which runs right in front of town. It’s often also referred to as the Kong and Sekong, but we’ll stick with San. The Kong flows into the San river a few kilometres to the east of Stung Treng (hence the confusion). The Mekong River, which the San flows into around one kilometre to the west of town, runs north to the border with Laos and south to Phnom Penh.
There are a few activities on the river. You can do a boat trip from Stung Treng up to the Lao border where you can see some waterfalls and, if lucky, some dolphins. Expect to pay between $30 and $40 for the half-day trip — it should include lunch. The trip involves some quite rough rapids and the scenery is terrific.
A second option is to hire a smaller boat in Stung Treng and head up the San River to its confluence with the Kong River. The scenery is pleasant and relaxing. It is possible to continue up the Kong all the way to Siem Pang from where you can then travel overland to Banlung — ask around in Stung Treng about this as there are no regular passenger boats.
A third option is kayaking trips north of Stung Treng to two sets of flooded forest. The larger stretch is at O’Svay near the Lao border and the closer set between Koh Ky and Stung Treng. The latter can be combined with a bicycle ride through rural areas, while the former is far further and requires a minibus ride. Contact the wonderfully helpful and friendly Mr Theara at Xplore Asia for more information. The office is on the riverside road, heading east of town, just beyond the Golden River Hotel.
Prices are moderate to high, especially for single travellers. Sample prices include: full day trip to O’Svay US$144 for a single traveller ($81 per person for a group of three) and to the closer submerged forest, $55 for one person or $30 per person for a group of three. There are never all that many travellers in Stung Treng, so if you plan to rustle up a group here, you’ll have your work cut out.
Stung Treng enjoys some brilliant sunsets, and what better spot to enjoy the sunset than from the river. Ask around at the dock for details, but a one-hour trip should set you back around $10 to $15 — be sure they take you down to the confluence with the Mekong. If you’d prefer to see the sight for free, ride west of town for a couple of kilometres and you’ll reach a terrific vantage point at the confluence of the two rivers where you can enjoy the view.
On the west bank of the Mekong, near Thala Barivat, a village on the West Bank of the Mekong, there is a pre-Angkor site, Prasat Preah Srey, which dates back to the seventh century. Very little of it remains today, but a visit here can be combined with a visit to the village itself. Regular boats run from Stung Treng to Thala Barivat throughout the day (look for the ferry sign at the port reading Thala), and while you could walk around once there, if you’ve got a bicycle, you could better explore some of the surrounding countryside.
Xplore Asia has taken over running the defunct/defunded Mekong Discovery Trails, a range of suggested itineraries on foot, bicycle and kayak that cover the region.
You could also check out Mekong Bird Guesthouse, which runs its own hiking and kayaking tours up the river, on to the islands and beyond, as well as camping and bird spotting trips.
To the east of town you’ll find Mekong Blue, run by the Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre. Among other things it is a weaving centre and a cafe (though the latter isn’t always open). Scarves and other fabrics are for sale through the centre. Their products really are beautiful, in the most stunning colours — they use all natural, non-toxic dyes from Germany — and a steal compared to what you’d pay for them elsewhere, particularly in their main market in Japan. If you miss out, you can take a look in the shop in the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh.
Just before there, there is a new riverside resort, with a sort of “beach” and plenty of salas that you can rent for $2.50 from which to enjoy an afternoon or early evening splash, some barbecue and maybe a few beers. Someone also rents out canoes for $3.75 an hour. Just head east along the river road, and you’ll see the turn off for the resort just over a kilometre beyond the bridge.
Preah Rumkoul is a popular ecotourism site to the west of Stung Treng. It’s a 60-kilometre bike trip away, but the route once you get off of road to Siem Reap plunges you into dense forests, and a lovely ride. The project was established by Mlup Baitong in 2007 — who also founded the highly successful ecotourism initiative at Chambok beside Kirirom. From here, you can stay with local families in dedicated homestays and head out for some dolphin spotting — while they’re still there; new dams further up the Mekong are using dynamite to blast out the rock, raising fears that the shock waves will kill off the last few Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins. Or you can enjoy some cycling, swimming, birdwatching, cultural performances, and the gorgeous waterfalls on the Laos border. 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.
The Sopheakmit waterfalls are some of the loveliest we’ve seen in Cambodia. Going for drama rather than the romance of a wooded waterfall, the falls peel off the Mekong in a glorious shade of jade green.
A conservation project takes a gory turn at a vulture restaurant in Sesan, to the east of Stung Treng, run by the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB). It's all part of their work to protect three species of vulture — the redheaded vulture, slender-billed vulture and the white-romped vulture. All three are on the brink of extinction, thanks to the use of an anti-inflammatory that is commonly administered to domestic livestock in Cambodia. When vultures consume it through the carcasses of dead cattle, it causes kidney failure, with catastrophic effects not only for the vultures, but also the ecosystem in which they play a vital cleansing part. Every two weeks, the vulture restaurant sets out a cow or buffalo carcass for the huge birds, and visitors can observe the feast from a spot not far away.
Xplore Asia: Street 2; T: (011) 433 836, (074) 973 456; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mekong Blue: Street 2, Sre Po Village; T: (012) 622 096; email@example.com; www.mekongblue.com.
Preah Rumkoul: T: (011) 899 891; http://www.mlup-baitong.org.
ACCB: T: (088) 938 6506; firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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