Mark Bibby Jackson has visited every province in Cambodia. In the first of his series of travels through the Kingdom, he guides you through the loop from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri.

In the old days the journey from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri was only something that foolhardy bikers would attempt in the dry season, a krama protecting them from the excessive dust. In recent years the Cambodian road network has improved considerably to make this journey much more accessible.

Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham Province

Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri Kampong cham
The bamboo bridge in Kampong Cham

The first leg takes you from the capital Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham province, following the Mekong River. You will notice you are approaching Kampong Cham as the vegetation changes – this is the agricultural belt of the country.

Kampong Cham is a great little town – one of my favourites in provincial Cambodia. You can sit and have a coffee or beer beside the river, visit a pagoda, pop in on the excellent Buddhist centre, or drive in the countryside and watch the Muslim Cham community go by their daily routine. However tempting it might be to stay here, try to resist it for you are only at the start of your journey through northeast Cambodia.

Kampong Cham to Kratie Province

irrawaddy dolphin what to do in Kratie
The much endangered Irrawaddy dolphin In Kratie, Cambodia

The next leg from Kampong Cham to Kratie continues along the Mekong – just keep it on your left and you can’t go far wrong. If you are looking for a pitstop Chhlong is a possibility, but really my advice is to keep on going.

Kratie is another great riverside town, and possibly your best choice to stop the night. Enjoy some beers beside the river as the sun is setting and just watch rural Cambodian life unfold.

If you are looking to explore the region Koh Trong is a quiet island in the middle of the Mekong. Just pop across on the local ferry hire some bikes and go exploring. North of town is the 100 Column Pagoda, while Phnom Sambok Pagoda is situated in town. Both are of interest.

However, most people who come to Kratie do so for one reason – to see the Mekong Freshwater Dolphins at Kampi Rapids a few kilometres north of town. Sadly, these are some of the most endangered species in the world so you really are advised to see them now. Just hire a boat and captain from the car park at Kampi and stay as quiet as possible your camera at the ready.

Kratie to Stung Treng Province
things to do in stung treng
Koh Han Flooded Forest

Continue your journey north from Kratie to Stung Treng, once more following the Mekong. The town really is a junction for travellers wishing either to head north to Laos and its 4,000 islands, west to follow the road less travelled – even I haven’t done it – to Siem Reap via Preah Vihear, or, as we will, head east to the provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri.

There really is little reason to stay in Stung Treng – there are more pleasant towns in northeast Cambodia, but you can always visit the Koh Han Flooded Forest or the Sopheakmit Waterfall, the largest in Southeast Asia – and one of our best waterfalls in Cambodia – from here.

Stung Treng to Banlung

Yeak Laom Lake Ratanakiri Province
Yeak Laom Lake Ratanakiri Province

It is now that you have to bid farewell to the Mekong as you head across the country taking road number 78 from Stung Treng to Banlung. Sadly, Ratanakiri province has seen a lot of deforestation over the years with parts of the countryside cleared, but there is still much to do and see here.

Just outside of the provincial capital Banlung is Yeak Laom, a wonderful vast and deep volcanic lake that is absolutely perfect for swimming, especially after a long day’s drive. You can also enjoy the waterfalls of Kachanh and Katieng.

Ratanakiri to Mondulkiri Province

mondulkiri Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri
Bousra waterfall

Break your journey off in Banlung before taking road number 76 south from Ratanakiri to Mondulkiri province. This is one of the most isolated spots in Cambodia. You will find yourself surrounded by jungle as you drive through the mountains.

Provincial capital Sen Monorom is a pleasant town, where time seems to progress at an even slower pace than elsewhere in Cambodia. Close by are Bousra waterfall and the Elephant Valley Project, a wonderful elephant sanctuary where you can stay. However, the real appeal of Mondulkiri is hanging about and chatting with the local Bunung ethnic group.

Sen Monorom to Phnom Penh

Your journey through Northeast Cambodia now complete, if you set off the following morning you can continue back towards Phnom Penh along road number 76, before taking roads 7 and 8 to arrive safely back in the capital by sunset for a couple of cocktails by the Tonle Sap.

If you have enjoyed Mark’s road trip through Northeast Cambodia: Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri, read his second article in this series taking the road through Northwest Cambodia: Phnom Penh to Battambang.

Cambodia Map

Of course, if you prefer you can always reverse the loop travelling from Mondulkiri to Ratanakiri, Stung Treng to Kratie, and Kratie to Phnom Penh. To help you plan your route we suggest you have a look at our Cambodia Map.