Visit the volcanic lake oasis set amidst ancient forest.
Yeak Laom Lake (or Boeung Yeak Laom) is a sacred place deeply connected to the local indigenous culture. You can see why; deep, clear water and a tranquil forest scape just outside of Balung City. The circular lake can shine an emerald-azure on a clear day, and you can be sure of a refreshing swim and friendly chat with bubbly locals. Yeak Laom Lake is managed by local Tampuan people, one of six indigenous groups of Ratanakiri. Your entry fee goes back into supporting the community and the ongoing protection of the lake and the surrounding forest.
Yeak Laom lake has been officially managed by the Tampuan community since 1998 when provincial authorities in Ratanakiri granted a 25-year agreement for local management. Since then, members from each of the five villages of Yeak Laom have been responsible for protecting and managing the lake including forest patrols, tourist services, and waste management.
From Vin Che – Head of Yeak Laom Committee: “My name is Vin Che, and I am the head of the Yeak Laom Community Committee. I am ethnically Tampuan, and I live close by to Yeak Laom lake with my family. I care a lot for our community and our environment. I work every day at Yeak Laom lake. Our long term goal is to protect the lake and our Tampuan culture and community are strong.
The Yeak Laom Lake area has many significant trees, plants and wildlife and so we put a lot of effort into patrolling the forest. We have security posts on the outer perimeter of the Yeak Laom forest so that we can prevent illegal logging and keep significant, ancient trees where they should be.
The lake is a valuable asset for the local Tampuan community, Khmer tourists and international tourists. Not only it is a beautiful place enjoyed by many, but it is also deeply connected to our Tampuan culture and spiritual beliefs. The lake is a space for regularly cultural group meetings by elders in our community who practice music, song and dance. Regularly we join to eat together, and cook traditional food using bamboo from the forest.
The lake is an important resource. It provides our community strength. We have faced threats in the past of privatisation and development that does not have the community interest at heart. Tampuan people rely on the lake for income, culture and spirituality. This is why it is so important to protect it, so that our community and culture can be strong. Tourism at the lake helps us to realise this vision; we are able to support our community and support the lake too.”
Yeak Laom lake is a 4,000-year-old volcanic crater lake, 800m in diameter and 50m deep with clean, clear water. The lake itself is surrounded by a small natural forest area, which is home to an array flora and fauna. Small schools of fish are often sighted at the banks of the lake whilst birds, such as kingfishers, can be seen darting across the water during sunset.
Yeak Laom lake and it’s forest area hold cultural significance for local Tampuan people, an ethnic minority group of Ratanakiri. Although not only significant for the Tampuan community, the lake is also incredibly popular for Khmer people and it attracts visitors all year round.
Despite Cambodia’s violent history, Tampuan people have held onto their cultural traditions and practices and continue to tell stories of the spirits who inhabit the lake area. For the Tampuan community, regular cultural ceremonies and sacrifices are held during important dates of the year, particularly during rice harvest or for funerals. Moreover, traditional herbs and wild growing vegetables are collected from the forest and used to cook traditional Tampuan foods.
A small fee is charged for entry to the Yeak Laom Lake area ($2 for foreigners), payable at the ticket office (go straight on the paved road as you enter through the main archway).
From the ticket office, continue down the hill and around to the left where you can park bicycles, motorbikes and larger vehicles. A set of concrete steps leads you down a small hill to the lake. There are many places to sit and relax at the lake, including at the edge of the lake on wooden platforms known as ‘docks’ or concrete benches dotted along the perimeter. There are also wooden platforms set 5-10m back from the lake where you can sit in a hammock and order food or drinks.
Food is available at the lake however it is generally more expensive than in Banlung town. Khmer style food such as papaya salad, stir-fried vegetables and sticky rice can be ordered from the larger outlets whilst smaller stalls sell fruit, dried meats, packaged snacks, canned drinks, beer and rice wine. In the dry season (Nov-April) you are likely to find fresh honey too.
Souvenir stores sell a mixture of local handicrafts and cheaper imported goods. Look out for traditional Tampuan textile weaving and woven bamboo baskets that are made by members from the local Tampuan community. Yeak Laom lake has a designated hand-craft store, located near the third platform on the edge of the lake.
TOILETS AND OTHER FACILITIES
There are a handful of toilet facilities available at the lake, two near the carpark and one approximately 400m along the perimeter of the lake (BYO toilet paper). There are also changing facilities (a small wooden shack) near platform two.
There are currently no facilities to store your personal belongings whilst you swim, so just be cautious if you are leaving bags unattended.
Walk the perimeter of Yeak Laom to experience the most of its tranquillity and admire local flora and fauna. Turn right at the bottom of the concrete stairs (main entrance to the lake)to start. The walk takes 45mins to one hour and is on a dirt pathway (note during the wet season it can be quite muddy). Most of the walk is in the shade due to natural plant cover so is suitable during the whole year. When you walk around the lake you might be lucky to spot some of the wildlife animals.
A dip in the lake is a must-do is and there are plenty of spots for it. Four wooden platforms are spread along one half of the lake, the furthest away is the most serene. Locals dive in fully clothed, however, it is generally accepted to wear just a normal Western bathing suit or bikini.
TAMPUAN CULTURAL TOUR (Advance booking required)
Experience more of ethnic minority life through the eyes of local Tampuan people during a half day cultural immersion. The tour begins from Yeak Laom ticket office and takes you through local villages to eat home-cooked lunch and participate in two hands-on cultural experiences such as textile weaving or bamboo basket making.
HOMESTAY (Advance booking required)
Enjoy local Tampuan hospitality and stay overnight in a local village nearby to the lake with a Tampuan family. An overnight package includes meals, rice wine, two hands-on cultural experiences, and traditional Tampuan dress-up. Houses are elevated on stilts, nestled amongst a village community, a perfect way to experience rural Ratanakiri.
NOT TO BE MISSED
- Trekking around the lake
- Swimming in lake, and its refreshing and clear water
- Meet indigenous people
- Learn about local Tampuan culture, traditions and arts
- Experiencing traditional livelihoods and enjoying the rural Tampuan lifestyle
- Hiking to waterfalls with a local guide
The best way to explore the area is on the back of a motorbike, so either hire one yourself or organise a motodop to take you to the local villages and many of the waterfalls in the area. South of Banlung, the Ou’Sean Lair Waterfall is one of the popular waterfalls in Ratanakari. The other waterfall worth visiting is the katieng waterfall. Remember in the middle of dry season, some of these waterfalls might not have enough water. In the rainy season the dusty roads get muddy and difficult to navigate, so be careful.
Ratanakiri, Cambodia’s North Eastern province is easily accessible by road. You can reach Banlung, Ratanakiri’s provincial capital by VIP minibus. It takes approximately 7-8.5 hours from Phnom Penh, 7 hours from Siem Reap and 2.5 hours from Mondulkiri (note from experience, the journey is always a little longer than listed by the bus companies). There are a variety of bus companies offering day and night travel to and from Banlung from which the Yeak Laom community is a short distance away.
For easy and hassle-free booking, we would recommend using a fantastic local online booking platform bookmebus.com, that offers good customer service and easy access to travel times and routes for your journey.
Yeak Laom Lake
From Banlung town, Yeak Laom Lake is a 15minute tuk tuk ($5) or moto dop ($1.25/5000 riel) which can be found easily at the bus station, the centre roundabout or in front of the local market. Motorbikes ($5 per day) and bicycles ($3 per day) are available for rent, and their booking can easily be arranged at your guesthouse or through a local tour company. By foot, the lake is around 1 hour from Banlung.
YEAK LOAM COMMUNITY
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