IN the frenzy to attract international tourists, domestic ones can become overlooked. However, on a late Sunday afternoon by Yeak Lom lake, a few kilometres outside Banlung, they are very much in evidence.
This is Kim Oun’s first visit to the lake said to have been formed 700,000 years ago when a meteorite landed here. The Takeo rice farmer, 52, has decided to come here for a week’s holiday with her two daughters.
“Someone said that Yeak Lom is very pleasant and I wanted to see Ratanakkiri,” she says.
She is not disappointed. “I feel really happy. It is beautiful.”
Vireak Vuth, 35, is having a picnic with his family, who have come up from Phnom Penh for a long weekend.
The civil servant has already visited 20 provinces in the country, but still he is impressed by Yeak Lom. “It is a lake full of history,” he says. “It is really different.”
This is not his first trip to the northeastern province. On a previous trip he visited ethnic minority cultural villages.
“I think that Ratanakkiri is good for eco-tourism,” he says. “We should preserve it and have a clear master plan on how to protect the culture of the ethnic groups for the next generation.”
Noy Sammang has been to Ratanakkiri about 20 times. Each time the comedienne and television celebrity comes to the province, she visits the lake.
“This place is Khmer soil, so when I come here I never miss Yeak Lom,” she says. “It gives me a good feeling inside.”
This visit, she has been performing in the province for 12 days, but still comes each day to the lake just before sunset, bringing her whole crew in two cars.
“Every day I come to the lake,” she says. “Everyone likes this place.”
However, Noy Sammang is a relative Yeak Lom novice compared with Um Sary. The 22-year-old from Prey Veng province sells souvenirs near the lake with her sister, Sin Srey Neang.
“When things are busy my sister calls me to help her,” she says. “In the two months I have been here, sales have been good.”
Each day Noy Sammang sells between 300,000 to 400,000 riel (US$74-US$99)) worth of souvenirs, mainly to Khmer tourists but some foreigners as well.
“Saturdays and Sundays are good days, as well as holidays,” she says. “I hope that sales here remain good so I can stay here. I really like Ratanakkiri.”
TRANSLATION BY RANN REUY