In common with many other nations with long histories, the Khmer people have many folktales and legends associated with places. Today, many of those places are tourist attractions, where people not only enjoy themselves but also listen to those stories. This week, Srey Kumneth takes you on a magical journey to Yeak Laom Lake, the main attraction in the northeastern province of Ratanakiri. It will be an odyssey you will never forget, she says.
Once upon a time, there was an ogre king who ruled over all the ogres in a region. He had a daughter who happened to be the most beautiful girl of all lands. Her hair gave out sweet aroma, which earned her the name Neang Sak Kra’ob (Perfumed-hair Maid).
As soon as Neang Sak Kra’ob reached marriageable age, a brave and powerful man snuck into the ogre king’s palace and courted her. He succeeded and the two eloped. Discovering the affair, the king was furious and with his army of ogres, he raced all over his kingdom to find the runaways. When they reached a dense forest, the ogre king suspected that his daughter and her lover must be hiding there. So he ordered his soldiers to surround the forest and pull out the trees and dig into the ground to find them. The two, however, could not be found. Disappointed, the ogre king and his army went back to the palace.
According to the legend, the huge crater dug by the army of ogres was filled with rainwater and became a lake. People called it Yeak Loam, which translates as “Surrounded by Giants”. Khmer people have passed down the legend to their children and grandchildren, although the truth is the lake was created at the site of a 4000-year-old volcano eruption.
Located in Yeak Laom commune of Ratanakiri’s Ban Lung district, Yeak Loam Lake attracts tens of thousands visitors from all corners of the world. It is almost perfectly round – 0.72 kilometres in diameter – and the 48-metre-deep lake, full of crystal-clear water, is also surrounded by lush rain forest. In 2012, it was even listed by Earth Porm as one of the 15 most beautiful crater-lakes in the world.
From Phnom Penh, it is around a seven-hour car journey, passing through provinces such as Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Kratie, Stung Treng and Mundulkiri.
On arriving at the tourist attraction, the first thing I see are booths selling snacks and drinks, plus handicrafts made by local hill tribes. You should try bee nests, the local delicacy, but resist buying wild animal meat – no matter how much the vendors try to convince you. You are here to be part of the nature—not to ruin it.
Along the bank, there are two places (west bank and east bank) where visitors can relax and enjoy a panoramic view of the lake and the flora and fauna – landscape photographers will be in heaven. Meanwhile, the picturesque countryside scenery gives a glimpse of the daily lives of the local hill-tribe people, whose culture remains partially primitive.
I walk straight down to the lake and mingle with people relaxing and having fun. Some are enjoying their picnics while the other are posing for photos, dressed in the traditional clothes of the Punong minority people or sitting in Punong traditional houses built high above the ground. Cool and fresh air fills my lungs; a welcome change from the pollution and heat of the city – at least for the time being. If you happen to be a keen swimmer, the opportunity to take a dip in the huge lake’s clear and refreshing water should not be missed.
For the ethnic tribes in the area, who believe in animism, Yeak Laom Lake is a place of worship. The local folks believe there is a powerful spirit that rules over the surrounding land and forests. So do show your respect by taking your garbage with you and keeping the place clean.
If you want to try a taste of the indigenous cuisine, you can go to an eating house which serves the traditional dishes enjoyed by the locals. The flavours may be a little unusual for those who are not food adventurers, but be brave and have a try! Recommendations include Janang, a signature stew enjoyed by indigenous groups such as the Kreung and Tumpouwhich. It’s a type of pork soup with bamboo shoots and Thai eggplants and is served with either rice or noodles. And the price – at just 5000 riels – could just tempt you to dive in (after the lake of course).
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