Irrawaddy Dolphins & Mekong Sunsets in Kratie

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February 3rd 2015
Published: February 5th 2015
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Almost a Mekong SunsetAlmost a Mekong SunsetAlmost a Mekong Sunset

Looking down towards the river from the market I saw these 2 tuk tuks silouetted against the setting sun.
Just five and a half hours after being picked up by a mini bus at Nature Lodge in Sen Monorom, I'm stepping out into the heat and chaos of Kratie's 'bus terminal'. There is no terminal as such, simply a big open dusty area where buses constantly come and go from. The trip was an easy one in an actual small bus, with air conditioning, one person per seat. The road was bitumen all the way, most of it a decent highway. This trip cost $7 which I paid the bus driver for when we reached Kratie.

I had decided on The Silver Dolphin Guesthouse as my first port of call for a room. It was listed in Lonely Planet so I figured it would be okay. Only one room available, at $4 per night, with shared facilities. I asked to see it, then knocked it back straight away. It had no windows, but it did have vented bricks in the wall which overlooked a 'staff only' staircase to the lower floor. My first thought was 'peep hole' thanks!

I then phoned Le Tonle Training Centre, the sister guesthouse to where I stayed in Stung Treng. Lucky for me
A Mekong SunsetA Mekong SunsetA Mekong Sunset

Untouched photo of my first Mekong Sunset. Worth the wait!
they have recently extended their premises and had a vacancy for the next three nights. So, I now find myself comfortably settled into one of their newest rooms, with shared facilities just next door, for $9 per night. The bar and restaurant are in the older section of Le Tonle, just across the street, so I'm going to get plenty of exercise whilst here.

CRD Tours, run by Cambodian Rural Development Team, are located at ground level under the guesthouse. Unfortunately they are closed today so there's no chance to organise a trip. I did enjoy my first Mekong sunset today though, sitting on the promenade wall, with a view across the river, after a $2.25 plate of stir fried veges and rice at Tokae Restaurant.

So, Wednesday morning I'm on the door step of CRD Tours when they open at 8.00am. I wanted to get as much as possible out of my day. Half an hour later I have hired a tuk tuk and driver for the day and am heading north to Sambor, 35klm away. Not far, one would think, but it took over two hours to get there! We crept along at snail's pace, being overtaken
Irrawaddy DolphinIrrawaddy DolphinIrrawaddy Dolphin

My stolen photo..
by everything else on the road, and unfortunately, engulfing me in clouds of dust at times.

Hiring a moto may have been a better idea, but the road was very bumpy, the sun hot, and I was pleased to be under the canopy of a tuk tuk. Enroute we stopped at a Meditation Centre, 160 steps up to the top of a hill. What a waste of energy! The centre was under much needed renovation, builder's rubble was everywhere. The starving cats will be the only memory I take away from there....

Eventually we arrived at Sambor and Wat Sorsor Moi Roi or 100 Column Pagoda, the largest wat in Cambodia. It too, was under renovation with all the roof tiles missing and workmen banging away. The Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre was also located in the temple grounds and is worth a visit just to become informed on the work they're doing.

It is home to several species, including the rare Cantor giant soft shell which can grow to 2m in length. I didn't see any that size but there were a lot of hatchlings there. They are taken from the nests and raised here for 10
100 Column Pagoda100 Column Pagoda100 Column Pagoda

It actually has 108 columns and is the largest pagoda in Cambodia
months, as mortality rate is highest within this time frame, after which they are released back into the Mekong. There's only a $4 entrance fee and all money goes back into the programme.

Around 20 kilometres north of Kratie, at the village of Kampi, the swirling waters of the Mekong are considered one of the best places in the world to see the critically endangered Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin. Fewer than 85 still surviving, they are recognised by their round heads and tiny dorsal fins and live in the Mekong between Kratie and the Lao border. They are a big tourist drawcard and the main reason why I, myself, am here.

So, on the return trip to Kratie, my tuk tuk driver pulls in at the very unassuming ticket office where I can buy my $9 ticket for a boat onto the Mekong River to see these creatures for myself. I was there earlier than I would have liked as best viewing time was late afternoon or early morning, and it was only 2.00pm. No other boats were out and I wondered on my chances at seeing them at all. But almost immediately I spot a fin in the
Life on the MekongLife on the MekongLife on the Mekong

A local community further down the river
water and for the next hour watch four, sometimes five, of these endangered dolphins, swim and frolic in the water. I took some photos but have none I'm happy with so, once again, I have stolen a decent photo from the internet and included it here so readers can see these lovely creatures for themselves.

Tonight I ate at a tasty meal at the Red Sun Falling Restaurant, which unfortunately for them, are having their Mekong views built out by construction work on the promenade directly across the street. Progress!

On Thursday morning I decided not to eat breakfast at Le Tonle. I think, at $4.50, it is a little expensive and I've yet to enjoy a decent cup of tea there. So I headed into the market area and found myself back at Tokae Restaurant where I was able to buy Lipton's tea, a ham omelette with a huge toasted baguette and extra butter and jam for $3.75. Whilst there I also purchased my next bus ticket, to Kampong Cham for $7.00. It leaves at 7.00am in the morning, from outside Tokae Restaurant, so I'll be back here for an early breakfast before I leave.

Today's plan
Life on the MekongLife on the MekongLife on the Mekong

Another view of the same village
was to catch the ferry across to Koh Trong, an almighty sand bar in the middle of the Mekong River, and just across the water from Kratie. A 1000 reil fare (.25c) got me to the island. There's no jetty, all passengers jump from one boat to another and finally out onto the sand. From here there is a rough wooden path across the sand and up to the island itself. The path hasn't been constructed for the comfort of tourists but for the motos which come and go for every ferry arrival or departure.

I hired a clapped out bicycle for $2 and set out to ride around the island, about 9klm. Part of the way was a concrete path but that soon disappeared and turned into a rough dirt track. The best part for me was scrambling down the disintegrating mud steps to the sand and being able to walk there barefoot and paddle in the water. A Vietnamese floating village was stretched out along the water and I was able to get some closeup photos. Only a few other people bothered to do the scramble down from the cycle path, so I had the sandbars virtually
Life on the MekongLife on the MekongLife on the Mekong

A bamboo bridge across the water
to myself.

On my return to the mainland I headed to Red Sun Falling Restaurant for a cheap lunch (egg and salad baguette for $1.75) before heading back to my room for a nap. Later I headed back for dinner and my last Mekong sunset from Kratie.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Wat Preah VihearWat Preah Vihear
Wat Preah Vihear

It bears the name of the internationally famous Preah Vihear Temple that straddles the Thai border in the Dangrek Mountains.
Wat Preah VihearWat Preah Vihear
Wat Preah Vihear

The painted columns, walls and ceiling inside the wat.
Koh TrongKoh Trong
Koh Trong

The Vietnamese village in the waters of the Mekong, off Koh Trong Island
Koh TrongKoh Trong
Koh Trong

Vietnamese fishing village
Koh TrongKoh Trong
Koh Trong

Boy from the fishing village
Koh TrongKoh Trong
Koh Trong

The shop where I hired my bicycle
Koh TrongKoh Trong
Koh Trong

The wooden path across the sand to the ferry for the motos (and tourists) to use.

6th February 2015

Hi Deb, love reading your blog, feels like one is there. happy days ahead

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