I arrived in Kratie (bus from Siem Reap to Kratie – 8 hrs – $12.00) without any real knowledge except that it is a good spot to view the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. I found a sleepy little city with few tourists nestled on the muddy shores of the mighty Mekong River. In short, it proved a great place to rent a bicycle, relax and explore.
I arrived at Le Tonle Guesthouse in Kratie literally dripping sweat after a mere 10 minute walk from the bus station. The polite young man at the desk had the good sense not to mention my beet-red face and matted hair as he asked to see my passport, showed me my room and watched me dive in front of the fan (alas no a/c). Le Tonle, to my delight, turned out to be a training centre for youth from local low-income families, and provides basic clean rooms as well as delicious meals at their restaurant.
(Le Tonle Guesthouse and Restaurant)
After a good nights rest using an old nursing trick to stay cool – take a cold shower and go to bed soaking wet with the fan on – I was ready to explore. But first – a bike. For $1.50 I found myself trundling the streets of Kratie in a pink helmet on a bike complete with little wicker basket.
(Channeling my inner child in Kratie)
Kratie itself didn’t take long to explore. The dusty streets yielded a small fruit/vegetable/meat market and a pagoda. Soon I headed to the riverbank to catch a ferry (think small old wooden boat) to Koh Trong Island. Soon I was headed up Koh Trong’s sandy shores with the 25 other ferry customers (plus a motorbike and several large sacks of rice).
(Ferry to Koh Trong Island)
Koh Trong is structured for cycling – the only other forms of transport on the island are the odd motorbike, ox carts and, of course, legs. I cycled past traditional Khmer homes built on stilts, palm groves, fragrant frangipanis and Buddhist pagodas. Children yelled hello. Then, I took a detour. I had read about Rajabori Villas Resort and their lovely swimming pool and cycled up in all my sweaty pink-helmeted glory to pay the $5.00 to use that pool. Let me tell you – it was bliss.
The only other people poolside that afternoon were a lovely couple from Britain with whom I shared lunch and several hours of great conversation (if you are reading this – thanks again!).
Next day I woke ready to go kayaking and dolphin spotting on the Mekong. I had booked the tour the day before and arrived to find it would be just me, a tuk-tuk driver and a guide. (Hmmm – I guess we tuk-tuk to the kayaks?). Twenty minutes and several questions later I determined this was not, in fact, the kayaking tour but a tour of local sites that included a boat trip on the Mekong To spot dolphins. Sigh! Oh well, life goes on. We did, in fact, spot many dolphins(sorry – no photos but please google them. They are adorable little blunt nosed creatures.) from a boat that legally has to cut its engine and paddle through the dolphin area. As it turned out, it was so hot that kayaking the Mekong that day would probably have been unbearable.
We also visited the Phnom Sambok Pagoda. Many pagodas in Cambodia, it seems, are designed to test the visitor’s stamina in extreme heat. Phnom Sambok and it’s many, many stairs is one such place (my guide also regaled me with a sad story about a child on a bicycle long ago that lost control on the downward journey) but it is beautiful, peaceful and provides a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
(Top: Approach to Phnom Sambok Pagoda; Bottom: Wise words posted at the pagoda)
My final morning in Kratie, I woke to the now familiar rooster crooning outside my window and a beautiful sunrise colouring the muddy expanse of the Mekong. The enterprising and ever polite and helpful youth at the Le Tonle front desk ensured my bus pickup was on time and waved me a cheerful goodbye. I thank them all for a wonderful stay!
(Rice fields surround Kratie)