“Home to the Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins”.
Where is Kratie?
Kratie is a riverside town set along an expansive river frontage of the Mekong River. With some of the best sunsets in Cambodia. Being relatively remote and having no large scale tourism yet.
It is the most popular place in the country to see Irrawaddy dolphins, which live in the Mekong River. Making it a popular stop-off destination with backpackers travelling around Cambodia.
The river also has hundreds of green islands, which also attract tourists. Kratie town is sleepy but picturesque. Unlike other towns in Cambodia, the war years were fairly kind to the French architecture and the roads in the town itself.
The area around Kratie mainly consists of a thick forest. American ponds (bomb craters filled with water) are still visible from the 1970-75 American bombing of the country.
Our journey from Phnom Penh to Kratie was in a minivan.
During our time in Kratie, we chose to stay at the Sorya Guesthouse, booked through Booking.com. A small eight room clean and comfortable guest house overlooking the Mekong River. Our economy room was at the top of the building off the bar and restaurant.
Air conditioning wasn’t included in the basic price but could be added for a small additional fee. The room was clean and spacious, had a wardrobe and an ensuite bathroom with a hot shower.
Immediately outside our door was Pete’s Pizza Pasta Café & Bar, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day until 2100 hrs, so no sleep deprivation for guests. A discount was offered to those staying and the food was delicious.
Places of interest
Koh Trong Island
Sat in the middle of the river, right in front of the town is the island of Koh Trong. It possesses an idyllic charm and exudes itself as an excellent example of rural Cambodian life. An eco-tourism paradise, Koh Trong’s lush landscape is dotted with litter-free charming villages, grazing cows, and sprawling paddy fields.
Getting to the island is really easy. There is a ferry from the Kratie boat port, adjacent to the Jasmine Boat Restaurant. The ferry takes about 10 minutes to reach the island and costs 1000 Riel per person each way.
As the river was particularly low during our visit, it was a walk of a few hundred metres across the sand to get to the village from the ferry landing point.
There is a concrete trail right around the island making exploration really simple.
On arrival, there is the option to hire a variety of methods of transport. An ox-drawn cart, a horse-drawn cart, a bicycle, a tuk tuk, or a scooter.
Our preferred option was the ox-drawn cart. Unfortunately, for us, it was too hot on the day of our visit for both the ox and the horse-drawn cart options. So we opted for the scooter at a cost of 5 USD.
In the centre of the island, amidst sweeping paddy fields, stands an ancient pagoda.
The highlight of the island is the floating Vietnamese village located at the southern tip. All of the houses in the village are built directly in the water on stilts. Villagers use canoes or boats for access.
For the adventurous, there are a couple of homestays and a resort Rajabori Villa Resort that can be stayed in.
Of course, there is the customary Cambodian karaoke too.
On our second day in Kratie, we chose to take a kayak trip on the Mekong River to see the Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat.
Our trip was with Sorya Kayaking Adventures which was run by our accommodation.
The tour started with a short briefing in the restaurant over a coffee and cake. Then, off to the truck to take us to the kayaking site. When we say truck, we mean truck. In the back was a bench seat along one side. We sat facing a stack of kayaks for the bumpy 40 minute journey to the start point at Kampi.
As it was the dry season, we had the advantage of the river level being low. This exposed far more scenery than would have been visible in wet season when the river is far higher, some 15m higher.
With every advantage, there is always a disadvantage. In this case, as the river was low, we had to scramble down the riverbank to reach it. Luckily for us, we only had to carry the paddles and not the kayaks.
A 1.5 litre bottle of water was provided for each of us, together with a dry bag for our belongings. The river was flowing quite gently past the launch site and the route we were going to take followed that flow.
Off we set on our 13km paddle. Passing through areas of faster flowing water and maneuvering around the islands exposed by the low water level.
Our guide stopped at one of the islands, giving us the chance for a cooling off dip in the river.
Providing us with a well earned snack of kralan. A savoury treat made from sticky rice and red beans, packed in bamboo stems, sealed at either end with bamboo shavings. The bamboo stem is peeled back, rather like a banana skin to reveal the treat.
Suitably refreshed, we set off again making our way through the sunken forest of the large trees that become completely submerged during the wet season.
Paddling further downstream, we reached the deep pool in the river, where the dolphins were.
It didn’t take long before we heard the distinctive sound of a dolphin breaking the surface and taking a breath before it disappeared again. What a beautiful sight, multiple groups of dolphins and so close. It was an amazing experience. Floating down the Mekong River in a kayak, Irrawaddy dolphins surfacing around us. Could life get much better?
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. It was time to paddle back to the riverbank. A scramble up the bank to get to the truck. Before a shorter journey back to our accommodation and a well earned cold drink.