Our first stop upon arriving in Cambodia was the mellow riverside town of Kratie. This travel hub acts as a convenient stopover if you are travelling down from Laos and also offers an insight into rural Cambodia.
Our sole reason for visiting Kratie was to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that live in the Mekong River. There are just 300 of these dolphins left in the wild, owing mainly to habitat loss and bycatch. This is the accidental catching of aquatic animals in fishing apparatus. It would be from Kratie that we made the 15km journey north to Kampi, which is home to approximately 30 dolphins. We hailed a tuk-tuk and sped through countless rural communities en route to our destination. It became quickly apparent that the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods were not used to seeing foreign faces, with adults gaping and children frantically waving at us as we passed. It was a rough journey which threw us about as we bumped over rocky dirt tracks. However, the aches and pains paled into insignificance as we adsorbed Cambodia’s picturesque landscape in all its glory.
We arrived around early afternoon and the sun was scorching. We hired a boat to shuttle us out to the middle of the river. As the dolphins are so few in number, both Tim and I were anxious we wouldn’t see any, though we needn’t have worried. As soon as we got on to the water we were able to see the dolphins popping up intermittently up for air. Luckily, our tuk-tuk driver who spoke fairly good English had insisted on coming along. He was able to give us lots information about the Mekong and the Irrawaddy dolphins. I was surprised by how knowledgeable he was and asked where he had learned about the animals. It was then he told me he recently passed an exam in dolphin studies. (Where you do an exam in dolphin studies I have no idea.) Irrawaddy dolphins don’t jump like their bottlenose cousins so we were very lucky to see a few playing together. This beautiful sight only highlighted how privileged I felt to have seen these majestic mammals in the wild.
Kratie itself is a charming town which I would encourage anyone planning a trip to Cambodia to visit. The town offers an authentic glimpse into rural Cambodian life and the sunsets over the river are to die for. Irrawaddy dolphin spotting in the Mekong was an unforgettable experience and one of my personal highlights from travelling around South East Asia.
Have you visited Kratie or seen the Irrawaddy dolphins?
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