Tuesday, 2 January 2018

KRATIE (pronounced Krachie) 

So it was back on the bus to head further east and a little north to the town of Kratie, also nestled on the banks of the Mekong River and home to the near extinct Irrawaddy Dolphins.  But first, we actually had to get there....

About 2 hours into our bus journey there was a massive thud followed quickly by an ear crunching grinding noise, our axle had basically fallen off and we were left stranded on the side of the road in the full scorching Cambodian heat, waiting for another bus to rescue us and take us the rest of the way onto Kratie.

Seeing as we had been on the road for over 2 hours, I knew we would be waiting at least another 2 for the next one to arrive, so I set forth in search of cigarettes, cold beer and a toilet.  I found all 3 in the one place so figured I may as well settle on in!  I was soon joined by an American named Mike who also had a case of parched throat - an ailment only quenched by delicious cold beer!

So we sat and chatted over beers until the bus arrived and ended up travelling together for the next few days in Cambodia and eventually Vietnam, where we sit now on a train from Dong Hoi to Hanoi for our flights tomorrow.  It has been great having a travel companion, one I may not have spoken to had the bus not crapped out!

The journey is supposed to take around 4 hours and was also about $6us.

Kratie was another great little riverside town oozing with that relaxed charm you find in many of these small rural Asian towns.  I stayed at Heng Heng 2 which overlooks the river and was great,  especially at $13au a night, I would definitely stay there again and it is located only a 1 minute walk from where the bus will drop you off.

As per the usual routine, we grabbed scooters and explored the area, nothing overly spectacular to see, man-made that is, but the scenery alone and the friendly locals made the ride thoroughly enjoyable.  We did stop at Wat Phnom Sambok, an interesting hilltop pagoda, worth the hike up all those stairs if only to remind us we need to get back in the gym!

We rode on past Kampi, where most people stop to take a boat out to view the dolphins, and ended up in the smaller 'town' of Sambor, where we stopped for noodles and a couple of cold beers overlooking the sun setting over the Mekong, so simple - yet so amazing.   It was such a fantastic ride through tiny villages of wooden stilted house, right alongside the banks of the Mekong that you really need to get out there and give it a go whilst in Kratie.

The next day we swapped engine power for  paddle power!  Mike is a keen kayaker, like me, and we made plans to do a tour with Sorya Kayaking that turned out to be a really amazing day on the water.  

After an early start with fresh made banana bread and hot coffee, included in the tour at the Sorya restaurant, we were crammed onto the back of a truck along with the kayaks and sent jostling up the bumpy road Mike and I had ridden the previous day. 

 It's not too far to travel and we were soon spilling out of the truck in anticipation, preparing to paddle one of the greatest rivers in the world, with the promise of seeing the beautiful creatures that are sadly facing possible extinction, the Irrawaddy Dolphin.

Unfortunately (or not) they were double kayaks, and somehow Mike and I ended up each going with one of the 2 guides.  It really did make the day though, chatting with him along the way, and sharing the experience with a local.  Sorya does a great job of employing locals and the service and information were outstanding.

We stopped twice along the way on little sandbar islands that popped up randomly from the rushing brown waters of the mighty Mekong, where we got to swim, eat and take in the natural wonders we were lucky enough to be in the middle of. 

 The second 'island' stop gives you the opportunity to watch for the dolphins that tend to congregate in that specific area, though we did see a few from the kayaks also.

  The highlight for my guide and I after we had pushed on ahead of the others, was seeing what we thought was a dolphin surfacing right next to our kayak, only to realize it was a fish!  This thing was a monster and we nearly fell out of the kayak with excitement, the guide saying he'd never seen anything like that before.

Alas, I didn't take a camera with me at all, so  I have absolutely no pictures of the day, only some brilliant memories that will stay with me forever....   or until I return!  You will simply have to go and see it for yourself, it really was an amazing day out.

Red Sun Falling became our eating/beer drinking/river watching hangout spot for it's excellent cheap food, great location and friendly staff. They don't close until you finish drinking!  Tokae Restaurant is another option over near the markets and it certainly gets it's fair share of travelers.