While planning our trip to Cambodia, we knew we wanted to visit Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and have a jaunt on the Mekong River. Kratie became a point of interest because it lies on the banks of the Mekong River and is the one place you can see dolphins in Cambodia.
Highlight of Kratie
Due to the length of time it takes to get to Kratie from Siem Reap (typically about 6 hours) we planned to spend two nights. This ended up being in our opinion too long to spend in the area, but with the limited transportation connections there was no other option.
The dolphins in Cambodia are a special type of oceanic dolphins called Irrawaddy dolphins (for more information: Irrawaddy Dolphins). The Irrawaddy dolphins can be found in a number of countries and are considered to be critically endangered, with the total estimated population about 7,000. 80-90 of them are located in the Mekong River.
To visit the dolphins, we had to make our way to Kampi, about 20 km north of Kratie. While it is possible to take a motorbike, bicycle or tuk-tuk to Kampi, with the condition of the roads a car or any other motor vehicle with windows would be best. We took a tuk-tuk (which we had hired from our hotel at $15 for half a day) and after 100 m on the unpaved portion of the road we wished we had those medical masks most locals wear.
At the official viewing site in Kampi an entrance fee of $9 per person is required. This fee includes a 45-minute boat ride on the Mekong River. It has been said that dolphins are mostly seen early morning or late afternoon, however while we did see a number of dolphins when we visited, it was just the top of their heads.
Our tuk-tuk driver mentioned he would take us to a hill to get a good view of the Mekong River. He however failed to mention that it basically meant traipsing through the grounds of a temple. We climbed hundreds of stairs all lined with giant statues of Buddhas, monks, etc. in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the highly rated view. In total we definitely climbed over 400 stairs and were rewarded with average views.
Sleeping in Kratie
We had wanted to stay at the tripadvisor rated #1 hotel, Rajabori Villas Resort, located on Koh Trong, however since Koh Trong is an island in the middle of the Mekong, we felt transportation options would be limited and make it difficult for us to complete all we wanted to do in Kratie. Therefore we chose the River Dolphin Hotel, located slightly out of the center of Kratie, as it was rated #2 on tripadvisor. Even though we have learnt to be skeptical of tripadvisor reviews, this was the first time we were completely blown away by the inaccuracies of the reviews and ratings.
The road leading to the hotel was unpaved and from what we could see there was construction going on around the hotel, which definitely affected the appearance of the hotel. Upon arrival at check-in, it became obvious that the hotel was under siege by wall-geckos, who would attempt to make our acquaintance at every opportunity. While the room and bathroom were of moderate size, the air-conditioning refused to cool the room. Breakfast was a-la-carte and nothing to write home about. The only real positives of the hotel were the hotel staff and the free tuk-tuk rides to the center.
If we ever return to Kratie, we will be sure to stay on Koh Trong instead!
Getting to Kratie
Our journey to Kratie was long and stressful. We had opted to make use of a private minivan service to ensure that we would be dropped directly at Kratie and in the neighbourhood of our hotel. To summarize our trip what occurred was as follows:
- we were picked up at 7.30 am and dropped off at the wrong minivan departure point (due solely to the poor assistance provided by Memoire d’Angkor Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap)
- after frantic calls we were deposited at the correct departure point, only to have missed the minivan (despite being assured several times by the staff of the Siem Reap hotel that they had spoken to the minivan driver, who was now waiting for us)
- the truth was a tale not common to the Cambodian people involved that resulted in us waiting for 2 hours to depart
- we ended up leaving at 10:00 am in what could only be called a shared-taxi (shared with a motorbike, at least 2 crying babies and more luggage than could reasonably fit into the minvian)
- the so-call shared-taxi broke down in Stueng Treng, where we were stranded for over an hour (due to the language barrier we were not given any information, but just left to watch and hope)
- once on the road again we got dropped off in the middle of nowhere since our shared-taxi did not go to Kratie and were forced to wait for another shared-taxi
- finally arrived at our destination after more than 12 hours
In short, we were scammed, and ended up paying $25 per person while the locals paid 20,000 Riel.