Aside from the star attraction, the dolphins, there are wonderful opportunities to get off the beaten track and do some serious exploring in Kratie. Head down to the port, in the heart of the river road, to hire a boat for exploring the Mekong or wander around the many traditional farms and stilt-home villages that lie on its banks. Blessedly untouched by major tourism, for now at least, the people around Kratie are some of Cambodia’s most welcoming and genial. Check with your guesthouse or at Red Sun Falling for the latest news on organising home stays in these villages, as several NGOs are based in the area.
Kratie is most famous for being one of the only remaining places in the world where it is possible to see the extremely rare Irrawaddy Dolphin. Similar in appearance to the Beluga, the dolphins have a large round head, likened to a melon by locals, pale gray-white skin and a short stumpy body – around six feet in length. Fewer than 80 dolphins remain in the Mekong, with a pod of around 25 residents in the waters near Kampi, 15kms north of Kratie. The dolphins cannot be seen from Kratie town.
Getting to Kampi is easy with moto drivers always happy to make the journey along the river road. The round trip should cost no more than US$5, although the truly budget conscious or slightly mad can make the trip by bicycle for around US$2-$4. Motorbike hire is available in Kratie, with prices around US$5 respectively. Once at the Kampi port, boats for the short trip out to the dolphins can be hired from US$9 for one person, US$7 each for three or more people.
Most of the boat drivers are fairly flexible and easy-going, meaning they are used to tourist and dolphin time-clocks. The trip can be anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on yours, and the dolphins’ mood and contact. The trip is best made in the late afternoon, when the light and sun are not so harsh. The outing can be combined with an afterwards visit to the Sambok Mountain pagoda for sunset watching – most moto drivers will include this stopover free with the Kampi trip.
A virtually untouched island situated across the Mekong River from Kratie, Ko Treung makes for an excellent day trip. Simply head down to the ferry port and pay the 1,000 riel for the short trip across the water. The trail which encircles the island is nine kilometres long and passes untouched farming life, lush tropical fields and verdant rice paddies. An enjoyable, if somewhat bumpy bike ride, these can be hired on the island when you land.
This is the authentic Cambodia that intrepid travellers search for, where children ambush you with high-fives and hellos, and grown-ups welcome you to their homes. The western banks are good place to watch the sunset, and maybe see the rare Mekong mud turtle but be back in time for the last ferry ay 18:30.
Wat Roka Kandal
Beautifully restored, this small Laotian-style temple is one of the oldest in eastern Cambodia and now plays host to the Cambodian Craft Cooperation, whose wares are displayed for sale inside the showroom pagoda. Profits from the dirt cheap souvenirs help the local community. Accommodation is also available, though the bungalows next door that were once managed by the CCC were taken back by the government in 2008.
In its heyday Chhlong was a bustling centre of trade for French and Chinese merchants seeking to expand their reach up the Mekong (they went all the way to Laos where a succession of waterfalls eventually halted their progress). The town itself is now a testament to what once was, with the crumbling French houses and Chinese shop fronts along the riverside a still elegant reminder of colonialism. Look for the famed 100 stilt home, where the family now in residence loves to tell war stories. On the road to Chhlong there are at least three basket weaving villages with origins from the Vietnamese Cham people, the largest being Chheu Teil Ploch, around 14kms south of Kratie.
Sambok Mountain Pagoda
The small pagoda, guarded by a giant, sits atop Phnom Bro (Brother Mountain), the only hill of any size near Kratie. Phnom Srei (Sister Mountain) is connected by a climbing staircase and home to monks, with the nuns, oddly, on Brother Mountain. A fantastic place to watch the sunset after visiting the dolphins at Kampi, the nuns here are also renowned for their love of conversation with solo female travellers.