Sunday, 3 March 2013

Kratie - Mad Cambodian Buses and Dolphins

This little fella is about a foot long
I will start with the journey from Sen Monorom to Kratie.  We arranged tickets through Nature Lodge and Paul decided, in his wisdom, to purchase 2 tickets in order to provide him with a little more comfort/leg room.

A short discussion followed between us and I suggested that buying 2 tickets would not necessary guarantee him 2 seats – we had heard stories of 25 people (plus luggage,motorbikes and livestock) being squashed into an 11 seater minibus so buying a ticket didn’t seem to guarantee any seat to yourself at all never mind the luxury of space for a very tall man to stretch out but Paul thought it was worth a short and decided to shell out the extra $7.

Our initial instincts should have prevailed and we did indeed end up squeezed into a minibus with a enough wood stashed under the seats to build a small house (so our knees were practically around our ears), various sacks of vegetables, and 23 other passengers plus 2 motorbikes strapped onto the back and about a dozen large empty crates.

Sunset over the river
Whilst we were not expected to sit on anyone’s lap and no-one at any time attempted to sit on ours, Paul did not get his longed for extra leg room and spent the journey with his knees wedged against the seat in front.  However we had been warned so we just tried to maintain a sense of humour throughout the journey.  It may have been mild hysteria?  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.

On a positive note, the weight of the passengers and various goods meant that the driver could not reach the eye watering speeds we have experienced on other occasions so ironically the journey felt mildly safer than others.

On the boat waiting for dolphins
We had the customary feeding stop (no geckos were harmed on this occasion) and an additional stop at what appeared to be a builders’ yard to unload the wood.  This meant that we were able to rest our feet on the actual floor of the minibus for the final couple of hours.

We also stopped at a couple of small villages where locals were plying their wares and piles of fried tarantulas were offered up for sale.  We had seen these before and still did not feel the urge to taste this particular Cambodian delicacy.  The number of spiders that are caught, fried and presumably consumed beggars belief.  It's a wonder they are not extinct although a friend tarantula is a good tarantula in my book.

In all the journey took about 6  hours which by Cambodian standards was quite reasonable.

We reached our destination feeling a little squashed and were deposited in the market square in central Kratie where we were approached by a tuk tuk driver who unbeknown to us had been sent to meet us by our hotel.  This was most welcome and saved us the hassle of haggling a price when we had no idea how much the price should be.

There is a dolphin here, honest
The hotel was on the main road opposite the river from where, every evening, we witnessed picture perfect sunsets.  We also met the resident Tokay gecko who wandered about the bar making his alarming call each evening while chasing the smaller geckos (dinner for a Tokay).

Once again, it was hot.  We were only in Kratie for 3 nights and our only reason for visiting was to see the famous endangered species of Irrawaddy river dolphins.  The heat didn’t really encourage us to venture out exploring for very long or very far.  

Another one, honest
On our first day we went for a wander back to the market and although Kratie seemed like a nice little town, after an hour or so mooching about, the heat got too much so we admitted defeat and headed back to the hotel where we sat in the outside bar area very close to a fan.  We spent the rest of the day planning the next few stages of our trip which involved returning to Phnom Penh once again, and then down to Sihanoukville. A few cooling beers were obviously involved.

On the second day we travelled by tuk tuk to the section of the river where you are apparently guaranteed to see the Irriwaddy dolphins.  We weren't too sure whether we would actually see them but headed off full of optimism.  The drive takes about an hour and is a bit of a treat in itself as it is very picturesque and passes through lots of little villages but the ride is very bumpy and taking pictures is just out of the question.  We spent the hour holding on for dear life.

Look very closely...
At about 9 o'clock we reached the section of the river where you pay for an hour's boat ride.  It was quite quiet with not many people about and so we had a boat to ourselves.  At the time there were probably about 3 or 4 other boats all out with tourists who, like us, were hoping to catch a glimpse of these lovely creatures traditionally held in great affection by us humans.

It wasn’t long before our boat driver pointed out some dolphins in the distance and for the remainder of our boat excursion we must have seen about 2 dozen dolphins.  Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that we saw dolphins on 2 dozen occasions because obviously they all look pretty much the same. 

Dolphin tour boats
Nevertheless it was amazing to see them.  Some swam in twos and threes and dutifully jumped out of the water in sync.  Needless to say, I didn’t catch any of this on camera.  I have lots of photographs of the river, one or two pictures which I can assure you are the arse end of a dolphin but you’d just have to take my word for it, and a couple of splash shots.  I gave up in the end and simply watched them.  Some of them swam really close to our boat and it really was kind of magical to see them and definitely worth the trip to Kratie just to see them.

The boat driver spoke little English but he told me afterwards that there were about 3 dozen dolphins in the area and that there were quite a few baby dolphins so they were breeding successfully which is of course encouraging.

Tokay gecko - look at his feet
We then rode back through the villages in our little tuk tuk, ventured out to dinner at a restaurant about 10 minutes down the road where we ate some delicious lok lak (traditional Khmer dish) and a lovely green curry which is also traditional in Cambodia (although I always thought it was a Thai dish but I suppose they are neighbours and have a lot of similar ingredients to hand).

We witnessed another stunning sunset before heading back to the hotel where we had a couple more beers and were further entertained by the resident Tokay gecko. 

The landscape through a dirty
bus window on the way back to
Phnom Penh!
The next day we headed back to Phnom Penh by coach and this journey was another long one – 9 hours in total and we were more than a bit frazzled by the time we reached Rory’s Guesthouse where the ice cold beer in frozen glasses were much appreciated.  I seem to remember we got quite pissed that night but I could be wrong.

We spent 2 nights at Rory’s before catching an early bus on the third day to Sihanoukville.  After several long, arduous, terrifying and guaranteed uncomfortable bus journeys, over a relatively short space of time, we were more than ready to spend some time relaxing on a beach and on one or two of the islands off the south coast of Cambodia.  Paul was planning to to his PADI open water diving course and I was planning to do bugger all.  We couldn't wait.


No comments:

Post a Comment