Kratie – Dolphin Watching and Food Poisoning

Kratie is a small rivertown in the northeast region of Cambodia.  It is not a huge tourist destination, but makes for a good stopping point when crossing the border from Laos to the capital of Phnom Penh.  Kratie is perhaps most known for the Irrawaddy River dolphins that hang out in the Kampi village, about 9 or 10 miles north of the town.

After getting used to using Vietnamese Dong and Laotian Kip, it was sort of a strange transition to Cambodia’s de facto currency: the US dollar.  When you go to an ATM in Cambodia, the money that comes out is US currency.  However, coins are not used or accepted, so anything under $1 is paid for with Cambodian Riel.  $1 is equal to 4,000riel, so 1,000riel is used in place of a quarter, etc.  Weird!

After getting up and having breakfast, we headed into town for a short exploration of the area.  We walked through the streets, found a market, and were practically stampeded by a group of kids that were SO excited to shake our hands and say hello to us.  Every single one of them asked, “Hello, what is your name?”  Never mind that they all knew our names after the first one asked, it was their turn to ask that they were waiting for!  Perhaps the most polite group of 9 year olds ever!

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Exploring the streets of Kratie
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Jojo in front of Kratie’s riverside
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Adorable Cambodian children excited to have their picture taken
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A market we stumbled upon
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Workers on bamboo scaffolding
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A sculpture in the middle of a roundabout in town

Given all the hype about these rare, aforementioned dolphins, we decided it might be worth checking out during our short stay in the area. A $10 tuk tuk and 20 minutes later, we were in Kampi and paying the ridiculous $9/ticket fee to enter the dolphin watching area.  Once we had forked over the cash, we were pointed around a building and down some steps to the boat area.  Somehow we lucked into our own private boat that took us out onto the river.

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Walking to board a boat
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On the boat in search of Irrawaddy dolphins

It was hot, humid, and full of bugs, but we could see the dolphins before we even got on the boat.  We rowed out quietly to the area where they seemed to be most concentrated, and watched for them to surface.

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Spotted!

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It’s estimated that there are only about 80 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong, and only about 15-20 of them inhabit this stretch of river.  Our boatman paddled us along, trying to anticipate where they would surface so we could get as close as possible.  Irrawaddy dolphins are very shy, but a couple times they came up right next to our boat!

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Irrawaddy dolphins are small and dark gray. Their dorsal fins are closer to their tales than their heads and their beaks are blunted in comparison to a bottlenose dolphin

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We watched the dolphins for about an hour before we turned back for the shore and got back on our tuk tuk to town.

When we got back to our hotel, it was evident that something was not right.  We had both been feeling queasy all day and it wasn’t letting up.  We decided to spend the evening resting, but it turned into a sleepless night of unrelenting torture.  To make matters worse, we had a 5+ hour mini-bus to catch the next morning at 7am into Phnom Penh.  Noooo.

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The alarm went off 6am.

“…I can’t.”

The idea of being packed into a mini bus (the woman at reception was honest with us that we would be sharing seats with other passengers) for five hours on Cambodian roads was unbearable.  We cancelled the bus ticket and spent literally all day in bed.  We knew we would probably get sick at some point on this trip, and we were grateful that it hadn’t happened until this point, but that didn’t make it any better.

The day was pure agony, but around 5pm we assembled some sort of energy and got ourselves into town to try to eat something.  It was that point where we had no semblance of an appetite, but the weakness of hunger was only increasing our misery.  Afraid to eat at the hotel restaurant again, we decided to play it safe and try a well known restaurant in town called Red Sun Falling.

It was a perfectly pleasant place, but even just reading the menu items was near enough to induce dry heaving.  We ended up sharing a bowl of noodle soup, which was enough to fill our bellies without making us sick again.

We went to bed super early that night, and were thankfully able to get a bit more rest before getting on the bus the next morning.

It certainly wan’t a pleasant experience, but it could have been worse.  We avoided the hotel restaurant the next morning as well (and ate some Oreos for breakfast, just to be safe.)  And yes, we DID make it onto the bus this time!

2/21

Breakfast: $10

Tuk Tuk to Kampi: $10

Boat: $18

Tip: $1

Water: $1

Dinner: $5.50

Accommodation: $5

2/21 Total Spent: $50.50 USD

2/22

Sandwich: $4.50

Water: $1

Water: $1

Water: $1

Red Sun Falling: $3.75

Accommodation: $5

2/22 Total Spent: $16.25 USD

Crossing the Border – Don Det, Laos to Kratie, Cambodia

We only had one more day left on our Laos visas, so it was time to move on…to Cambodia!

We booked a package ticket from Don Det to Kratie, which included the boat ride from Don Det to Ban Nakasang, the bus to the Cambodian border, and then another bus to Kratie, a tiny town in Northeastern Cambodia.

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The route

We woke up and walked to the beach where the boat was to pick us up at approximately 8am.  It showed up around 8:30 and took us across the river to the bus station.

Once at the bus station, this schmancy looking guy, naming himself our ‘guide,’ gave us the required border crossing documents to fill out.  He then asked us to give him our passports, the documents, and $40 to get all of our visas for us.  Cambodia visas only cost $35, but then there’s the stamping fee scam of $1 by both sides, and the bribe to get through without a passport photo (which neither of us had.)  Even if we had refused the guy and tried to go through on our own, it probably would have worked out to be about the same price or only a dollar or two less, so we decided the convenience was worth it.

The process of everyone filling out the documents and giving them to the guy took forever, and then we sat around waiting for a long time.  No one ever seems to tell you what you’re waiting for, but you have no choice, so you just wait.

Finally, we were instructed to board the bus that would take us to the border crossing.  Despite being very close to the border already, the condition of the road wasn’t great so it still took about an hour to get there.

Once we got to the border, we got off the bus and sat around waiting for our ‘guide’ to get out visas for us, which took at least another hour.  Eventually we were instructed to walk across the border (you can’t be driven) where we were stopped for this ridiculous “health check” scam.  Basically it was this plastic gun looking thing that they pointed about 3 inches from our necks, pressed a button, then it made a little beeping sound.  What this was allegedly ‘checking’ for, we had no idea, but it cost an additional $1 (included in the $40 we gave the ‘guide.’)

Once on the other side of the border, we waited to receive our visas and then had to wait for the handful of pioneers that decided to cross on their own, instead of paying the guide. When they finally made it over, they revealed that they had saved $3 by doing it on their own.

Finally, after more mysterious waiting, it was time for us to get on the last bus to our final destination.

As expected, the roads were horrendous and it took about 5 more hours to get to Kratie, making our journey a total of approximately 9 hours from Don Det.

We got off at the bus station, happy that we decided to stop in Kratie instead of going straight away to Pnom Penh, which is another 6 to 8 hours away-and where most everyone else on the bus was going.

We had no idea where to go once we got to Kratie, so we just started asking tuk tuk drivers to take us to a guesthouse.  Luckily, we found one who offered us a free ride to River Dolphin Hotel and promised us a $5 room.

We hopped on the tuk tuk and drove about 5 minutes out of town to the hotel, where we were greeted with glasses of orange juice and moist, minted towels (Jojo is convinced they were merely soaked in mouthwash, but whatever, it felt fancy.)  We were lead to our $5 room as promised, and were pleased to find that it was way nicer than any of the $10 rooms we had stayed in Laos!

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant before retiring back to our room, happy to have finally made it to Cambodia and ready to start our journey through the country!

Snacks: 30,000kip

Bus Package: 380,000kip

Lunch: $5 USD

2-Cambodia Visas: $84 USD

Dinner: $10.25 USD

Accommodation: $5 USD

Total Spent: $154.71 USD