After seeing the elephants in Mondulkiri we were on an animal high, so we decided to break up the 8 hour journey from Sen Monorom to Siem Reap with a stop in Kratie to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. It turned out to be a really good move; it ended up being cheaper to do the journey in two legs and it didn’t mean too much extra time sitting on a bus.
It was a hot & bumpy three hours from Sen Monorom to Kratie on the oldest bus in the world. It cost us $6pp booked through the wonderful company we did our elephant trek with, Green House Guesthouse.
Ready for the 3 hour journey
Kratie town sits right on the Mekong and is a spectacular spot for watching the sunset over the river. It’s not a huge place, but there’s handful of restaurants and guesthouses and a bustling market. A cheap place to stay is You Hong II guesthouse, slap bang in the middle of the action; $5 a night for a private double. This guesthouse was also the cheapest place we found to book bus tickets and rent mopeds. A good, cheap place to eat is Tokae restaurant, looking right out over the market, a great spot for people watching.
Some sturdy looking scaffolding
The Irrawaddy dolphin is a critically endangered species, with just five freshwater populations left in the world. The largest of these populations inhabit the Mekong River in Cambodia near the town of Kratie. The latest figures from the WWF counted just 80 dolphins. The dolphin is a flagship species of the Mekong, and their presence symbolises the health of the river.
Seeing the Dolphins
The dolphins reside in a stretch of the Mekong about 10 miles north of Kratie. We hired a moped for $5 from You Hong II Guesthouse, and scootered up to check it out. We were a bit apprehensive before we went up. Were we actually going to see any dolphins? Were the dolphins going to be mobbed by millions of boats? Would it be a huge let down after seeing how well the elephants were looked after in Mondulkiri?
We absolutely were not disappointed. It's not a very developed area, but there are a couple of signs in Khmer with WWF logos on. It’s high season so we paid $9pp to get a long-tail boat out onto the river for 1 hour. The river at this point is humongous, definitely the biggest river we'd ever been on, and there was only one other little boat out. It's safe to say these dolphins were not mobbed.
We’d been on the river all of 5 seconds before I spotted the first dolphin. The driver was very conscientious and turned off the engine as we neared a group of them and moored up to a buoy. It was beautiful and peaceful and you could hear the dolphins clearing their blow holes all around. We saw loads of them, some were swimming in groups of three right towards us. They are sneaky little creatures though and hard to get a photo of.
Sheltering from the sweltering sun
Protecting the Dolphins
It's reassuring to know that the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project has been set up to protect the dolphins. It’s a collaborative effort between the Cambodian Rural Development Team and the WWF. They aim to protect the dolphins core habitat, properly manage ecotourism, and educate the local community as well as many other things in order to protect and preserve this critically endangered species. I can report that from what we saw their efforts seem to be working.
For more information on the saving the Irrawaddy Dolphin and Mekong conservation, click here.
A trip to Kratie is definitely worthwhile if you want to catch a glimpse of the shy Irrawaddy Dolphin. Not only do you get to see them up close and personal, but you can be sure your money is well spent on protecting these beautiful creatures and helping the local community.