Unlike many Cambodian towns, the wars did not have quite such an impact on Kratie, so the roads and French Architecture in the town are in reasonable condition. The town is also much quieter than the main cities in Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Siem. Ther are far fewer vehicles of all kinds and it’s much cleaner.
What to See and Do
The main reason most people purposely visit Cambodia is in the hope of catching a glimpse of the endangered Irrawaddy River Dolphins which live in this small stretch of the Mekong. There are however a few other things to see and do whilst you’re in town, of which I made a good attempt of fitting them all in.
Wander the Riverside and Streets
Endangered Irrawaddy River Dolphins
For many (myself included), the key attraction of Kratie, is to try to catch a glimpse of critically endangered Irrawaddy River Dolphins (named after the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar). There are very few of these left living in small pods in South East Asia and less than 80 of those left on the Mekong river. 15 – 20 of these dolphins live in a pod on a small stretch of the Mekong near Kratie. You can’t see them from Kratie itself, but will need to make a 15 km journey North along the River Mekong, which you can reach by cycle, motorbike or tuk tuk.
Try not to make the same mistake I did and go the wrong way…especially if you’re cycling. It was a very tiring and time-consuming mistake, I didn’t realise my error until I’d gone 15 km the wrong way up the Mekong. By the time I’d rectified my mistake I was back where I’d started, had cycled 30 km further than I needed to and was 2 hours behind schedule. Epic travel fail on my part…I felt rather silly, to say the least!
To see the dolphins keep heading North (not South) along the Mekong until you come across a big dolphin statue on the left-hand side of the road. Just after that is a big wall built I assume to stop you seeing the dolphins from the river-bank without having to pay for a boat. There’s a gateway in the wall which is where you need to turn into. Here on the left is a little ticket office where you can buy your boat ticket. The price is $9 USD (£7.25 GBP) per person for one to two people and $7 USD (£5.60 GBP) per person for more than two people. I was by myself but managed to tag onto another group and save a couple of dollars.
Once paid you head across the car-park and down some steps to the river where a brightly coloured wooden boat with a small engine is waiting. The boatmen take you out for about an hour just offshore looking for the dolphins. I must admit I was pretty skeptical that we would see any dolphins, I’d not had much luck in the last year when out wildlife spotting; I saw a big fat zero hippos on the River Gambia and the tigers in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve in India also proved elusive. However our boatman knew exactly what he was doing and within a minute of leaving the shore he pointed out the glistening grey of a blunt-headed Irrawaddy dolphin coming up for air in front of us…then another, and another.
They are rather shy creatures and seemed to be teasing us by just giving us a glimpse of them every so often, to blow water from their blow holes, before taking another breath and diving back down again. There was definitely no jumping out of the water in the manner dolphins are generally known for. We spent a lovely hour just sitting in the boat and occasionally moving to get a better view of the dolphins, of which I think there were between four and seven.
I must say I was also very happy that the boatman kept his distance and always shut the engine off when the dolphins were close by. That had been my main concern about seeing the dolphins in this way.
You can also take a half day kayak tour with Sorya Kayaking, which I’d been planning to do but it was cancelled at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances. I also have it on good authority that there’s a local family with a few boats that will take you out for a much lower charge than the official boats. Apparently, they can be found just before the main place for the dolphin spotting, but I searched high and low and couldn’t find them. Given my appalling sense of direction earlier in the day this probably isn’t surprising, so you may have more luck if you ask around.
Even if you don’t do anything else whilst you’re in Kratie (especially if you’re into wildlife), it’s still worth a visit just to see the Irrawaddy River Dolphins.
Kampi River Rapids
A couple of kilometres further to the North of the dolphin viewing spot is the natural attraction of Kampi River Rapids. Here a series of platforms have been built above the swirling waters, and it’s the perfect scenic spot for a picnic or swim. In fact, local families often congregate here on weekends and holidays to relax and enjoy the refreshing waters. It’s likely if you’re obviously a foreigner that you’ll be charged a small admission fee.
Several stalls are set up at the top of the rapids selling local food and drinks, including the local speciality Chak Chreng, a type of snail only found in this area.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to actually go down to the rapids when I visited (due to my navigational error earlier in the day), as I was keen to get back to Kratie, to go over to Koh Trong Island. However, I took a short break to view the rapids and people watch from above. It looked like the perfect place to chill out with a book and a cold drink.
Koh Trong Island
If you have the time, a few hours cycling around the giant sandbar that is Koh Trong Island is a real treat. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the island on a small, wooden public ferry and costs 1,000 Riel ($0.25 USD or £0.20 GBP). The ferry goes every 30 minutes or so throughout the day, from below the Jasmine Boat Restaurant on the riverside. The last ferry back to Kratie is at 5:30 pm.
Once on the island, there are several options for exploring it. Local guys offering moto rides wait for the boat to dock and will take you around the island for $5 USD, or you could rent a bicycle for $1 or $2 USD (£0.80 or £1.60 GBP). Alternatively, you could take a ride on an ox cart for $15 USD (£12 GBP) or a horse and cart for $10 USD (£8 GBP).
There’s a map at the information centre detailing points of interest on the island and the entire circuit is around 9km, so easily cyclable or you could even walk it if you can bear the heat.
The island itself is the home to mainly farming and fishing families and is lush, unspoilt, and beautiful. Charming wooden houses on stilts are surrounded by market gardens full of all types of fruit and vegetables, tended to by the local community. When not working in the fields cows and oxen casually graze on huge piles of hay at the side of the tracks, whilst chickens and cockerels dart between their legs. The islanders were so friendly and welcoming, and the giggling children call out to you and high-five you as you pass them! No cars are allowed and it’s like taking a step back in time, I only had a couple of hours there but could quite easily have spent a couple of days.
There are a couple of places to eat on the West side of Koh Trong. I had a delicious plate of fried noodles, topped with a fried egg at Cafe Koh Trong, along with a much-needed ice cold sprite for just $1.75 USD (£1.40 GBP). Whilst I ate my very late lunch I watched the family harvesting and sorting a huge number of lettuces, I assume ready to take to the central market in Kratie.
Also on the island are a couple of basic homestays where you can stay for $3 USD (£2.40 GBP) for a dorm and $7 USD (£5.60 GBP) for a private room. For something more upmarket you can stay at Rajabori Villas on the North of the island. This has a selection of traditional wooden houses priced between $50 – $150 USD (£40 – £120 GBP) per night.
Where to Eat and Drink
Similar to most towns situated the Mekong River, Kratie’s eateries are mainly found on the riverside road and down one of the side streets leading back from it. Many of these are restaurants attached to guesthouses, with what looks to be a fairly good selection of reasonably priced food and drinks. Despite this, I have to say that I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the couple of places I ate in (except for my guesthouse on the first night). Therefore I don’t really feel I can make any recommendations as such, so instead have just given a brief summary of each.
- You Hong II – situated down a side street leading towards Central Market, this restaurant has quite a varied menu, including pizza, but the atmosphere was a little bizarre. Family members were dozing in front of a TV on what looked like beds in the restaurant, and another woman was bathing her child in a washing bowl on the next table to me. The staff were also not particularly friendly, I was quite glad when I’d eaten and it was time to leave. To eat I just had a Prawn Tom Yum Soup with rice for $2.50 (£2 GBP), one of my favourite dishes…unfortunately this was quite bland and not very enjoyable.
- Tokae – on the corner of the same road as You Hong II and opposite Central Market this is a good spot for watching the goings on of early evening. I actually only popped in here as I fancied something sweet and their banana and nutella pancake definitely satisfied that craving. For $1.50 USD (£1.20 GBP) it was also a bargain. I’m not sure what the rest of their food was like but they had a good selection on the menu of Khmer and Western food, so I’d probably give it another go if I returned.
There were several other places that would probably be worth trying out including the Jasmine Restaurant on the waterfront (although this looks to be a little pricier) and Sorya Cafe is said to serve up amazing Italian food, including delicious pizzas.
There are also some stalls on the riverfront and around central market selling local street food and drink which looked and smelt pretty good.
All of the guesthouses and restaurants serve drinks, but I didn’t see any bars which were solely for drinking. The best spot I found to watch the stunning sunset over the Mekong River was on the balcony of the Jasmine Restaurant. They also do a buy 1, get 1 free on draft beer during happy hour from 5 pm – 7 pm.
Where to Stay
Le Tonle Guesthouse and Restaurant is a not-for-profit Tourism Training Centre for disadvantaged youngsters from the north-eastern provinces of Cambodia. It’s located down a quiet side street leading down to the Mekong River and offers good quality but affordable rooms in two traditional Khmer stilted houses. The prices start at $8 USD (£6.42 GBP) for a room with a fan and goes up to $19 USD (£15.25 GBP) for a family room with air-conditioning.
The reception is on the restaurant side of the guesthouse, the whole area was bright and well laid out. The reception staff greeted me warmly and quickly showed me to my room. It was located on the opposite side of the road upstairs in the other stilted house. They were just finishing renovations off in this part of the guesthouse for which the staff apologised profusely for, but it really wasn’t a problem. There was a few remaining bits of rubble and debris being cleared up downstairs but upstairs where the rooms were was spotless.
I stayed in a double room with a fan which was fine, even though the temperature it’s the start of hot season in Cambodia. The room was small but immaculate and very clean, a fresh towel was also provided. There were two shared bathrooms and whilst I’m not normally a fan of shared bathrooms, these were great. They were huge and spotlessly clean, with a rain shower and complimentary toiletries.
Other nice touches were the free filter water on the landing outside the rooms from which you could help yourself and a nice little balcony with sofas, where you could relax with a book.
Another highlight of my stay was the restaurant, it had an extensive menu of dishes from a variety of countries. Unfortunately, I only ate there for one evening meal and a breakfast, both which were great. For my evening meal I had Tahitian Raw Fish marinated in lime and coconut, it was fantastic and only $3 USD (£2.41 GBP).
I was most impressed by all the young trainee staff there, they were all very friendly, polite and helpful. Their English was good and they were very keen to practice at every opportunity. I had a couple of lovely conversations with some of them during my stay. The staff arranged bicycle rental for me, and it’s also possible to rent motorcycles if you wish. Overall I really enjoyed my stay, and the fact that the Tourism Training Centre helps give some Cambodian youths a better future is amazing. The only downside was I couldn’t stay longer.
Getting There and Away
- Siem Reap – Asia Van Transfer runs a direct mini-van from Siem Reap to Kratie and costs about $24 USD (£19.25 GBP) and takes around 8 hours. There should be some comfort/ snack breaks on the way. You could also get a bus or mini-van from Siem Reap and change onto another at Stung Treng. Your hotel or a travel agent in Siem Reap will be able to run through that option with you. Alternatively, you could any of the buses that go from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, taking 5 to 6 hours and costing $8 – $16 USD (£6.50 – £13 GBP), or to Kampong Cham, costing around $10 USD (£8 GBP) and taking about 5.5 hours. You can then catch any one of a number of mini-vans or buses to Kratie (see below for details). These are both fairly long detours though, so unless you plan to break up your journey with a stop in Kampong Cham on the way going via Stung Treng is probably a better option. The other option is a private taxi, but this will quite expensive as the driver will find it difficult to get a fare back and would need to stay overnight as it’s too far to do a return in one day. It may be worth considering though if there are several of you to share the cost.
- Phnom Penh – There are several buses and mini-vans running to Kratie from Phnom Penh which cost about $10 USD (£8 GBP) and take around 5 hours. A taxi costs about $70 USD (£56 GBP), and takes about 4 hours.
- Kampong Cham – If like me you stopped in Kampong Cham first, you can reach Kratie by catching a mini-van, which takes around 3 hours and costs about $5 USD (£4 GBP).
If you’re returning to the same place you started you can expect similar options but in reverse. There’s also a direct mini-van back to Siem Reap that takes about 7 hours and costs $11USD (£8.25 GBP) Other places you could head after Kratie include Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri, Stung Treng (a town near the border with Laos) or Banlung in Ratanakiri.
- Kayaking – there’s only one option (that I know of) for Kayaking in Kratie and that’s Sorya Kayaking. They offer two kayak tours, the ‘Half day Dolphin Trip’ and the ‘Half Day River Trip’. This would be a fun and active way to spend half a day and in my opinion seeing the dolphins by kayak would be preferable (not to mention less harmful to the dolphins), than by boat. The prices range from $17 USD (£13.60 GBP) to $52 USD (£41.75 GBP) per person depending on which tour you do and how many people are in the group.
- Phnom Sambok – this smart little temple is situated to the North of Kratie on the only hill in the area. It has a long set of steps leading to a pavilion lead up to a pavilion. The inside of the temple is painted with various torture scenes and images of what happens to those that sin. The top of the hill offers great views of the surrounding countryside.
- Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre – this can be found about 35 km to the North of Kratie. A tuk tuk or moto is probably needed to reach it, although a full day trip could be made cycling. It’s home to several species of turtle, including one of the largest freshwater turtles, the Cantor’s giant softshell. Hatchlings are returned to the wild after being nurtured for about 10 months. It’s open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm seven days a week and entry costs $4 USD (£3.20 GBP) for adults and $2 USD (£1.60 GBP) for children. The price for locals is much cheaper.
- 100 Pillar Pagoda – again to the North of town by about 38 km, this is one of the largest pagodas in Cambodia.It’s supported as its name says, was originally supported by 100 pillars (or columns). It was destroyed in a fire when it was 100 years old and has since been rebuilt by locals and now has 116 pillars. Inside the pagoda are four Buddhist temples, each facing a different direction. The inside of the temples are covered in elaborate, colourful paintings.
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Several of these tips are similar to those from my Kampong Cham post but I’ve added them here too.
1. Ensure any bicycles and motorbikes are in working order before renting them. If you have any problems ask a local or at one of the roadside stalls for help. You may need to gesticulate a little if you don’t know any Khmer.
2. If you rent a bicycle, check the seat is the right height before setting off. Two full days of cycling on a low seat left me with a very bruised backside.
3. Make sure you know where you’re going and have at the very least a paper map with you, if not GPS on your phone. I had both and still managed to go 15 km the wrong way up the Mekong to see the dolphins!
4. Take lots of water, sun lotion, and a hat with you. It can get very hot, especially iff you’re out in the midday sun. Sunstroke or severe sunburn will ruin your trip.
5. If you want to avoid withdrawal fees bring enough cash with you as there are only a couple of ATMs in town and they (as far as I’m aware) charge for withdrawals.
6. Don’t bother taking a rented bicycle from mainland Kratie to Koh Trong Island, carrying them down the steps to the boat and across the sandbank the other side is a real hassle. You can rent one from the information centre on the island.
7. Be sure to give yourself enough time to get back to the beach on Koh Trong Island to catch the last ferry of the day back at 5:30 pm. Unless of course you fancy spending the night in a homestay which I’m sure would be a great experience.
8. Wear mosquito spray in the late afternoon/ early evenings, there may be lots about as you’re near water.
Product Review Disclosure: Le Tonle Guesthouse provided me with a discounted one-night stay. This did not influence my post in any way and as always I’ve provided a balanced and honest review.