Kratie, Cambodia

Well we are sick of this waiting game! “The boat will pick you up between 8 and 8:10”. At 8:20 no boat. 8:30 and the guesthouse were calling the boat people when finally a boat arrived. We slithered down the banks and jumped in. From Don Khone to the mainland takes about 25 minutes in a long skinny boat with the motor sitting on the deck with a long prop hanging precariously over a meter out the back.

As we got to the beach our captain lead us (and the other 3 passengers) in a procession through the narrow alleyways to the bus station.

Bus station is a rich word, it was a small office with hundreds of people milling around. We were given immigration forms and told to wait.  After another hour of waiting a man started yelling place names, and lucky ours was first. Once we had our tickets we waited, after ten minutes we asked where do we go? He pointed down the street. Helpful! We lugged our bags down the street with the hoards of other tourists. We were all doing the same thing, you know it would be helpful to have a person directing traffic. Eventually after trying about six vehicles we found a van with two seats and jumped in. The van takes about half an hour to the border. Once at the border we got our departure stamps easy as, grabbed our bags and walked the 100 meters over the boarder.

That was the easy bit.

Once on the Cambodian side we joined a line to get our temperature read. As we had not paid to have a “hand” getting over the boarder we had to pay $1 and fill in a form.

We then went to a hut to get our visa and to another hut to get a entry stamp. Note they are in the process of building a really nice boarder crossing linking the two but who knows when that will be finished. It was a good decision in the end as we paid $28 for the lot, compared to the $30 most others chose to pay to get some random guy to collect all of their passports and do it for them. Seeing the dozens of passports in a plastic bag thrown into the van made us glad that we kept ours on us at all times!

So now begins the waiting game. We sat down with all the other tourists and were initially told half an hour. There was a bus and two vans waiting and the bus had air con so as you can imagine we all wanted to sit on the bus, after 20 minutes the driver comes and kicks us all off. Long story short and a very long 3 hours after crossing the border things started to happen.

We were shoved into a van with 15 passengers and 14 seats. As you can imagine this caused many complaints and in the end, after much yelling and shouting from the driver, an Australian lady ended up sitting on her partners lap for the hour drive to Stung Treng. We were all a little tired and rather grumpy from being in the van and then we had to unload the van ready for our next “bus”.

We had paid $22 US for a boat/bus to Kratie so as you would expect bus to be a bus.

Well guess what? Good news we didn’t need to wait long. Bad news it was another van and there was no roof rack and there were more people to fit in into it. It was like they were playing a huge joke on us. There were four rows of seats and there was the expectation that 4 people would fit per row. This would have been fine if we were all wafer thin and double jointed. An American girl climbed in about Sam’s size and started laughing as she could just fit her legs in the gap between the seats.  There was no way her boyfriend was going to fit beside her so Sam climbed in. Then Will jumped in, then a lady with a baby then a young boy. So there were 14 foreigners in the van and 15 locals by the time we left for Kratie. If we didn’t laugh you would just cry. The worst part was as bags were under seats your feet didn’t have much room if any. It felt rather like the gag with lots of clowns getting out of a mini! Moral of the story? Don’t travel with Rith Mony in Cambodia.

We survived!!!
Hot, tired and with cramp in our legs we arrived in Kratie. The van dropped us off in the middle of the town and once we had extracted our bags from the van we walked the five hundred meters to our guesthouse.

The balcony guesthouse offered us a giant room with a double and a single ( god knows why we need an extra bed) with shared bathroom for just $6 a night. We dropped our bags peeled off our clothes and jumped in the shower before taking a seat on the balcony for a much needed beer.

Our first night we just chilled in the beautiful balcony restaurant and watch the Mekong flow by.

After a well needed sleep in and a delicious breakfast we were ready for a walk.  Our first full day in Cambodia and we explored  the town of Kratie. We walked along the streets and explored the markets, ate cheap food and relaxed.

Our second day was a treat, we took a Tuktuk from the guesthouse  half an hour along the Mekong to an area well known as a dolphin spotting area. As we are used to walking everywhere it is a treat to get a TukTuk and we grinned happily and enjoyed the drive through the villages. The area is so lush and the people so happy – quite a contrast from Laos.

There are reports of about 70 Irrawaddy dolphins living in the Mekong. They live in pods if 6-8 and like areas of deeper water. The dolphins are protected and money from visiting goes into the conservation of their habitat. For $9 each we were taken out for about an hour in a private boat. Before we had even reached the river Will spotted the first dolphin.

The area where the dolphins are frequently spotted is probably the size of a rugby field so the flotillas of yellow boats can easily follow the dolphins. While we were on the water there were maybe 8-10 other dolphin spotting boats out. They would motor towards a sighting then stop the motor and drift/paddle as they get closer. This made for an enjoyable way to spend the morning, and we saw at least 20 dolphins.  We grinned our way all the way back to town.

After a delicious lunch we decided to get the boat to the island in the middle of the river. The cost to cross was 1000 riel each (25cents). We climbed onboard an waited, and waited and eventually the boat pulled out into the river. The crossing itself only took a couple of minutes but the beach on the other side was wide and it took almost as long to get across the sand as it did to get across the river. We were thinking of renting bikes to explore the island but once we saw the tree lined walkway we decided to walk.

It was very nice. As we were walking through a village, people were just doing normal everyday things. Little kids stopped and waved at us and cows, dogs and chickens kept us amused. It was great to see true rural Cambodia. No tours, no tourists, no gimmicks, no touts. Just friendly locals. We walked about 3km to a restaurant scaring both the staff and a gaggle of chickens nesting by the entrance. We grabbed a much needed cold drink and relaxed while the staff giggled around us.

We walked back slowly and climbed onboard our river boat. As we waited patiently this time we watch the skill of a scooter driver bringing goods down to the boat. Loaded up with about fifty kilos of fruit he negotiated a wooden path about 5cm wide. It was quite a feat.

We have been amazed at how much Cambodians can carry on a 50 cc scooter; 20 chickens, a family of five, 300 plastic drink bottles, a 1 meter square  picture frame,  a five meter long pipe, five bags of firewood and a bicycle. Need I say more?!

We returned to our favorite restaurant, at our hotel, for dinner and and a much deserved beer before an early night. That was until we saw The Bucket: a concoction of Cambodian whisky, Lao whisky, Red Bull and coke. About 2 litres of the potent stuff, served in a ceramic bucket with long straws. The long distance bus left at 7am the next morning, so getting it would have been a bad idea. Then Will ordered it. hmm. Might be an interesting ride to Phenom Penh…

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