By the way, that's an Irrawaddy River Dolphin in the lower left of the photo.
Whenever I travel, and blog about my travels, I feel like I always begin with something along the lines of: “I got up ridiculously early this morning” or “A racket from god knows where woke me up at 2:30 a.m. and I couldn’t get back to sleep.” Well, in Phnom Penh, noise from somewhere—the street, I presume, but also hotel doors somewhere above or below me—woke me up at about 3 a.m. and I couldn’t get asleep again before my 5:30 alarm went off. I didn’t bother with breakfast, but had a tuk-tuk take me directly to a bus station where I caught a Sorya bus—a big one, with assigned seats and everything—to Kratie. I didn’t take any photos of scenery along the way, in part because I was in an aisle seat and partly, too, because the windows were all tinted brown (or maybe that was just dust from the highways that can no longer be scrubbed off).
I recommend Sorya bus company for the trip to Kratie, though it's a fair bit slower than a mini-van.
The bus ride was meant to be somewhere between five to eight hours. The bus driver told me five when I got on board, my hotel in Phnom Penh told me six, and the hotel in Kratie guessed it would take eight. Well, it took eight. I didn’t eat until arriving in Kratie, which was probably a good thing in the end, because at the two rest stops we visited, neither of the bathrooms were the least bit useable. Though I used them both times. Somehow.
At the first rest stop, the highlight had to be the fried, spicy tarantulas. In order to draw tourists closer to their stalls, the vendors even kept buckets filled with live tarantulas, along with a long piece of straw in case you wanted to poke at them or perhaps lift one onto your hand or, even better, the shoulder of someone who doesn’t even realize the tarantulas are there.
Wouldn't it just suck to drop an earring or a cell phone in that bucket?
I was told that the tarantulas are collected from local rice paddies, and that they have a sweet taste to them. I was tempted to try one—a leg, at least, if not an abdomen or head—but that long bus ride gave me pause. The Cambodian guy next to me bought a few, though, and kept feeding them to his Caucasian girlfriend while she talked on the phone. I was impressed.
Spicy, fried tarantulas, anyone?
They also had fried, spicy crickets, but they lacked the "star power," if you will, of a bucket of live tarantulas.
At around 3 p.m. we pulled into Kratie, and I walked about 200 meters from the bus company office to my hotel.
Part of the river promenade in Kratie, right across from most of the guesthouses.
Coconuts all prettied up for drinking.As soon as I checked in I was asked if I wanted to see the dolphins at around sun-down, so I said sure, and went upstairs for thirty minutes to relax and get ready.
This tells the story about how a young woman was turned into a river dolphin. At first I thought it was a warning to people about giant people-eating snakes, and what to do in case someone you're with gets swallowed.The Irrawaddy dolphins don’t actually live in the river around Kratie, but in a place called Kampi, which is about a twenty-minute tuk-tuk ride from where I’m staying. I shared the ride with another hotel guest, and the total cost of the ride and the one-hour boat tour was $15.
At the entrance to the Kampi dolphin pools.
In Cambodia, the Irrawaddy dolphins are critically endangered. There used to be more than a thousand of them, and my guesthouse owner told me that as a boy he used to swim with them in the stretch of river skirting the town. Now, however, there are only 25 left in Kampi, and only 100 left in all of Cambodia (according to my boat guide; I’ve read that there are far fewer).
Loons flying past an egret perched on a rock.
I couldn’t believe how many we happened to see, though. If there are 25 in Kampi, I feel like we must have seen them all! They were very active, and while they probably changed locations during their feeding time, we saw them in quite a few different places. They also had different colorings, it seemed. Some appeared to be gray, while others appeared almost black. Perhaps it was just the light, though some of my photos in this post kind of show the differences in color among the dolphins.
There were also a great number of birds in Kampi, and hundreds if not thousands of loons flew over the water, many just skimming the surface. The area is an important habitat for many kinds migratory bird species.
Some Cambodian monks were there to get in on the dolphin photography action.
We got back at a little after six, at which time I immediately went for dinner—my first real food of the day. I chose a place that supposedly had a large selection of Khmer dishes, but the menu made it hard to know what was available.
I went with “fried fish ginger” and white rice, and it was extremely good. I like anything marinated in fish sauce and sugar and then fried, and whatever else they did to make this dish, it had all the flavors I’ve come to love about Cambodian food. It cost about $4.50, which seemed a little pricey, but I’m finding that’s about right for your typical tourist restaurant. The rice and draft beer were another $1.50.
Mekong Restaurant is on the corner of Rue Preah Sura Marit Road and Rue No. 9. They have an English menu, and the owner’s family speaks a fair bit of English.