4 hours on a small cramped bus and I was finally at my destination. A small unremarkable town in the middle of nowhere. It is such a quiet place it literally closes up at 9.30. Shops, restaurants everything, the full town just shuts down. Not a lot here for the Hobo you might think, or is there????
Well the one thing Kratie does have going for it is that it is on the Mekong river and the part that is home to the Irrawaddy Dolphins. These are quite rare. In fact there are only about 15-20 left so who knows how many there may be for future generations to so. Lets hope their number increases.
So off the bus and now to find my guest house. But I’m clever and I plan so I have the exact place plotted on my downloaded map app (God/Buddha/Vishnu bless smart phones). I walk to the corner of the block where the guesthouse should be and….. nothing. Just a local restaurant with the cheap plastic chairs that are so popular in Asia but no Hotel. Surely Agoda (a hotel booking website which I highly recommend by the way) would not lead me wrong. I ask at the restaurant and with many hand gestures and pointing to my phone the waiter points me to a little side door leading to some stairs with a small sign with the name of the guest house above it. I climb the stairs and there are the guest rooms but no reception and no staff. After searching the corridors I find more stairs leading up to the top floor and there is a restaurant/bar and thankfully a reception off sorts. Behind the desk laid on a sofa is a woman breast feeding a child. She shouts something and from nowhere her husband appears with a big smile and thankfully good English. He shows me to my room and after a few beers I book my trip to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins and head off to bed.
I woke early and waited in my room to be picked up. Half an hour after I was due to be picked up I went upstairs to reception to ask why he was late. “He’s been he gone” the wife said to be. Babe still on tit. He’s gone. Why has he gone? “He come he wait. You not come he go”. Right so let me get this straight. He came, walked past my room and up the stairs where the wife probably still with babe on tit watched knowing where my room is said nothing then watched him leave walking past my room a second time where I was sat waiting twiddling my thumbs.
She shouted again and just as magically as last time her husband appears all grins and good English thank you very much. He listens to her, listens too me looks at us both and sighs rolling his eyes. “No problem. Sit have breakfast sir”. So I do and 30 minutes later I am on the back of his bike whizzing through small villages and taken to a small depot where the boats leave from to see the dolphins.
Its the rainy season so the Mekong is high and the chance of me seeing Irrawaddy Dolphins in the river is lessened considerably. After driving for 20 minutes the driver suddenly stops the engine gets a paddle out and heads off between island of sunken trees up river and there I see my first sight of a fresh water river dolphin. He moors up to a sunken tree and we sit and wait for the dolphins. They seem to be every where. Coming to the top briefly then diving back down again. Its impossible to tell how many and they are all very far away seeming to circle the boat. Getting a good picture is very hard but they are starting to come closer.
My hopes build as they get closer and closer to the boat. Curiosity overcoming their fear when up the river comes another boat, then another full of tourists. They tie up next to my boat essentially blocking over 90 degrees of my sight and scaring the dolphins further out. Damn it! My driver looks at me and I can tell by his eyes he knows what I am think. So we head back and there waiting for me is my host and tour guide.
Next he took me to a local temple, but after nearly a year in Asia locals temples just don’t do it for me much anymore (no offence Buddha). Then he took me to see a floating fishermans village. Now this is something different. Imagine a large floating raft. At one end is a small hut where the fisherman lives with his family and at the other end is a chinese fishing net. A smaller version to the one I used in India. These rafts can be moved I imagine either by punting with long bamboo poles or towed behind longtail boats. Such a fascinating and different lifestyle.
Finally we headed back to Kratie. On the way there we passed in a small village locals playing a version of volley ball using their heads and feet rather then their hands. I can remember playing something similar when I was a child. We pulled over and sat and watched for a bit. The players were quite skillful and as I took several photos I noticed the ball coming straight for me. Dropping the camera to my side in its strap and without even rising from my seat I gave it a perfect header straight back into play. Score one for the Hobo. Unfortunately it smacked one of their players squarely in the face. The crowd and even the other players gave a hissing sound as we all sucked in our breathe through our teeth on hearing the dull slap of the ball hitting his nose.
“Its ok. It’s ok. I’m good.” He said with tears rolling down his face from his eyes and into a big grin on his face. I think he was just glad to interact with a foriegner as I reckon most people just drive through. I soon slunk away in embarrassment and we drove back to the guesthouse my driver chuckling to himself on the way. Time for an early night then back to Phnom Penh I think.
Thanks for reading