Kratie is a beautiful small town half way between the Laos border and Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. Unlike Siem Reap, it is almost un-spoilt by the tourist industry, with only a scattering of bars and restaurants to facilitate the small quantities of visitors traveling through. It is a typical market town with a central market and a few colonial style buildings remain.
Tourist numbers are low giving the town a good Khmer feel. Locals go about there normal life unbothered adding to it’s uniqueness. Nestled beside the Mekong, theres also a reasonable fishing community here, where mobile villagers on their house boats in the area adding to it’s charm.
Sun sets here can be rather nice, with the pinks, purples and oranges typical of Khmer skies. The town on the east side of the river so no need to go far. Great views to Koh Trong lie across the river, a small island well worth a day trip.
It’s greatest asset is probably the Irrawaddy dolphin that have made home here, found a few kilometers North of town, now an endangered species. Thankfully, there existence has been recognized by the Cambodian government, which has imposed a gill net ban on this stretch of water, one of the main causes of death to these wonderful mammals. However, other risks still prevail, with increased toxins in the mekong, and damming of the mekong upstream in Laos.
A boat trip to see these is relatively inexpensive. Photographers, if you want to capture them, a good time is at dusk when they are most active. A good zoom lens is a must as sightings are often far from the boat. Shooting into the sun gives a nice feel in the evening light, but your chances are limited to where the next one pops it’s head up. Dry season, December to May, is a good time to visit as water levels are lower, increasing the viewing chances. Boats can be hired around 16km north of the town and trips last over an hour.
Upstream also has 100 pillar pagoda. Worth a visit if you have time, it’s similar to many pagodas found around the country, although quite grand, said to be the largest in Cambodia. The road here takes you through beautiful countryside with the odd view point of the magnificent Mekong. Local villages in there wooden houses and the odd pagoda makes this trip worth while alone, easily done on a hired motobike.
If wildlife is your thing, then the pagoda hosts the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center, another creature endangered by the damming of the Mekong. These soft shell turtles, one of the worlds rarest and largest, are monitored by the locals. The entrance fee to MTCC goes towards the monitoring and breeding program. A percentage of the hatched eggs are bread in captivity until the turtles are around 10 months old. They are then released into the wild by locals and buddhist monks when the water is low, December through to May, a good opportunity for the photographer.
Is Kratie worth the effort? It’s a good stop off if your in transit to or from Laos. Making your way from Siem Reap or Phnom Pen is easily done in a day with the option of stopping of in Kampong Cham. Many people stay just one night, but I you like local culture, it’s worth giving this place more time. Its uniqueness lies with the wildlife and that unspoiled Khmer feeling, with the added bonus of great sunsets over the Mekong. I’ll certainly be returning.