Muddy Trails and Dolphin Tails

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, June 22, 2013

So after a very brief stop in Phnom Penh for some Dairy Queen ice cream we were back on the joy that is a Cambodian Bus, this time for an epic 7 hour bus journey. As you can probably guess after our brief stint of good safe and comfortable buses our luck ran out, big time.  The bus stayed safe on the road for the entire journey which was a huge bonus, the problem with this bus was the other passengers.  I genuinely would have expected a journey like this to take place on a bus with nice white padded walls and free straight jackets upon embarkation. 

So the journey started with a long hour stuck in the traffic around the city, so it took a good hour to reach the open road just slowly moving through the city.  You would have thought that this would be a nice part of the journey, this is where the nightmare began.  The woman sat directly across from us asked the ticket collector for some plastic bags and just 10 minutes into a 7 hour journey she started to throw up.  Having suffered from motion sickness as a kid I did feel for the woman until we stopped at approximately 10 different rest stops or restaurants over the course of the next 7 hours and every time she bought more food and drink and proceeded to deposit it immediately into her fine collection of little black plastic bags.  Usually on a bus journey one person like this would be enough to make me feel uncomfortable but this was just the start of it.  About 30 minutes into the journey another passenger from hell made themselves known.  Sadly this poor lady obviously had mental problems and approximately every 30 minutes she would explode into a wild rage and start punching the hell out of her husband trying to get off the bus, I so wish that I understood Khmer to know what she was screaming about.  Next up we had a respectable pair of ladies in front of us who half way into the journey seemed to develop sore necks, their solution was to crack open the tiger balm and apply it to each others necks, this in itself was quite a nice solution for me as the smell covered the vomit from the seat opposite but to ensure that the tiger balm was fully absorbed into their necks they started to scratch each others necks with a sharp metal bottle top until they were red raw and on the verge of bleeding, ouch.  Just to ensure that the journey wasn't exciting enough we were lucky enough to have a TV on the bus and the driver played an excellent selection of Khmer karaoke and we even had a badly dubbed Rambo movie.  Never have I ever been so happy to get off a bus, even when I am handed a soaking wet rucksack from the leaky luggage locker.

Usually we are super organised and plan where to stay and usually book before we arrived but Kratie didn’t have many online options so we decided to go with the proper traveller solution of finding somewhere when we arrived.  This all went surprisingly well when a man with a tuk-tuk had a sign for the guesthouse that we wanted to stay at and offered to take us there for free.  We loaded onto the tuk-tuk set off onto the road and pulled over pretty much immediately.  Little did we know the guesthouse was 5 doors down from the bus stop, ha ha!

The guesthouse was basic but perfect, hot water, air con and even a TV for $8 a night (5), the one problem we faced was that there was no handle to turn on the hot water to the shower so we acquired a wrench from reception, problem solved, for 5 a night you really can’t be fussy, especially when they are so kind as to provide instructions as to how to open the curtains.  I think that the reason for these instructions was that on the other side was a brick wall so you may well be confused as to whether they are in fact open or not!

So time for a day trip.  Across the Mekong River is the little island of Koh Trong, this is meant to be a great place for a day trip to get a bike and cycle around.  So we headed over to the harbour to catch the boat and found nothing that looked like it was for tourists to hop across the water.  Eventually someone took pity on us being stood around looking gormless and pointed us towards a little wooded boat that had a few people sat it in, we joined them and before long we were on our way.  Just a couple of minutes later we were across the river and ready to explore.

We looked at the selection of bikes that were ready to be rented on Koh Trong and they were all 3 inches thick in mud making neither of us fancy a cycle ride.  Tim using his best negotiating skills managed to convince the bike man to rent us his moped for $5, deal.  So we set off, it all started well, we followed the path which very quickly became a wet boggy mess but we powered through and were enjoying the view.  About half way around the island suddenly the path got boggier and boggier and boggier.  I was spending more time walking behind Tim than on the moped and my feet were a big muddy mess.  We knew that we were nearly back to where we started but the last 20 minutes of the journey were hysterical with Tim stuck in the mud on the moped, I gave up on my flip flops and opted to go barefoot.  We eventually made it back to the start and handed back one very muddy moped.  Unbelievably the man that loaned it to us gave us a free foot wash before we set off back on the ferry.

The main reason that we went to Kratie was to see the Mekong River Dolphins (Irrawaddy Dolphins), which actually don’t live in Kratie, but live in Kampi about 30 minutes up the river.  So we hired a Tuk-Tuk driver and set off to see the dolphins.  The entrance to the dolphin viewing site was notable in that it has a massive concrete wall built around it so there is no chance of you getting a free glimpse of the dolphins.  We headed down to the boats and luckily had a boat all to ourself.  Having been disappointed by dolphin spotting tours many times before, I didn’t get my hopes up, but just 2 minutes into the trip the boatman stopped the boat and pointed to two of these amazing creatures right in front of our boat.  We spent the next 30 minutes just going up and down the river with dolphins everywhere.  The one problem with these dolphins is that they don’t really pop out of the water so we just got a lot of nose and tail photos.  Irrawaddy dolphins are critically endangered and there are only around 85 of these dolphins in the Mekong so we felt honoured to have seen at least 10 of them on our trip.

After a brief stop at a roadside stall for some tasty fried potato and banana snacks, next up we headed to the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre the home to another critically endangered animal, the Cantor Soft Shell Turtle.  I personally had never heard of these turtles before I started researching what to see in Cambodia and when I saw pictures I had to go and see these turtles for myself.  The centre is in the 100 pillar pagoda temple and is looked after by the monks that live there.  The Cantor Soft Shell Turtle is the largest fresh water turtle and the centre is a community led project whereby hatchlings are reared at the centre for 10 months before being released into the wild.  The centre has a selection of other amazing looking turtles and tortoise which they whip out for photos.  The main attraction at the centre is the big pond which is the home to large adult breeding turtles.  We had read that there is a Steve Irwin style monk who wades into the pond to find a big turtle to show us, sadly he has been bitten by the turtles so many times he refuses to go in their anymore but they had some other poor lad ready to do the honours.  Tim went deep into the pond, I stayed safe on the banks and after about 10 minutes of paddling the young lad hit turtle gold and dug up the biggest, oddest looking turtle I have ever seen.  The turtle was not happy and unsurprisingly headed straight back into the pond, what an amazing animal and an amazing sight.

Kratie and its wildlife certainly did not disappoint and even after the hellish bus journey we were still glad that we went there.  I was even spoiled by a restaurant in Kratie that had a rather adorable family of kittens that sat with me and ate my dinner every night.

The one oddity in Kratie was that every other building was a clinic, opposite the restaurant that we had dinner at every night were people sat in the street in their pyjamas on drips.  Every other moped that went past had someone on the back with a drip bag supported on a piece of bamboo…. I think it is time to get out of this town, we definitely don’t want what’s going round!

It was time for our final bus journey in Cambodia, the end of a real adventure.  Cambodia really is a wonderful country with so much to see and do and we had a truly fantastic time there.

Thankfully our final bus journey was quite dull, it was pretty much empty and quiet and uneventful.  The best part of the journey was one of the rest stops outside Phnom Penh was in Skuon, also known as Spiderville!  This town is renowned for its delicacy of fried tarantula.  This tradition which is thought to have been a necessity from the Khmer Rouge days is now a delicacy.  One which Tim and I decided not to sample, but it was pretty cool to see!

Farewell Cambodia, you have been amazing… next stop Malaysia! 

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