Northern Cambodia - Kratie, Ban Lung & Laos border

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
Trip End May 25, 2009

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Monday, December 8, 2008

So, we left Siem Reap early in the morning and got on a bus to Kratie (pronounced Kratch-eh)... We knew that from now on there would be few cash points, and so took out a fair bit of cash to last us until we got to Laos...  However, before we left Siem Reap, we had checked out the Laos visa situation - we were told that you could buy a visa on the border, so we didn't need to get one in advance... that turned out to be an outright lie because you can only get the visa on arrival if you fly... So... as soon as we had settled into a hotel, we went about getting our visa...  It cost $80 each (for a visa that costs $35) and involved us handing our passports over to a guy at a hostel, who then gave them to his brother, who got on a bus to Phnom Penh and went to the embassy, got the visas put in our passports and brought them back to Kratie... We nearly did it ourselves, but were on a tight schedule... so we had to pay the price... which left us very short of cash in Kratie... If I hadn't lost my credit card with the rest of my wallet, it would have been OK because there were Visa ATMs... but that was all...

Kratie is famous for its Irrawaddy Dolphins... there used to be thousands of these living in the Mekong, but between the Khmer Rouge killing them because they thought they were the spirits of the dead (yep, Khmer Rouge again!), fishing nets and dynamite fishing, their numbers are down to less than a hundred.  Kratie is a great place to go and see them though, so Tom and I hopped on the back of a couple of motos to be taken out for a cruise on the Mekong, spotting the dolphins.  We did get to see quite a few, but were only on the boat for an hour, and only really saw a few fins and tails... it was wonderful though :)  Anyone reading this who wants to go - you wuold be better off hiring bikes or mopeds and going to the area because there are places all along the banks where you can see them - $12 for a moto and boat trip isn't really worth it!

After they dropped us back at our hotel, we just wondered around town and looked in all the markets...  there really isn't much in Kratie, so the next morning we met up with our passport man, Laos visas firmly in place, and boarded a bus to Ban Lung - a town that doesn't receive too many visitors... it's a really dusty little town where walking across the road results in you being covered head to toe in the red dust that covers the whole town!  We made good use of our Kramas here - a Krama is a traditional Cambodian scarf, and we wore them over our noses and mouths as a kind of filter.  We met a guy called Simon on the bus who was travelling alone, so we joined forces to go for dinner - yummy Lok Lak, a traditional Cambodia dish made from beef and gravy, served with rice... yes, I have been eating the odd bit of meat again, as vegetarian food is either hard to come by, or ALWAYS THE SAME!!

The next morning, Tom, Simon and I rented mopeds and took off to check out the waterfalls in the region... we went to three and all of them were on really dodgy roads with big craters in them... so the riding was pretty slow but taxing!  The first waterfall we visited we just had a look at... it was beautiful but there wasn't much swimming... but there were elephants taking people for a trek through the jungle, which was pretty cool...

We walked back up to where we'd left our bikes and shared a sugar-cane juice, which tastes a lot like it sounds - sugary water - sweet and refreshing!  Then we hopped back on the mopeds, overtook a couple of elephants (there's a sentence I never thought I'd say) and carried on to the next waterfall.  This one was also beautiful, and we stripped off and jumped into the icy cold water at the bottom...  We took turns to go in, in twos, so that one person could stay with the bags - it was the first time I had felt even remotely suspicious in Cambodia, but two guys were sitting near our bags and trying really hard to get us in the water at the same time... so we did the opposite ;)

Having washed off all the red dust and adjusted our kramas over our faces, we set off on the mopeds again and got re-covered... And finally we arrived at the last waterfall - this one had less water flowing through it from a great height, with lots of vines surrounding it.  We were able to go behind the waterfall, and also stand under it, which was mighty invigorating, and a little painful after a while!  It was absolutely stunning though...

Back on the mopeds, and we headed back to the town to grab a bite to eat, and then back out of town in the other direction to visit the crater lake there.  It was absolutely stunning and much bigger than I had imagined.  There were small decks around the lake where you could jump off into the crystal clear waters and cool off... and that's exactly what we did... playing ticker on the deck, reading our books and generally relaxing :)

Then came our little crisis... the cash point in Ban Lung was also Visa only, and we had had to pay out $80 for our visas... leaving us with very little cash to get us out of Ban Lung, over the border, and to our next destination - an island in the Mekong with no cash points at all...  so we looked at our options... the best was to use my Egg Visa card - the one I sent home by accident - to Western Union some money to ourselves... we tried that, but it didn't work - I think the card has been cancelled by mistake... so after a lot of thought, we asked James in Bristol to Western Union some cash to us, which we could then transfer straight to him... and legend that he is, James was on the case immediately... in the morning there was cash for us to pick up... with a message saying "This money is leant to Thomas Guy on the understanding that he will kiss the person reading this message on the cheek, blow a kiss if they are behind glass".  This confused the crap out of the girl at the bank, but eventually she gave us the money, and Tom did blow her a kiss... job's a goodun :) :)  Thank you again Jimbo!!

We spent another day in Ban Lung and cycled up to the crater lake to enjoy a bit of sunshine and some book time, which was great... Before we left on this little excursion, we found that our toilet was absolutely full of, quite literally, crap... we tried to get it to go down... armed with a bent out coat hanger, my krama tighly wrapped around my face, and top tied around my waist, I went in... it was horrendous and impossible... it just wasn't budging... but did produce some amusing photos :)  In the end we had to call the cleaner in and let her and the hotel manager deal with it... they didn't mention it to us again... oops...!

Early the next day we got on another bus to Stung Treng, where we waited for a mini-bus to come and take us to the Laos border... it wasn't quite a mini-bus, more a truck with open back and sides and a roof for the tall people to hit their heads on...  So we got on that with three other Brits - Alice and Zoe who were travelling together and Mike who was on his own... we set off in our little truck feeling very much like illegal immigrants being smuggled over the border... and after several stops to deliver water to people on the way, or to pick up water containers we had dropped on the way, we made it to the border, left Cambodia, got a stamp, got back in the truck and went to officially enter Laos... 

Then we got back in the truck and were left in a very small town to wait for another ride to pick us up...  Zoe, Alice and Mike's lift came fairly quickly - our lift arrived about an hour after that, in which time I befriended about ten local children who liked playing catch and making me pick them up... they were gorgeous :) :)

Our mini-bus finally arrived and took us to a town on the edge of the Mekong, where we took a little boat over to Don Det - the largest of the 4000 islands in this part of the Mekong.... which you can read all about in the next blog!

More photos of Kratie and Ban Lung
Tom's photos
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