After a stop over at Phnom Penh we made our way north east via a local minibus. One in which the Khmer passengers squeeze their market wares and other various luggage piled high on the back seat and then proceed to squash 4 passengers onto 3 seats. Luckly the happy twins who owned the bus allowed us westerners to sit one to a seat, however I think this is because we had paid the equivalent of paying for 4 seats between us judging by the notes the locals handed over when paying compared to ours.
The drive north was scenic and again extremely bumpy. This doesn't come as a surprise as we recently learnt that there were no proper road networks constructed in Cambodia till 2006/7. The north still haven't many Tarmac roads and many are red dusty dirt tracks with many holes. I liked the scenic drive however my shoulder/chest injury from the scooter didn't! Every bump felt like someone was twisting a rib and standing on my chest all at once. Thankfully there was the obligatory stop offs along the way, where the driver stops for a snack and all the locals pile off and find any old crap to buy, that allowed for a little rest bite.
When driving through the northern villages and towns I didn't know what to expect of Kratie as we drove further north the more rural the Cambodian landscape became. Many farms, less shops, more side road stalls, no petrol stations, only bottled petrol sold from people's houses, no ATMs, wooden houses on stilts and fields. As we began to near Kratie bigger houses arose, the road became smoother and it seemed like we had arrived in yet another quiet but well established and developed town. With decorative roundabouts, several new guests houses, a clean, newly paved river front, lots of new builds in progress and a local busy market at the heart of it all.
I will admit I was a little disappointed as I was hoping for a 'real' Cambodian town experience. Yet again there are many foreign ran guest houses and many travellers on the same route. I suppose you can hardly avoid other travellers doing the same route. I have to say though there were noticeably less 'berrang' (foreigners).
Staying at The Silver Dolphin we explored the small town on foot the evening we arrived. The next day we rented scooters from the Guest house for $6, to visit the water rapids. I always like renting the scooters as it allows you to see the smaller pockets of villages and it is always nice to see the local families doing their thing and to be greeted with smiles and hellos from the many school children cycling to school or playing by the side of the road.
The drive to the water rapids was fairly straight and easy, about a 45 minute ride along the red dirt roads. Following the Mekong the views were beautiful.
The water rapids were a nice little swimming spot where you could sit on a bamboo structured hut with hammocks. I watched on as the boys swam and fooled around in the water trying to fight the strong current with their 'lord of the rings' staffs. I balanced on the part of the bamboo platform where the sun shone trying to get a shimmer of it on my pale skin,(4months and still same colour as when I left). There were many women and vendors to buy food from and we managed to get some local noodle dishes for lunch, then headed back.
We spent the night at the hotel after discovering a place that made poutine, Ben had it an me and Étienne didn't think much of it, didn't look too good. However Étienne had other ideas for the next day. The boys stayed up drinking and I went to bed, the shoulder has been really painful making me quite ill, so early night for me again. I managed to watch the first 4 episodes of Game of Thrones...awesome series, now totally hooked ( a year late but still).
The next morning we visited the river where the fresh water dolphins lived. Apparently there are only 80 left in the river and I was quite sceptical about seeing any. I was pleasantly surprised on our short half an hour boat trip, as we slowly made our way across the river we heard them and saw signs of them. As soon as the boat turned its engines off up against a sand bank they began to appear all around us! It was amazing to see them. Was such a lovely peaceful experience. Sad to think that they want to but a hydroelectric damn in their habitat totally wiping out the surviving 80 or so creatures. I hope it doesn't come to that. There were scientists promoting a petition against it as we exited the park, hopefully word will spread along with support.
Étienne and I ended that day with customs made poutine. Étienne instructed the waiter to add a little extra ingredients and a few other tweaks to the dish, all in a well mannered way explaining he was québécois and this is how a 'proper' poutine should be. The smiling Cambodian obliged and came back with a delicious concoction. A good day all round I would say!
Not much more to Kratie so Étienne is finally leaving us to depart to Laos :( we are carrying on to Ban Lung...