It’s thought that there are only around 80 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong river. Tragically this is believed to be largely due to unmanned gill nets. While the use of these nets was prohibited by Cambodia’s government, this is not the case in Laos where the population has decreased to only 3 dolphins. Back in 2012, 5 fishermen from Kratie town representing their communities, public expressed their commitment to protecting the dolphins and in a ceremony celebrating the importance of the creatures as a national treasure of Cambodia. Locals believe the dolphins to be sacred and have vowed to treat their living environment with care. The Irrawaddy dolphins also provide an important source of income through dolphin watching tourism.
We were apprehensive about visiting such a delicate ecosystem but after lots of online research concluded that the best way to conserve these animals was to give money to the local boat drivers who had promised to look after them. Without visitors coming to see the dolphins, there would be less incentive to defend them.
Kratie really is quite out of the way and you have to really want to see the dolphins to make the effort to get there. We are those guys, so we took an uncomfortable 8 hour bus journey from Phnom Penh to spend some time out on the water with absolutely no guarantee we’d see a single dolphin.
We stayed at River Dolphin Hotel and this was pretty much the only place we saw any other tourists. One night, while eating dinner, we even had the pleasure of seeing one of them throw up on the floor. We were then lucky enough to be able to look at it for a good quarter of a hour before anyone thought it a good idea to clean it up. That said, it was a nice place to stay and our room was surprisingly cute, with several thoughtful and homely touches. The hotel manager was incredibly deadpan (we think) and we liked her a lot.
It’s not often that we have to be in a certain place at a certain time. When we need to catch a flight, Tom insures we’re there about 8 hours early. If we need to catch a bus, there’s usually another one we could get if we were to miss it. There was however only one boat heading to Lonely Beach on the island of Koh Rong on the day we were headed out there and so it was kind of important we made it on time. We’d stayed overnight in the anything but charming city of Sihanoukville so we could catch a boat from the port which was about 20 minutes away. We arranged for a rickshaw to pick us up from Dao of Life, a wonderful vegan restaurant and one of Sihanoukville’s redeeming features. (Note: we really did not spend enough time in Sihanoukville to properly review it but first impressions were that it was an extremely touristic built-up purpose-built city lacking the soul of everywhere else we had the pleasure of visiting in the country.) After a hefty stack of pancakes we jumped into a van/rickshaw hybrid and headed out to catch our boat.
Kampot was beautiful. Kampot IS beautiful. You know when you go somewhere and you just get that feeling of contentment? That feeling that this is exactly where you’re meant to be and that you have everything to be thankful for? Well, Kampot was that place for us.
Battembang hadn’t been on our radar until pretty much the day before we went there. It’s kind of on the way to Phnom Penh and having heard a few good things about it, we decided to tear ourselves away from Caryl and Paul’s place in Siem Reap and head towards Battembang via a very beautiful 3ish hour bus ride.
While some people choose to spend several days exploring the many beautiful ancient constructions strewn across the archeological site of Angkor, we opted for one day, which in the sweltering heat was plenty for us.
Depending on which website you visit, Angkor Wat is either one of the seven wonders of the world, an honorary eighth wonder of the world or a new seventh wonder of the world. Regardless of its official ranking, it’s pretty easy to see why this place is regarded as one of the most fantastic places on the planet.
We do try our best to take the most environmentally friendly routes while we travel and while it often results in long uncomfortable journeys, we reckon it’s worth it.
Our journey from Koh Phangan all the way to Siem Reap in Cambodia looked something like this
Truck – boat – bus – overnight train – hostel – train – rickshaw – bus – minibus – rickshaw BOOM.
We followed this incredibly helpful guide and although it took us a long time, it was definitely worth doing.
First impressions of Cambodia were good. Really good. We came across quite a few other travellers who had merely dipped into Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, however we had nowhere to be and planned to take it slow. We booked a couple of nights in Siem Reap and decided to see how it went.
Our month in Thailand had been beautiful, but we were well aware that we were following a well trodden path. Although we came to accept the hoards of travellers and the often slightly skewed impression of Buddhism and daily life that are presented to visitors, we hoped that Cambodia would provide a more rugged and authentic experience. As a backpacker, you can hardly complain that other travellers are making a place too touristy when you’re there with your camera snapping away, but what we hoped to get from Cambodia was what we had had a taste of in Thailand, real life just ticking along, with tourists as an afterthought.