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.