I miss my motorcycle. I look at roads longingly from buses before realizing the roads here are awful and the rains killed the fun or riding in Vietnam. Yet I long for the freedom of the road and racing to remote locales. However while I had the motorcycle, every road looked like a road to be ridden, and I just about never rode a bike. So now that I am motorcycle free, I have gotten to rediscover the joys of bicycling down these rural roads.
Phnom Penh was not my favorite place. As it was my first stop in Cambodia, I had to wonder if I just did not like Cambodia. It is a country racing to become international, loving Pizza Hut more than its own cuisine. Phnom Penh was said to be a “gourmet’s paradine” by multiple articles. I guess if they mean you want to go somewhere foreign to eat slightly cheaper versions of international food, then hey you’re set. Khmer food seemed to be second fiddle to western food in all the tourist facing restaurants and the tourist district was so big it took me a bit to wander out of it.
I am quite pleased that Kratie (pronounced crah-chay), a mere day’s bus ride away, feels worlds away from all of that. It is a quiet, stoplight free town on the Mekong river. Most people, like me, show up to see the freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. I missed seeing this when I skipped all of the south of Laos so I am happy to have a chance to do so now.
I thought I would miss the park but luckily there’s a giant dolphin statue out front. Lots of travelers complain about the entrance/boat fee, which is steep for my budget at the moment at $9 a pop ($7 a person if you had more people). However it is free for Cambodians and they do some conservation here. I’m pretty sure I have to pay that much to get into a Californian national or state park as well. It’s pretty darned cheap for a private boat ride though. Those whale watching boat trips are a good $40 or more dollars to be shoved on a boat with 40 other people.
My experiences with whale watching in California involved risking my easy to trigger sea sickness for hours at a time to maybe, or maybe not, see a whale. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see dolphins pretty much as soon as we finished our 45 minute journey upstream. They remind me a bit of whales, only showing their top sides and blasting out a spray of water and air. I did get to see the tail of one as it dove as well. While not the jumping, frolicking dolphins of the ocean, they are still pleasant to watch. Seeing dolphins come up every few minutes was a pleasant and surprisingly frequent event.
The second day I took a short ferry (by ferry, I definitely mean small wooden boat) to Koh Trong, an island in the middle of the Mekong. I’m usually a night owl but it’s not the best way here as one of the best times of day for physical exertion is at dawn. I dragged myself out of bed early and took to hitting the rural paths on a city bike. I wish they had some thicker wheeled mountain bikes with suspension for the sake of my rear.
Definitely worth a stop if you are in the country. It feels so peaceful and laid-back, like the Mekong area I fell in love with in Laos. I’m not sure if the ten hour (probably more like twelve) ride to Siem Reap will be very pleasant, but it seems a shame to come to Cambodia and not go to Angkor Wat. To be honest though, I think I may be more excited about slow river life than I am about tourists elbowing for photos at temples in another international town.