Kratie and Irawaddy Dolphin Spotting

Mekong sunset gazing

 

Kratie is a small sunbaked town and the central square consists of not much more than the obliagatory indoor market jammed with cheap t shirts, baseball caps, toiletries ( the asian woman's quest for whiteness knows no bounds) and a range of stands selling strange school kid toys and sweeties. 

Many of the women here both working in the market and outside seem to be wearing pyjamas. Loose fitting, often multicoloured and garishly patterned flannel two piece pjs! 

“whhhhhy – I need to know!” says April. So we google it. Turns out the women of Cambodia have found the humble pyjama the pefect solution to the challenge of dressing both comfortably and also preserving modesty in this very traditional and respectful society. They don't shie away from the bright mismatched colours either, there's something rather glorious watching women going about their daily business, running their stalls, riding their motorbikes and nursing their babies in their pyjamas. 

We arrive at a restaurant ... 

“Is the restaurant we ate at yesterday when the two big cockroachs ran over our feet?” asks Rich. 

“Oh yeeeahh” we all agree, as we collectively pull out our chairs and sit down. 

“Wow that is hilairous! Imagine us doing that in London. Amazing how one's standards relax overseas isn't it?!” says Rich. 

The next morning we are up with the lark to go and see the rare Irawaddy dolphins. This almost extinct bottle nose dolphin can only be found in two locations, 4000 islands off the coast of Southern Laos and here in Kratie. There are only about 50 left. We get up early and take the half hour tuk tuk ride along the river banks of the Mekong to the pier where our boat will depart. The air is still cool as we leave the town behind and head off down a rural road with the bright navy strip of the Mekong running along side us. Traditional bamboo huts on stilts are set away from the road amongst the broad leafed banana plants and enormous ceramic urns tadorn the villagers porches. Their inhabitants squat outside on their hams lighting their little early morning bonfires. We arrive around 8am with the sky and river an intense navy and the sun burning in the sky. We are shown into a bright yellow painted row boat and and our oarsman starts rowing us down the river. The Mekong has remained a persistent muddy brown in Laos but for the first time here it glimmers a bright sapphire, banked with palm trees - it looks inviting enough to dive into . We get out into the middle and then he drops the oars and lets us float. After a few minutes a couple of sharp little fins cut the air and two snubb little noses burst through the ripples, jump a neat little arc and then submerge themselves again.

 

As ever my camera and I are pretty useless and i'm still not in the running to win “wildlife photographer of the year” award any time soon. These dolphins are rare and from Laos. So let me manage your expectations now and tell you they are not the brash American show offs of Miami's Sea World. They won't be soaring out of the sea to perform pirouttes and somersaults only to crash back into the waves and reappear for an encore... Their appearances are discreet and genteel. Often in twos – the most we see is a glimpse of their shiny snub noses, or their sleek flank as they crest the waves in a delicate arc and splash back into the water It is worth it though. As always ...getting up close and personal with nature is a privelege. We spend a happy half hour trying to take photos and predict which side of the boat they will be appearing from (and failing dismally ) then make our way back to Kratie. 

Back at the hotel Mr Dan the man who has sold us the half hour tuk tuk to the swimming pool with no water – has offered us a good discount on our next excursion to make up for it. Just as a precaution we decide to compare his prices before we book and realise that he's lied and is still charging us above average prices and it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. So we move out of the hotel en masse and go and decamp for breakfast down the road. Suddenly I feel a sensation and realise he is sitting behind me. I'm slightly unnerved – how did he suddenly materialise so silently. 

“The fact is you lied. You told us we could swim and we could eat and we coudn't do either. Then you told us you would give us a good deal and its more expensive than other hotels. So we don't trust you any more!” I say. 

“Oooh Dominique, you summed that up perfectly!” says April. Hmmm years of practise dealing with that kind of person I expect. 

He wrings his hands, but he knows he's been had. 
 


It is our final day together. We wander along the Mekong and then sit on the riverbanks to watch as the great coppery sun melts into the horizon. Asia really knows how to pull out the pretty with the sunsets. 

“I'd love an old fashioned ice cream!” says April. And as if by magic an old fashioned ice cream van appears. They seem to do only two flavours – coconuty condensed milk and nutty condensed milk garnished with nuts and...condensed milk. But its delicious creamy, cold and sweet. 

Tomorrow we part company – April and Laura are heading back to Oz via Bangkok and Rich and I are travelling onwards up to Siem Reap - to experience the temples of Angkor Wat together.