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Our first stop in Cambodia from Laos was Kratie, a tiny town in northeastern Cambodia. Kratie is a pleasant enough town and not overly touristy, but the thing we were looking forward to the most was kayaking with Sorya Kayaking as well as a chance to see the famous and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins in their natural habitat.
We met the owner in the morning, Suzanne, who is a young, expat American from Oklahoma. Vicky and I were immediately shocked at just how young Suzanne is. A recent college grad in her early twenties, Suzanne has been living abroad in Cambodia for over a year now. She is near fluent in Khmer, the native language, and runs her own kayaking business with plans of expanding it into a restaurant and hostel in the coming months/years. She employs several local Cambodians as guides for her tours. I have to say, I was a little jealous at how much progress she’s made in her business and her commitment to Cambodian culture. It’s rare nowadays to find Westerners who want to take the time to learn the local language – but Suzanne lives Cambodian culture through and through.
She greeted us over coffee and we discussed our plans for the day. Sorya Kayaking offers a variety of tours varying in difficulty and Vicky and I chose one that suited us – the Dolphin Full Day, which included some moderate kayaking, seeing the dolphins, a brief temple walk, and lunch. We got in her truck and drove upstream and before long were in our kayaks with our Cambodian guide Lucky.
Vicky and I have done a bit of kayaking before and have never really had any rhythm. If anything I’d say we work against each other as opposed to with each other, and before long we were way behind Lucky, who was kayaking alone and made it clear that at this pace we wouldn’t make it back before nightfall. He suggested that we do a switch – I would go solo in his kayak and he and Vicky would take the double (aka, he would row for Vicky and I was on my own).
Needless to say, kayaking is hard, and I haven’t had much of an upper body workout since we started this trip, but I battled the ripping tides of the Mekong river to keep up the best I could with front runners Vicky and Lucky. Lucky looked as if he was barely breaking a sweat and Vicky, I’m sure, wasn’t breaking a sweat so they were smooth sailing. Luckily the currents were on my side, literally because we were going downstream.
The river itself is picturesque, particularly a spot called the flooded forest and the sandy islands.
Before long, we had reached the spot where the dolphins play. On any given day it isn’t a definite that the dolphins are going to be out so Vicky and I really had our fingers crossed. I have heard that you never see dolphins alone because they’re social creatures, true or not, in no time there were three of them playing about 25 – 50 meters from us. I have to say, if you’ve never seen dolphins playing in the wild it’s really an amazing site. There’s only a few hundred Irrawaddy dolphins left so we were really lucky to catch them in their natural element like this.
After about 30 minutes of awe struck silence we set off again in our kayaks to complete the rest of the tour. Our guide Lucky was nice and made sure we were on track to finish in time. He led us to a small temple complex where we had lunch and walked around and he taught us a few basic Cambodian phrases to help us get by.
Later, we went over to the island across the river from Kratie to do a bit of exploring. We were treated to some freshly made sugar cane juice and some snacks.
Right as we were finishing up, a storm broke out so we were really fortunate to not be in the river at this point. It was a tough day but it was worth it.
If you find yourself in Kratie, definitely head over to Sorya Kayaking and introduce yourself to Suzanne. She’s incredibly nice and frankly will probably be the mayor there in a few years. Find them on Facebook and on Tripadvisor too!
*Disclaimer – we received a discount on the kayaking tour but as always all opinions expressed here are our own