Ever since I arrived in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, I had been changing my travel plans. Nothing major though that would alter what I have set out to do. First was the extra day at Siem Reap and next was the sudden switch to break the bus ride from Siem Reap to Banlung at Kratie instead of Kampong Chang and it was all because of a bus ride.
What you have to learn in Cambodia is to just simply trust how the bus system works. If you’ve taken any of the long-distance buses in Vietnam, it works exactly the same— you simply get on when the bus staff tells you to and you get off when they tell you to. If you wanna be sure, simply show them your ticket and they’ll shoo you to the same bus they told you to get on to in the first place.
The guy at the King Angkor Villa (sounds grand but it’s just another guesthouse) reminded me to be at the reception at 6:30am for the bus pick-up. Sitting by the doorway watching a few early risers having breakfast at the outdoor common area, a mini bus came rambling along. I was the only passenger so I got the choicest seat— window and large leg room. We stopped for a few other passengers in other guesthouses. A young be-spectacled Korean guy with a small rucksack on his back and a white plastic bag filled with bananas and a pineapple got on and said, “Kratie?” Someone nodded and he settled on his seat. A few more pick-ups and then we were all promptly dropped off at the office of Phnom Pehn Sorya, the bus company I and I assume the others as well, booked tickets for.
We all got off and the Korean guy started asking people where they were going. I told him I was headed to Kompong Cham. A couple said they were off to Battambang while a Khmer showed his ticket which read “Phnom Penh.” Mr. Korea was in a slight bit of panic as people had different destinations. I, on the other hand, realized since Kratie was enroute to Banlung, why not head to Kratie instead? It would be nearer to Banlung, my final destination, after all. I went to the Sorya counter and bought a Kompong Cham-Kratie ticket.
A big red bus arrived and were all promptly told to get on it. By this time, I was nearly as panicky as Mr. Korean who was still asking people where they were headed to. I was already loading my large bag in the compartment knowing the bus was bringing us to the station (an info I had asked the woman at the counter earlier). But Mr. Korea’s incessant “Kratie?” had a way of bringing you to start questioning your belief in the info you got. I halted the loading of my bag and asked a guy who seemed to know what was going on. He confirmed that we were all going to be brought to the bus station. Mr. Korea and I heaved a sigh of relief. Secretly, knowing that there was another person going to Kratie made me feel better.
At the bus station which was quite a distance from the main town of Siem Reap, we went to our own buses. Kompong Cham and Kratie-bound passengers were all bundled in one bus as those heading further to Kratie would have a bus change at Kompong Cham.
I had under-estimated the time it takes to travel from Siem Reap to Kratie. It really does take about 5 hours to get to Kompong Cham including a stop-over at Skuon for lunch (where are the spiders?). But what I did not count on was the almost 5-hour trip from Kompong Cham to Kratie as based on Lonely Planet, it was just 3 hours. I was getting fidgety already by the time we passed Snuol. The bus change at Kompong Cham did provide enough relief for both butt and legs as we waited (about 10 mins) for the bus coming from Phnom Penh and heading to Kratie. It arrived around 2pm and I was first on board which meant a seat near the front. Woe to the others who were crammed at the back. Much worse off was a French guy with a folding bike he put in the luggage compartment who had to sit on the aisle.
The road was good but monotonous. We stopped for about 15 minutes at a small bus stop for refreshments then we were on our way again. It was nearly sunset when we finally saw the Mekong. What a sunset it was! When the bus rounded a corner a collective “aaaaahhhh” filled the bus as we saw the most gorgeous sunset in a pallette of crimson, red, and orange reflecting on the quite waters of the river. Too bad we couldn’t stop to take photos.
Touts greeted us as we got off the bus at the small Sorya office along the riverside. Mr. Korean followed me as I bought my ticket to Banlung while he bought his for Pakse. We decided to go with each other and share a room at a guesthouse to cut-down costs.
We checked-in at Heng Heng Hotel ll which was in his guide book. Good room with a/c and clean ensuite bathroom on the 3rd floor with a view of the river all for $12. Staff was friendly too and not pushy with their dolphin tour. At about $26 for each of us, we found it too expensive. Mr. Korean (I gotta hand it to him for being able to just simply talk to strangers in spite of his limited English) turned to a middle-aged American lady and asked her if she wanted to join us to go see the dolphins so we could cut costs. She seemed surprised and answered something like “we’re seeing the dolphins already.”
We had a fried rice dinner at the attached restaurant of the hotel. Nothing really special. It was dark already so we just took a short stroll along the river. Stalls selling grilled meats were busy with locals having a bite to eat.
The next morning, we eschewed the dolphin tour and went instead to Ko Trong but that deserves its own blog entry.
After lunch, I just walked along the river side as there was nothing else to do. It seems not a lot of people head up to Kratie as I didn’t bump into too many tourists or perhaps they were all out on the water searching for the rare Irawaddy dolphins.
The riverfront promenade was a bit littered due to the stalls selling fruit, everyday stuff, and souvenirs. They should clean it up and set-up small tables and chairs where one can have a meal or a drink. It would have been a nice chill-out place especially when the sun goes down. As it is, the eating places are all across the road. Mildly interesting were the souvenir shops selling large wood carvings of dolphins and other images and even furniture. Some pieces were just huge and I can’t imagine why anyone would buy one of those and lug it around unless there was courier service somewhere.
Kratie is a good place to break the trip to northeast Cambodia or Laos. It’s quiet and peaceful and a good place to rest your aching back and weary legs and if you like dolphins, get to see a rare species before they’re totally wiped out. There is good local street food available too.
I like riverside towns especially when they have gorgeous sunsets. I would stay another night if only to see it again but I have to move on.