Last update: October 2019
In the know destinations – Cambodia
You have seen the highlights of Cambodia and you are ready for more. Kratie as a destination might not be as popular as Angkor Wat. It does however, still receive its share of domestic and foreign tourists in the know.
Moreover, Kratie will take you to the real Cambodia. Not completely off the beaten path, but still undiscovered and exciting, less crowded and with an adequate tourism infrastructure in place.
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You’ve gotta love Kratie, I know I do. The pass-through town for travelers to and from Laos has always kept its relaxing river town vibe. Even today with all of the development going on in Cambodia, Kratie manages to hold on to a slower, more amiable pace. Visitors that do stick around for a few more days are treated to a genuine Mekong experience.
It’s not just about the rare and elusive Irrawaddy dolphins, which are unique to experience of course. It’s also the many community development initiatives. Visitors are encouraged to passively or hands-on participate in projects to protect the environment and improve the lives of the local population.
How to get to Kratie
In the past few years a lot has been done to improve roads and nowadays Kratie is pretty much easy to reach from any direction. 3 Daily busses leave Phnom Penh for the 6-7h drive to Kratie. Minivans from Siem Reap take about 9h.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within Cambodia I always use the transport planning tool below from BookmeBus.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
The town of Kratie is rather small so you probably won’t need any transport within the town’s limits. There are of course motodops (motor taxi’s) around and short trips will be no more than Khr2000=$0.50. The motodops can also be used for out of town ventures in which case you will have to bargain. Some guesthouses post standard motodop rates for common attractions.
Most guesthouses also rent out bicycles for $1-$2 depending on the quality of the material and motorbikes for $5-$8. Again you won’t need it in town, but for venturing out of town a bicycle will do very well as the surroundings of Kratie are pretty flat.
I know you’re here for the dolphins, which is a good enough reason, because they are quite unique. However, there is more to Kratie that justifies hanging around for a bit longer.
Alright, alright, I know we have to talk about the dolphins, so let’s start with the lovable creatures. About 25 Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins populate the Mekong near Kratie. They can best be spotted at Kampi village, about 15 km upstream from Kratie. It’s easy to reach by bicycle, motorbike or tuk-tuk, just keep the Mekong to your left.
At Kampi, boats will take you out on the river and soon you will be surrounded by dolphins. If all is well, it’s all done in a sustainable manner. Boats are $7 p/p. For an extra $2 the boats can subsequently take you to the rapids nearby and you can have a picnic on one of the sandbank Islands.
Another, and maybe even better way to see the dolphins is by joining a kayak tour. There are three kayak operators in Kratie and they pretty much offer the same experience. Half day or whole day kayak trips on the Mekong through the flooded forest and dolphin watching. It’s practically guaranteed that you will see dolphins up close as the kayaks are seen as less of a threat by the dolphins than the noisy motorized boats.
We did the kayak tour with Socheat from dolphinkayaking.com His nickname is Lucky, because his groups always spot the most dolphins. I don’t know if it was luck or skill, but fact is that we saw a lot of dolphins up close.
Mekong discovery trail
The Mekong discovery trail will take you to parts on and around the Mekong where few tourists go. The trail comprises the Mekong area between Kratie and Stung Treng. You can do the whole 180 km or just parts of it. Using these trails will support local communities with an income from tourism rather than from unsustainable fishing and poaching.
The Mekong discovery trail is run by crdtours.com, which has an office in Kratie, so pick up your free map there. Next to community development themed tours they also provide free info about the Mekong discovery trail for if you want to go it your own (you can leave a donation).
Koh Trong Island
Hop on the ferry (Khr1000=$0.25) at the Kratie riverside next to Jasmine restaurant for the 10 min crossing to Koh Trong Island in the Mekong. Bring your bicycle, or better yet, rent one on the Island for $1 just off the ferry dock.
The Island is beautiful, green, rural and virtually litter free. You can cycle the 9 km route around the Island while making stops to visit the temples, the floating village or for a swim at the beach on the West bank. Make sure to be on time for the last ferry back to Kratie at 6:30pm.
Cruisin on your rental motorbike
Motorbikes can be rented for the day all over town for $5-$8. My favorite thing to do in Kratie was to take my rental out for a spin along the Mekong. It doesn’t really matter if you go North or South, the scenery is beautiful and interesting either way.
Drive North and you’ll find rural scenery and views over the Mekong. You will pass by a few temples including the one on the hill at Phnom Sambok and also Kampi village where the dolphins are. Eventually you will end up in Sambor which has the famous 100 pillar pagoda.
To the South is the very old Rokarkandal pagoda with its wooden roof and further down to the town of Chhlong. The draw in Chhlong is the colonial architecture. Initially left to decay, but many renovations are now ongoing with some of them finalized, including the famous hotel ‘Le Relais de Chhlong’.
Another interesting route is along the West bank of the Mekong, but you will have to cross the river with one of the ferries, there is no bridge. This route has mostly unpaved, but drivable roads and takes you through rural villages where time stood still for decades.
If you like to indulge in adventurous activities, then always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation.
Remember that healthcare is Cambodia in hopelessly underdeveloped and any serious ailments or injuries will probably result in medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore. A rather costly event and payable up front if you lack proper insurance.
Where to stay in Kratie
The largest concentration of hotels and guesthouses is on the riverfront of Kratie with a few more around the Sammaki market. It’s a good area to stay in with nice views over the Mekong river and Koh Trong Island. Most restaurants are also in this area so you don’t have to go far when you get hungry. The quality of some accommodations can be somewhat shabby so it might pay off to check some reviews before booking.
Budget = from $10 to $30
Priced at just a bit over $10 this guesthouse with basic rooms offers value for money. Wonderful views over the Mekong and attentive staff. The accommodation is located just outside of the city center, but with some a few breakfast and dinner options in the immediate vicinity.
Mom Brocheabry Hotel
Budget = from $10 to $30
This fairly new hotel in a good location in the middle of town definitely offers value for money. Rooms are in perfect condition and the staff/owner go out of their way to make you feel welcome. No breakfast included, but Roman Cafe is right next door.
Luxury = from $75 to $200
Wonderful resort, secluded from the outside world on Koh Trong Island in the Mekong river. The resort features a large pool, restaurant, free wifi and free bicycles for guests. We didn’t actually stay here, but visited for coffee and the staff was nice enough to give us a full tour of the resort.
To compare prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com. More than often, Agoda has very good deals on accommodations outside of high season.
Where to eat in Kratie
Let’s face it, Kratie is not a culinary paradise and maybe it will never be. Having said that, I was real happy to find that the food options have improved tremendously since my previous visit 10 years ago. Praise to the Irrawaddy dolphins that manage to lure more visitors to Kratie year on year. It has obviously incentivized business owners to do better. Thank you dolphins!
Tokae Restaurant on the corner of street 10 right in front of the Sammaki market is a great place to hang out. New owner Leon is turning the place around to be the new cool kid on the block again with good Khmer food and friendlier prices.
Sorya Cafe has a nice location on the riverside with the most beautiful Mekong sunsets. The menu is simple with pizzas and pastas, but really well executed. The staff is wonderful, attentive and treat you like old friends.
The German Restaurant is just a few doors down from Tokae. Schnitzel might not be first on your mind in Cambodia, but it’s prepared in a good authentic German way. They serve decent Khmer food as well for when your companions are not into bratwurst.
MLUB Putrea should be your choice if you’re after cheap, but tasty homemade noodles. Between street 5 and 6, one block away from the riverfront.
Heng Sim is a must go restaurant on the side street of street 3 between the riverfront quay and road 73. Eat shoulder to shoulder with the locals and taste what real Khmer food is about.