by: RJ Fisher Last update: January 2024
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Things to do in Kratie
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 major developments 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 a unique 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.
Here is my list of “11 most wonderful things to do in Kratie, Cambodia”:
Half day activity
Well, yes I guess it’s justified to start with the dolphins, since they are by far the #1 attraction here.
The Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins are an endangered species with less than a hundred individuals left in the Mekong river from Lao PDR to Cambodia. According to the WWF the primary threat for the dolphins is to end up as bycatch from fishing. A mere 25 or so are said to populate the Mekong near Kratie.
Don’t expect acrobatics, a show, any touching or swimming with dolphins. Instead, expect a calming experience while observing the dolphins swim and play in their natural habitat.
There are 2 ways to spot the dolphins. First is 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. Normally, it’s all done in a responsible manner. Boats are $9 p/p.
Second, and better option, is to join a kayak tour. The three local kayak operators pretty much offer the same experience. Half day or whole day kayak trips on the Mekong through the flooded forest and dolphin spotting. It’s practically guaranteed that you will see dolphins up close. The dolphins seem to be less disturbed by the kayaks than by 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 did see a lot of dolphins up close.
Half to whole day activity
If you did the half day kayak tour, you will have time to spare to visit the Kampi rapids site. It’s fun and relaxing and practically around the corner from the dolphin site. In dry season, roughly November through April, the Mekong water levels drop and create stretches of fast moving water in between the sandbanks. Wooden platforms over the water with hammocks and shade are rented out per hour.
It’s a beautiful and wonderful place to hang out. Relax and maybe have a refreshing swim. This is the closest to a beach that you will find around Kratie. You can either bring your own food for a picnic or buy some on site, there are plenty of food options around. It’s also great to mingle with the locals as the rapids are very popular with them.
1 hour activity
When staying in Kratie Town, this beautiful Buddhist temple is probably the most convenient attraction to visit. The temple is situated right smack in the middle of town, near the riverfront and most of the Kratie accommodations. Enter the temple grounds from any of the four entrances covering all directions.
First time we visited Kratie was during the Pchum Ben celebrations. We skipped the temple as to not disturb the worshiping Cambodians. Second time around provided another opportunity to have a look. The temple grounds are dotted with gold colored chedies and a stupa honoring an ancient princess. Absolute showstopper is of course the gorgeous and majestic pagoda with its typical Khmer architecture.
However, what really stood out for me was the quiet calmness and tranquility this place emanated. Mind you, we entered from the Eastern entrance where the bus station is. What a difference from the hustle bustle noisy hectic environment at the transport hub! Definitely worth your visit.
2 hour activity, including the drive from Kratie town
Behold the 100-Pillar Pagoda! Just 40km to the North of Kratie Town you will find this stunningly beautiful pagoda, locally known as Wat Sorsor Muoy Roi. Built in 1806 on the remnants of a royal palace in memory of a princess who fell victim to a crocodile attack.
Beautiful inside and out! The many pillars provide the pagoda with an impressive sight. Then again, check out the floor to ceiling murals inside depicting Buddhist mythology. They might even be more impressive than the outside.
Fun fact: Over time, the pagoda was rebuilt twice. The first time after it was struck by lightning, the villagers rebuilt it with only 78 pillars. Then, in the 1970’s, the pagoda was destroyed by the Khmer rouge regime. In 1997 it was once again restored and to this day holds 116 pillars.
1 hour activity
This temple is different from the usual pagoda/temple in Cambodia. Its architecture is solemn, robust and sober with lovely paintings of traditional handicrafts inside. It’s just 2km South of Kratie town on road 73, so easy to reach by bicycle or even by foot.
We were there during Pchum Ben and we didn’t want to disturb the ceremonies so we watched from a distance. Some of the worshipers called out to us though and waved us in to have a look. Apparently the wooden pagoda is one of the oldest in the area and nowadays in use as a center for artisanal crafts. For special ceremonies like Pchum Ben they fall back on the structure’s religious purpose.
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2 hour activity including the drive from Kratie town
Cantor’s giant softshell turtle! I have to admit, I had never heard of the mud crawling creature until I came upon the MTCC. On the same grounds as the 100 Pillar Pagoda this local NGO has dedicated herself to the conservation of the endangered species. Turtles are rescued from illegal trafficking and hatchlings are nurtured to be released in the wild. Furthermore, the local population is educated about nature conservation in general.
While the center is interesting enough, it will not keep you occupied for more than an hour or so. Well, unless you’re a biologist or have a special interest in freshwater turtles. On the other hand, you’re probably already on site because of the 100 pillar pagoda and it’s a just cause. So, pay up that $4 entry fee, the NGO will make good use of it.
Half to whole day activity
True riders might feel that a 125cc rental scooter doesn’t actually qualify as a motorbike, but ok… There’s nothing like cruisin’ the Cambodian back-roads on your way to nowhere special with a rice paddy backdrop. The surroundings of Kratie are exceptionally suitable for this activity. Road conditions are reasonably fair and traffic is light. No offense to bikers, but a scooter is just better equipped for these type of trips.
You can of course, use the drive to visit most of the attractions from this list of things to do in Kratie. Alternatively, follow road 73 along the Mekong in Southern direction to small town Chhlong. The draw here is the colonial architecture. Initially left to decay, but recently renovations are ongoing with some of them finalized, including the famous hotel ‘Le Relais de Chhlong’.
Drive North along the Mekong to end up at Koh Pdao, an Island in the river to enjoy Mekong scenery and spot more dolphins. Or maybe try the Mekong Westbank? There’s a ferry 5km South of Kratie Town that will get you there in no time.
Half to whole day activity
One of the reasons we traveled to Kratie was that we were hoping to completely disconnect for a few days. That didn’t happen, until we set foot on Koh Trong Island. Only 5km long and a mere 1km at its widest point, this Mekong sandbar is an oasis of tranquility. No cars, few motorbikes, (almost) no plastic and certainly no crowds.
There isn’t a lot to do on Koh Trong, which is in fact its main draw. Just go for a walk or pedal your bicycle around the Island. It’s easy enough since the 10 km circumventing path is completely flat. If you feel really lazy, there are ox carts for rent.
Feast your eyes on the green rice paddies, dotted with sugar palms and pomelo trees. Enjoy the smiles bestowed upon you by the friendly locals that offer a peek into Cambodian rural village life. Have a swim along the outer sandbanks to the West of the Island and visit the tiny floating village at the Southern tip, complete with a Vietnamese temple.
There’s a gorgeous resort (the only one) if you want to stay overnight. The Soriyabori Villas Resort (former Rajabori) offers traditional Khmer wooden houses, a swimming pool, restaurant and impeccable service. We didn’t actually stay here, but stopped for coffee and the staff was nice enough to give us a comprehensive tour of the resort.
Hop on the ferry (Khr1000=$0.25) at the Kratie Town riverside next to Jasmine restaurant for the 10 min crossing to Koh Trong. Make sure to be on time for the last ferry back to Kratie at 6:30pm. Bring your bicycle, or better yet, rent one on the Island for $1 just off the ferry dock. At the dock you’ll also find the Community Based Tourism Center. Here you can book a basic homestay on the Island for as low as $4 per night.
2 hour activity including the drive from Kratie town
A Buddhist temple on a hill. Not exactly unique to South East Asia. Climbing 300 steps to reach the temple. Still not unique. What is unique to Wat Phnom Sombok though is the escort of monk statues you’ll get while braving the steps. Also, the particular views over the Mekong landscape are hard to beat by any rivaling hilltop temple.
Only 10km North of Kratie Town, an easy bicycle ride along the meandering Mekong. Wat Phnom Sombok is a rather small temple, but houses a reclining Buddha, a monastery and a meditation center. One of the structures contains depictions of the tortures that await the non virtuous. You should try to coincide your visit here with the golden hour, you’ll thank me later.
Whole day to multiple day activity
What if there was a trail guide that provides maps, transport and accommodation options in the Northern Cambodia Mekong region? A trail guide that takes you to parts on and around the Mekong where few tourists go. By using the trail you would support local communities with an income from tourism rather than from unsustainable fishing and poaching. Furthermore, it would take you into the heart of the Mekong to experience its natural beauty and some real interaction with the friendly local population.
Well, such a trail guide exists, or actually it existed. The Mekong Discovery Trail as a program was launched by an NGO in cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism in 2006. Goal was to enable tourists to experience some of the most naturally beautiful and least visited parts of the Mekong River. Funding ran out in 2012, but fortunately a few ecotourism companies still use the trail with local guides.
crdt.com, which has an office in Kratie and an office in Phnom Penh is one of those companies, so pick up your free map for hiking/biking trails there. Next to community development themed tours and local homestays they also provide free info about the trail should you want to go it your own (you can leave a donation).
The trail covers up to 180 km between Kratie and Stung Treng to the North. You can either do the whole stretch or just parts of it. Along the trail, you’ll be able to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, cycle through rural villages, camp on the banks of the river, explore hiking trails, visit waterfalls, and so much more.
Half day activity
Whenever possible we like to explore by ourselves. However, joining an organized tour can also be a good idea for many reasons. Local guides are a great source of information. They provide useful context about the area and they have inside information about the hidden attractions. Also, you don’t have to worry about transport or searching for directions. This way you are able to cover more ground in a condensed time frame.
So, we joined a half day tour with CRDT Kratie to experience the Kratie rural surroundings. This tour company works with vetted local tour guides that know the area best. We spent an unforgettable day that we could never have replicated by going it on our own. Our excellent guide Thom took us to a mushroom farm, rice whiskey distillery, a rice noodle operation and a brick factory. These small industries were extremely interesting and nothing like the usual tourist traps you often encounter with these kind of tours. No pressure to buy anything, in fact none of the businesses even had anything lined up to sell to visitors.
Unfortunately other than their Facebook account, their official website is not secure and therefor not visible for most internet browsers. As an alternative swing by the CRDT office when in Kratie.
Transport was provided by motorbike. Self-drive for me and the guide’s backseat for my girl. The drive was a fantastic experience in itself with incredible scenery. We drove on small, and sometimes dirt roads along the Mekong, switching the West and East bank by ferry. Cherry on the cake was a surprise lunch prepared by our guide’s Auntie in her farmhouse on her charcoal powered stove. Simple, but delicious food, which we eagerly ate while seated cross-legged on the squeaky bamboo floor. Can you believe that we only paid $18 p/p for this tour?
1 hour activity
Samaki Market: I do like a good South East Asian market and the Kratie Central market is no exception. Of course you’ll find the unavoidable t-shirts, souvenirs, trinkets and rattletraps. My favorite part however, is always the wet market.
Multi colored vegetables and fruits stacked 3 feet high. Fish, either fresh and straight from the river, as well as baskets brimming with pungently smelling sun dried exemplars. Plucked poultry, still complete with their head and feet, displayed in a row like a bunch of beat and worn out dancers. Gory cuts of meat and even half pigs, hanging from a hook with a strategically placed bowl underneath to catch the excess blood and other secretions. All of your senses are challenged to the max, but it’s authentic and real. In the end, isn’t that exactly what we want out of travel?
Phnom Soporkaley: Yet another pagoda perched on a hilltop with stunning views over the Mekong. Located 10 km West from small town Chhlong on road 308. You will have to cross the river by ferry, but that just adds to the adventure.
FAQ – Things to do in Kratie, Cambodia
What is the main attraction of Kratie?
The river dolphins are undoubtedly the main attraction. A colony of approximately 25 rare Irrawaddy dolphins inhabit the Mekong near Kratie.
What is the best time to visit Kratie?
Dry season from November through April. Although very hot it is the best time to visit Kratie. Rain season often brings floods causing blocked roads and other inconveniences. Also, the rare Irrawaddy dolphins are easier to spot, because their habitat is smaller in dry season.
Where can I see dolphins in Kratie?
At Kampi village, 15 kilometers North of Kratie town.
That’s it for my 11 Most wonderful things to do in Kratie, Cambodia. Feel like visiting Kratie yet? Leave a comment if I tickled your interest. Or maybe you have been and you feel that I left out your favorite activity? We have plans for a re-visit, so please let us know.
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