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Venturing into North-Eastern Cambodia...dolphins, waterfalls & crater lakes

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 19 June 2008 | Views [2856]

15th June 2008

Leaving Phnom Penh, I headed first by bus to Kratie (pronounced kra-chey). I dropped my bags in a hotel and arranged for a moto-driver to take me to visit the Irrawaddy dolphins which live in parts of the Mekong River near to Kratie. A boat took me out for a 1.5hr boat ride in search of the dolphins. We came to a stop near two other boats, who were also waiting for sightings. In one of the boats was an elderly Frenchman in Cambodia on holiday, with whom I had travelled in the bus to Kratie and shared breakfast; and two other British girls.

Every so often I would see a few blunt, rounded heads popping out of the water...sometimes near, sometimes far. I wish we could have been closer though. I tried to take a photo, but none came out too well. The Irrawaddy dolphins are listed as 'critically endangered' by the IUCN, which explains why they are difficult to spot.

Returning to town, I had dinner with the Frenchman, who turned out to be a quietly-spoken retired economist that had, through his former occupation, travelled to most parts of the world.

Kratie was more enjoyable than I expected. A very quiet town with a relaxed ambience, sitting on the edge of the Mekong river. I would have like to have spent an extra day here, but I was also eager to move on to northeastern Cambodia.

16th June 2008

I woke up early to take a shared-taxi to Ban Lung, Ratanakiri province, northeastern Cambodia. Ratanakiri province has a reputation of being relatively untouched by tourism, and also undeveloped...which made it a more attractive place to visit for me.

I was told to be ready for my taxi at reception at 7.30am. But, of course, the taxi did not arrive until 9.15am. Even then, we did not leave...the driver was still waiting for other passengers to fill the car. So we returned to the nearby taxi area and waited for two more hours for more passengers wanting to go to Ban Lung. Finally, at 11.30am, we had enough.

In fact, we had more than "enough". In total, it was 8 adults (including the driver) and 4 children squeezed into a normal car for a 6.5hr journey. Two people (including the driver) in the driver's seat; two people and two children in the front passenger seat; and four people (including me) and two children in the backseats. As if this was not bad enough, I was squeezed against an uncomfortably tactile fellow who obviously had not had a shower for about 4 days, and his clothes were filthy.

For most of the 6.5hr journey his hand was around my shoulder. But for his uncleanliness, I did not mind this...I have often seen South-East Asian men being very 'familiar' with each other in public, by western standards (e.g. walking or cycling whilst holding hands with each other). So I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and, so long as that was the extent of his touchy-feely hands, I did not mind. But every so often on the 6.5hr journey his hand would slip from my shoulder to the back of my neck, slightly down the top of my t-shirt or (on two occasions) going slightly up the bottom of my t-shirt. Every time this happened, I would try to shuffle forward as much as I could (which wasn't much due to the lack of space) so that I was perching on the seat and so that he would leave me alone. I did this also having in mind the possibility that I was overreacting and that he was simply inadvertently touching me whilst trying to stretch out. If he persisted, I would have been very tempted to punch him and through him out of the car...well, so I thought; but I'm not partial to violence, so I doubt I would have ever actually done it.

Anyway, after spending 6.5hrs on dusty clay-red, pot-holed, roads, I arrived in Ban Lung. I had lunch first, then went in search of a guesthouse listed in my guidebook (which it turns out no longer exists). In search of my second-choice accommodation, I was met with a cross-roads. Not knowing which way to turn, I jumped on to the back of a moto-driver, who took me 5 minutes in the wrong direction before admitting that he did not know where he was going, and then running out of petrol. Fortunately for me, a passing motorist stopped and asked whether I wanted to stay at their guesthouse, Tribal Lodge. I negotiated down the price of a room with TV, hot shower and fan to $4 and then hopped on to their motorbike.

17th June 2008

I did pretty much nothing today. It was raining on-and-off for most of the day, so I just stayed in the guesthouse.

18th June 2008

I used my hired bicycle to visit three nearby waterfalls, all west of the town. I had been to two waterfalls, before I ran out of small change to pay for the admission fee. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I had to cycle 10km all the way back to town to break a $50 note. Then I headed back to see the final waterfall.

To be honest, the waterfalls were not as breathtaking as I had expected. But the fun was more in the getting there, than the place itself. I loved cycling through a secluded forest of rubber trees to the third waterfall, passing only the occasional rubber tree worker, then finally reaching a cool waterfall which I climbed behind and into to refresh myself.

19th June 2008

This time I took my bicycle to the east of Ban Lung, to a nearby volcano crater lake. The water was an unbelievable clean turqoise colour and there were very few people around. So I found an empty dock in a deserted part of the lake, stripped off to my underwear and jumped in. It was nice and refreshing to wash the sweat and clay-red dirt off my body after a long cycle ride. I dried out in the sun, and then I spent about an hour
walking around the lake. It was not much of a walk because the foliage was overgrown and, unfortunately, I sprained my ankle on a rock that was hidden by leaves. Luckily it was not too bad and it did not begin to hurt until I had cycled back to my guesthouse. I spent the next day limping around before the pain went away.

Sunset at the lake in Ban Lung town.

Sunset at the lake in Ban Lung town.

Tags: ban lung, dolphins, kratie, ratanakiri, shared taxi, waterfall, waterfalls

 

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