Racing on a dusty road from Banlung to Stung Treng
Primarily a travel day today; we leave from Banlung to Stung Treng and tomorrow we sail from there to Kratie where we want to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins. Mister Leng has arranged a car (taxi) for us, 15. We leave around 8.45 am. Our driver is a real racer, with ambitions to become the next Michael Schumacher. The first 20 kilometers we tear along the dirt road at high speed. Afterward, the condition of the road worsens considerably, and so we drive a lot slower. It actually comes down to zigzagging from one side of the way to the other to bypass the worst pits.
Our drivers turns out to be a trained car mechanic
After a while, our car engine stops working, something which will happen several times before we reach our destination. Fortunately, our driver is also a trained car mechanic. He manages to get the engine working over and over. We reach Stung Treng in 4 hours. We stop somewhere along the Tonle Sekong river quay, at a reasonably new guesthouse, annex restaurant, where we have lunch. Afterward, when we take our backpacks out of the trunk of the car, it appears they are completely covered in dust.
Drinking Mekong whiskey in the rain
After settling our bill with we check-in at our hotel and take a rest before we start exploring the city. However, there is not much to see here; we walk through the marketplace in less than 10 minutes, and after a quick visit to the river, we take refreshments on a terrace. Afterward, we descend to the guesthouse where we had lunch this afternoon. On the menu, there is a cheap bottle of Mekong whiskey, which I cannot resist to order. It is drinkable, only 31 degrees strong. Suddenly a rain shower breaks loose, the first severe rain we experience here in two weeks. Protected under a roof, we comfortably empty the bottle of whiskey.
Not much of a nightlife in Stung Treng
Apparently, the city also houses a kind of nightclub. We try to get hold of transportation, and eventually, we find a motorcycle driver willing to take us there. With four on a motorbike, in true Cambodian style that is, we choke there to find out out the shack is already closed. So far for the nightlife in Stung Treng. We decide to return to the hotel to go to sleep.
No breakfast before taking the boat to Kratie
The next morning we want to continue our trip to the Irrawaddy dolphins in Kratie by boat. Our hotel does not offer breakfast. That is why we head to a guesthouse on the quay. It is quite busy there; a dozen tourists are having breakfast, and people here are clearly not used to such a rush. As a result, our breakfast gets messed up; my travel partner gets his bread, I get my drink, but that’s it. Once the staff realizes the situation, it is too late for us already.
Another boat with hardly any legroom
We walk to the departure quay where two boats are waiting. Fortunately, someone asks me where we need to go; otherwise, we would have been on the wrong ship. Once on the boat, more or less a copy such as that from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, with hardly any legroom, our numbered places are effectively still free.
Enjoying the riverside views along the Mekong
The boat trip itself goes along the Mekong river. We try to sleep somewhat, and occasionally, I look outside to enjoy the riverside views. We arrive in Kratie in three hours. Again a few youngsters approach trying to lure us to their hotel. I persist and walk towards the guesthouse of my choice. There is one room left, not in good condition though, especially the bathroom is inadequate, but we rent it anyway.
Booking a trip to the Irrawaddy dolphins in Kampi
Once downstairs again, the staff tries to make us book the trip to the Irrawaddy dolphins, the reason for our stay in Kratie. Even though it is still early, we take an early lunch and a delicious shake with cocoa. We still have 2 hours before we drive off to Kampi, so we walk around the market for a while.
Spotting the Irrawaddy dolphins from a distance
We return to the guesthouse and wait until it is time for our pick-up to Kampi. Our drivers do not speak English, so it becomes a silent ride to the departure point for the boats. We can immediately board a ship there, the two of us sail for ten minutes to a place where the famous Irrawaddy dolphins can be spotted. It’s a bit of a wait, but our patience is rewarded. We spot several specimens coming out of the water to breathe air, from quite a distance, as these animals cannot be approached too close.
A non-spectacular sunset along the shore of the Mekong
After a drink on the quay, our silent duo takes us back to Kratie. When it is time to watch the sunset, we head to the shore of the Mekong: it is a beautiful view, but not spectacular. A guy, Laks is his name, comes to sit with us to practice some English. Like every young person in Cambodia, he dreams of becoming a tourist guide. He will still have to work hard on his English though. As we are hungry and the sun is long gone, we say goodbye to this friendly young man.
Some effort to find a restaurant willing to serve us
The restaurant where we wanted to have dinner apparently no longer exists, so we try another one nearby. The menu, however, does not contain any prizes, and the staff who has to note the order cannot speak English and clearly lacks any enthusiasm. We get up and walk to a small guesthouse at the market. There we are warmly welcomed and served tasty food. The help of the boss and later the owner himself complain about the definite positive mention of one particular guesthouse in the Lonely Planet travel guide. Therefore other hostels in town have few opportunities to catch tourists. We decide to have another beer and even get some free watermelon.
Red ants in the bed
Around half-past ten, we return to our room. To his horror, my travel mate discovers a nest of little red ants crawling around on his bed. We decide not to sleep here, grab our bags, and call someone from the hotel. Some staff comes over to check in the room and apologizes; he mentions he still has another guesthouse nearby. But we decline the offer and head to the hostel where we had dinner before. Once there, the staff still has to clean a room, but they are only too happy. We enjoy a well-earned night’s sleep in a small but clean room.