Cambodia? Anyone that knows their history will be aware that this country went through some very turbulent times in the 1970’s when the Khmer Rouge held sway. The Tuol Sleng Museum at Phnom Penh is now a permanent reminder of those terrible times Despite all the horrors of those years the resilience and optimism of the Cambodian people now shines out as they welcome visitors to their country. Okay, this is a country that is still not high on everyone’s list of places to visit but for those that do the experience is very rewarding, in this, the ‘land of temples’. To see the great monument of Angkor Wat is really sufficient reason in itself to make a trip to Cambodia this year, be sure to look out for cheap air flights as Cambodia should definitely be your destination of choice.
The small picturesque town of Kratie on the banks of the Mekong River is the capital of the province, also called Kratie, one of four provinces in north-eastern Cambodia. The town doesn’t occupy a prominent position on the tourist map of Cambodia, unlike Siem Reap the gateway to the Angkor region, or the capital Phnom Penh, however Kratie town has grown in popularity among independent travelers who generally pass through during the high season. Situated among lush vegetation, and featuring beautiful homes supported on stilts, the place is very picturesque. There are large islands in the Mekong with sandy beaches, and attractive flowering trees line the riverbanks.
Relatively rural and remote, the area is home to the Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin and visitors often travel to Kampi village, about nine miles to the north of Kratie, to watch the dolphins from a boat. Sadly, the dolphin mortality rate remains high. Other outdoor activities include birdwatching – best done from a boat upstream from the town, or in the Eastern part of the province – and the Mekong Discovery Trail, where ecotourists can safely enjoy the most natural and least populated parts of the Mekong. In the town itself a large market square dominates the center and is surrounded by old buildings from the French colonial period.
Getting to know the province
The Mekong River flows from the north to the south of the province, which has many forests, rubber plantations and the Phnom Pram Poan mountain range. During the Vietnam War many craters were formed as a result of heavy bombing by B52’s; some of these have filled with water and are seen dotted about the countryside. This adds to the common problem of flooding, occurring during the rainy season from May to October.
The provincial roads are gradually being improved and a trip from Kratie town south to Kampong Cham is relatively easy – watch out if heading north, however, as part of the road is in poor condition and as a result some journeys are slow and uncomfortable. Some towns tend to suffer from a substantial amount of litter and discarded rubbish, so not adding to it is important.
There are lots of interesting temples and pagodas to see in Kratie and guided tours are a great way to visit all the important and interesting sights. Taking a tour avoids having to run the gamut of the many tourist touts who try to persuade unsuspecting tourists to choose their hotel or hire their transport.
The people of Kratie
As this is a rural province, visitors need to be mindful of their behavior and be respectful; this includes wearing appropriate clothing – swimming in a bikini is definitely not acceptable. The people are friendly and welcoming, in fact some think they are the friendliest people in the whole of Cambodia, especially in the smaller villages. That makes it particularly sad that last year a protest about land grabbing turned violent and resulted in the fatal shooting of a 14 year old girl, Heng Chantha; soldiers and national police clashed with protesting villagers and her death was the result. The villagers were demonstrating against the loss of farmland to a rubber company. As a result Cambodia’s prime minister has since announced that the granting of land concessions will stop, and that the local peoples’ entitlement to land will be written into law.