On our way to Laos we made a short pit stop in Kratie, a small town situated on the Mekong. It was a sleepy place to enjoy a sunset beer on the river, with a small market and a few simple restaurants and food stalls.
Kratie is famous for the flat-nosed Irrawady dolphins that spend their time just north of here, so we rented a motorbike to drive up to Kampi where you can hire a boat to see them up close. Our ride under the shade of green trees and past simple stilt huts was fantastic. We smiles and waved to the villagers as we went by, watching children transport water from the communal well while their elders gathered on their porches to chat with neighbors. We found it very interesting that they choose to orient their homes and lives toward the road, rather than the luscious views of the river behind them. It speaks strongly about the community-orientation of rural life in Cambodia in comparison to the privacy and solitude favored in our modern urban society. We passed by several wedding celebrations, and marveled at the beauty of the women in traditional make-up wearing lace blouses and colorful silk sarongs arriving on motorbikes, and were honored when we got a few shouts to stop and join in with the festivities.
We felt very lucky to see the Irrawady dolphins, as they are extremely rare and pretty much on the brink of extinction. It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 left, and although there are education and conservation campaigns underway, we were shocked and disheartened to see local fisherman casting nets (which can be responsible for drowning these air-breathing mammals) literally within a few hundred meters of the area where they are known to congregate. Unfortunately, the fate of the dolphins may be a case of too little, too late.