Looking for the Irrawaddy dolphin

Kratie | Cambodia-2170The Irrawaddy Dolphin is one of the rarest, critically endangered dolphins in the world. It can be mainly be found in three rivers in South East Asia  including the Mekong River in a 190 km stretch between Laos and Cambodia. Of a population of less than 100 dolphins {according to WWF}, around 15 to 20 individuals inhabit a section of the Mekong near Kratie, eastern Cambodia and it was these that we travelled across the country to see.

It was an arduous six hour bus journey from Phnom Penh where we’d been staying for a couple of nights catching up on laundry and the like. To travel light we had left the majority of our luggage at our nondescript accommodation in the city and boarded a mosquito-filled {they didn’t bite though} bus for a few dollars near the Central Market.

We hired the manager of the hotel we stayed at in Kratie, The Balcony Guesthouse, to take us out to the section of the river where the dolphins can be found. He was going to take us in his tuk tuk but opted for his car at the last minute. We drove through rural villages along the river while the manager {I really should write names down!} talked politics and his future, his Australian boss had recently died and he was thinking of moving to another town.

At Kampi village, 15 km away from Kratie, there is a ticket booth where you can buy a boat ticket for a boat and boatman for $9 per person, the price drops to $7 each if there are three or more of you, this gets you an hour on the river, or 90 minutes in the wet season {we were there in February}.

The boatman starts the noisy motor and we head into the middle of the river where he cuts the engine and we drift. There were a few other boats already out there and we joined them, peering under our hands in the low late-afternoon sunlight across the water.

Kratie | Cambodia-3139It didn’t take long before a dolphin appeared, softly breaking the surface of the river. The Irrawaddy dolphin has a distinctive bulging forehead and a rounded, beak-less face, quite unlike the archetypical dolphin we picture when we think of a dolphin. Even with my pocket binoculars it was difficult to make out the appearance of this rare creature other than a smooth grey back and a tiny dorsal fin as it briefly surfaced for air.

Kratie | Cambodia-3202

Chris managed to get a few photos with his long lens but not many. The pleasure was just seeing them though, like precious, rare jewels in a murky river. Their existence is so fragile, and so very vulnerable due to by-catch, drowning in fishing nets, and habitat loss, their already low numbers putting them on the brink of extinction.

Back in Kratie we watched the sun set across the Mekong from our hotel’s balcony and got an early night, the bus back to Phnom Penh left the next morning and we were reunited with our nondescript room and our luggage that afternoon.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

We had visited Phnom Penh back in 2008, visiting the disturbing Killing Fields and the even more disturbing Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This time round we used the time to catch up with things, eat well and do some shopping, hitting the claustrophobic but fun Russian Market, the deliciously Art Deco Central Market and the tightly packed Night Market.

One evening walking back from a restaurant I spotted this sign, I just had to pose under it. That’s me – saving the Earth as a vegetarian, you are most welcome!

Phnom Penh

Keep travelling:

The Bamboo Train. Battambang and its Quirky Railway Whizzing down the line at 40 mph on a pallet!

A Tuk Tuk Tour Around The Battambang Countryside Crocodiles, temples, Khmer Rouge horrors and millions of bats.

Angkor Wat The most famous temple of all! Probably!

How To Do The Temples Of Angkor a perfect 3 day itinerary to see the temples with tips!

Bokor: Where The Corridors Are Silent Motorbiking up to an old French hilltop retreat near Kampot.

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1 Response

  1. davegct says:

    So glad you got to see the dolphins! That must have been really thrilling. I suppose it could have as easily gone the other way and you might have seen none for all your trouble! What do you think of their future? Are there any measures underway to protect them? And I love that Vegetarian photo, very cute!