Kratie (pronounced kra-chey) is a tiny town in northeastern Cambodia. Despite its small size, it is the capital of the province of the same name.
Kratie is one of the four provinces in northeastern Cambodia, and although it is relatively remote and not heavily touristed, travelling here won't earn you points if your priority is to be a pioneer. There's no large scale tourism, but plenty of backpackers pour through here during the peak season. The town has developed to meet this demand, with very good budget accommodation that is well known in backpacking circles.
The province is heavily rural, so be mindful of yourself and your behaviour. Please do not add to the already overwhelming amount of litter and discarded rubbish visible in and around the town, and be mindful of local norms in dress sense - so probably don't go swimming in a bikini.
From Kampong Cham (to the south) the road is currently in good repair. From Stung Treng (to the north) the road is sealed but has fallen into disrepair and the journey can be uncomfortable and slow; if headed into Laos, visas on arrival are now obtainable at the Lao border.
The bus/truck station is in the northwest part of the town.
Buses to/from Stung Treng take about 3 hours. As with all forms of transport in Cambodia, get your bus ticket early, and show up even earlier to ensure you get the best seat, as buses will fill up fast as soon as they let people board. With the improving road conditions, bus services have improved and there are now a number of options between Stung Treng and Phnom Penh.
There are daily buses from Siem Reap to Kratie. They leave at 7AM and cost US$10. You will have to switch buses half way through this journey at Skuon or Suong.
Share-taxis and minivans servicing Phnom Penh (4-5 hr), Stung Treng (2 hr), Kampong Cham (2 hr), Ban Lung (4 hr), Sen Monorom (4 hr), and a plethora of other small towns go from the taxi stand a block north of the Market. Prices to Phnom Penh and Stung Treng are about 20,000 riels per seat. These are much faster than the large commercially operated busses and comparably priced, though slightly less comfortable. Purchase an extra seat or share 3 between 2 of you for extra luxury. To and from Phnom Penh or Kampong Cham share-taxis and minivans can save several hours buy taking a road directly south of Kratie that most of the commercial bus companies do not use and bypassing Snuol.
Trucks go to various neighbouring towns and provinces but you have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of this form of transport carefully. They are less safe and often slower than buses, as well as being more expensive. The one (potentially) overriding positive is that riding in a truck you get the chance to have a much closer connection with local Khmers than if you were riding in a tourist bus, particularly as you'd be surprised how many Khmers in the provincial capitals are somewhat proficient in English. Expect to wait a couple of hours for the truck to fill up, assuming you're the first one there.
- to/from Kampong Cham: 10,000 riel in the back, 15,000 riel in the cabin, 8-10 hr
- to/from Stung Treng: 20-25,000 riel in the back, 25-30,000 riel in the cabin, 10-12 hr
- to/from Ratanakiri: US$12 in the back or in the cabin, 12 hr
With the improvement of the roads, ferry services along the Mekong River from Kampong Cham no longer run. If you are feeling adventurous, you might find a rice-barge on its way north from Kampong Cham.
As the town is so small, ignore offers from touts to take you from the bus stop into town, since it's a walk of just a few minutes. If you feel compelled to hire a motodop to take you anywhere within town, you won't need to pay anything more than 500 riel for your short journey. To visit sites outside the town, you'll need to hire a motodop for a few dollars - standard prices are posted around the guesthouses, typically US$3-5 depending how far and how long you go for.
Bicycles are by far the best way to get around Kratie and enjoy the town at your own pace. Most guesthouses will organize you one, but they usually all come from the same shop - from the front of the market head south until the street ends across from the Ministry of Water Resources. On the corner there bikes can be rented from a lovely Khmer family for US$1 or 4,000 riel per day. Easy to spot this shop - look for all the bikes!
Motorbike rentals are available at just about any guesthouse. A 110cc Honda step through bike for US$6 per day. Given the tiny size of the town, you won't need one to do anything within Kratie itself, and the roads outside Kratie aren't in great shape, but it can be a great way to look around the country side a bit further afield.
- Phnom Sombok, (10 km north of Kratie on a prominent hill). A rather nifty temple north of town and situated on the only hill anywhere near Kratie. A long set of steps lead to a pavilion, the interior of which is painted with more torture scenes, depictions of what happens to those not virtuous enough to lead a holy and clean lifestyle. Makes a good stop on the way back to or from the dolphins. As a little bonus you might catch a glimpse of the family of monkeys that lives around the temple. Free - but visitors are highly encouraged to leave a small donation toward upkeep of the temples.
- Sambor, (about 40 km from Kratie). This is a pre-Angkorian era settlement. The temples, among which is Wat Sorsor Muoy Roi (temple of 100 columns) contain several colourful murals that tell legends of nature, and other traditional Buddhist stories. The original structure is no longer standing, in its place is a reconstructed temple.
- Town Museum, (At the north end of the main town near the globe roundabout). This place is almost never open. If you are really keen, go see the Culture Ministry and they might open it up for you (for an appropriate donation - say US$2) - though you'll be lucky to catch them in the office.
- Basket weaver villages, (15 km south of Kratie). There are 3 basket weaver villages near Kratie. The biggest is the Cham village Chheu Teil Ploch with 4,000 villagers.
- Villages of the Mekong. There are very interesting places along the Mekong river. You enjoy your day at the villages along both sides of the Mekong river. You can go by tuk tuk or motorbike.
- Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, (downtown north Kratie). Here you can sometimes catch a musical performance. Groups sometimes come to perform singing contests here, with both traditional Cambodian instruments and Western. Otherwise, nothing else to really see here. Located by the river by the northern roundabout.
- Concrete Animals, All around town. Spot cranes, rhinos, deer and even elephants in Kratie. Concrete, sadly, but melancholy reminder of the wealth of creatures that once roamed the local area. Free!.
- Irrawaddy Dolphin Watching, The best spot to watch the dolphins is Kampi village, 15 km north from Kratie.. There are only around 85 dolphins in the Mekong, but there is a very good chance to see some at Kampi. As river dolphins, these animals don't generally approach boats show curiosity towards tourist boats like some marine dolphins do. There is no best time of day to see the dolphins as their activity patterns don't change much over the course of the day, though it can be pleasant with the setting sun late in the day, and fiercely hot in the early afternoon. The dry season offers generally better opportunities to see groups together and spectacular behaviour (rare though it is), and in wet season the boat trip is considerably longer as the animals move several kilometers upstream from the tourist site. To protect the dolphins, you should ensure that your boatmen follows the dolphin watching guidelines provided and only use oars when near the dolphins. There's also a nice little shop which does benefit the community and helps encourage the villagers conserve the remaining dolphins. By motodop, this trip should be around US$2-4 for the roundtrip, about 20 min each way. Or rent a motorbike for US$5. Cycling to this spot should take about 60 min, bicycles are available for rent in Kratie and cost about 5,000 riel a day. When planning to do the Mekong Discovery Trail, keep in mind, that you can also see Dolphins from Koh Rougniv island, which nicely combines with a homestay in Koh Phdau. You get a private, and romantic sunset tour for US$7 per boat, no other tourists in sight. US$9/person, US$7 for 3 or more. Includes a boat trip. If you just want to sit on the bank and watch the dolphins, you still have to pay the same. This is a set government charge.
- Bird Watching. If you are interested in birds, when on the boat, go upstream to the islands to look for the Mekong Wagtail (Motacilla samveasnae), a Cambodian endemic species that can be found in this stretch of the river. Early morning might find them hopping on rocks near the dolphin area.
- Basketball and Volleyball. There's a basketball and volleyball area on the south side of the old Governor's residence. The security guards probably won't refuse a civil request to use it within reasonable hours, and they might even join in.
- Mekong Discovery Trail, . The Mekong Discovery Trail takes you into the heart of the Mekong where the beauty of the river and the friendliness of the people create unforgettable river life experiences in northeast Cambodia. The Mekong Discovery Trail is a network of safe, ecotourism journeys through some of the most natural and least populated parts of the Mekong. The free trail guide (e.g. Community Development Tours) provides maps, transport and accommodation options. You can travel on a small part of the trail, or all of it. You can travel alone or with a group. There are many options along the 180 km trail, which runs between Kratie and the Cambodian/Laos border. But remember to allow enough time to go with the flow of river life. Along the trail, you will have the opportunity to see critically endangered Mekong River Dolphins, while minimising your impact on them and the habitats they rely on. By using the Trail, you will also be assisting river communities, some of the poorest (but most welcoming) in Cambodia. As advertised, cycling (as opposed to hiking) is maybe the best method to see the trail, as it allows to rapidly cover the long stretches of track were it is impossible to obtain trinking water.
- CEDAC Shop, (on the river front near Heng Heng guesthouse). Range of local handicrafts and products such as honey, local juices, rice, handmade hats. CEDAC is run by a local NGO and profits go towards their rural development products.
- Dolphin Men of Kratie Calendar is a unique Kratie souvenir from Red Sun Falling with a different dolphin man each month. Calendars feature photos of guys from local tourism businesses, and if you're lucky you could get your copy signed by one or more of them.
- Acleda Bank, Road 12, (near the northern end of the Market). This branch can change US dollars and Thai baht only. They can also cash travellers cheques. The ATM only accepts Acleda ATM cards AND Visa cards. A more expensive option for funds, but saves a 3-4 hr trip to Kampong Cham.
- Canadia Bank Bank branch and ATM on the riverside north of the centre of town. This ATM charges less than the Aceleda Bank, and accepts Maestro, Cirrus, Visa and Mastercard.
- Money changers are available throughout the town, particularly in and around the markets - look out for packets of money on display. Some guesthouses can also change money. They will give you in general a slightly better rate than the bank but you have to ask around for the best deal. Some of them do also change other currencies than dollars such as Thai baht, Vietnamese dong, and Myanmar Kyat. Occasionally, other western currencies are changed as well but expect a poor rate. It is possible to change Lao kip but you are better off changing kip to dollars before leaving Lao. Balcony Guesthouse usually offers the best rate for kip, though still low.
- The market, (along the main road at the centre of town). Find the standard assortment of local foods, fruits and meats, as well as a small variety of handicrafts. Remember your bargaining skills and etiquette when here. The market was burnt down and was being re-built in early 2012. In the meantime, the vendors spread throughout town.
- Barbers shops, (on the road near the Mekong Restaurant). They are open 'till at least 8PM, and charge 2,000 riel for a shave, 2,500 riel for a standard cut or 4,000 riel for both. They will always use new razor blades but the towels are not the most hygienic.
Aside from the usual assortment of food and drink stalls in town, there's a few different restaurants for you to eat at.
Eating at stalls along the riverfront offers a cheap alternative to the restaurants, with fried noodles available, chicken rice porridge, foetal duck eggs and others. Servings are generally smaller than in nearby restaurants.
Red Sun Falling, on the waterfront opposite the port building is a backpacker staple with good food and drinks, and the ex-pat touch. Prices are reasonable, but not as cheap as the nearby Khmer food. Service can be slow - but what's the hurry? The Red Sun Falling also has a good selection of books for sale, which you can browse while you wait - but watch out as the owner can be very rude. Regular specials also appear on a blackboard.
Star Guesthouse is another of the older backpacker restaurants opposite the South-West corner of the market, a block in from the river. On the expensive side, it has an uninspiring selection of western and Khmer cuisine.
- Heng Heng Restaurant. Tasty Khmer food at reasonable speed and price per dish US$1-2.50. Khmer breakfast also OK with a western option of omelette and bread for US$1.
- Mekong Restaurant. Typical Khmer food including staples such as of fried rice, grilled chicken, and rather tasty french fries. US$1-2.
- The Thea Sdav Restaurant, (near Wat Ou Ruessei). Students eat here early in the morning rice with meat and vegetables or a soup before they go to school. Seasonal and daily menu of typical Khmer food including BBQ, Khmer salads, eggs and soups, home made prahok, freshly made fruit juices, ice cream and Khmer herbal spirits. US$ 0.50-2.
- Balcony GH & Restaurant,. Restaurant/bar with a standard menu of Khmer and western food US$1-5 and slightly more expensive daily specials. Lots of vegetarian food, including marinated tofu burgers, though the service can be excruciatingly slow when busy.
- You Hong II Restaurant, is attached to the guesthouse of the same name just in from the river near Heng Heng, and and has an impressive menu, but can cook only some of it fairly well. Pizza us unexpectedly good. They also have an Internet connection, which is slow, but usually working. The former You Hong (I) next to the market is now defunct.
Watching the sun go down over the Mekong, with a cold beer or a tuk-a-lok (fruit shake) on the riverfront, is one of the joys of a visit to Kratie. There are many stalls which set up in the late afternoon to service that need (and stay open until midnight, unusually late for a Cambodian Provincial town).
Red Sun Falling will stay open until the last person leaves, which can be pretty late, and the new Marlees bar offers the other bar option in town.
- Silver Dolphin Guesthouse (www.silver-village.com), No 48Eo, St Suramarit (Riverside Road) (email@example.com), ☎ 85512999810. Khmer cuisine and selection of western breezy breakfast, comfortable seating area by street to direction of tourist information, to chill out or catch up with the friend, the view of the Mekong, and unique rooftop to serve you an open pleasant terrace. A great place to escape to the dust and the bustle. Serving fruits shakes, fresh juice cold beer, wine and cocktail at reasonable price and to lounge away at the afternoon for the best sunset from the Rooftop.
As Kratie has developed rather nicely to meet the demands of backpackers it receives, there are several guesthouses to recommend.
- Heng Heng Hotel, Rue Sumamarit, ☎ +855 72 971405. Now offers riverfront rooms of very good quality (especially at the Heng Heng 2), if slightly pricier than other options in town. This place has been upgrading itself significantly over the past few years, and now has hot running water. The restaurant downstairs is a good choice too. WiFi downstairs. High season: Singles US$10, doubles US$15 Low season: singles no view: $5, with view: $6.
- Oudom Sambath Hotel, Rue Sumamarit, ☎ +855 72 971502. Probably the best hotel in town, and some of the top-floor rooms offer good views of the Mekong. Owned by a local General (in his wife's name), whose official government salary is about US$38/month; the opulence of the timber decorating the place might suggest where the money came from for this substantial investment. Service can be a bit on the low side - toilet paper not provided even on repeated request ("I don't care"). Has WiFi in most rooms. Singles US$8, doubles US$15 (goes down to 5$ in low season).
- Santepheap Hotel, Rue Sumamarit, ☎ +855 72 971537. This has long been considered the standard choice for tour groups, and has a small restaurant. Rooms come with hot running water, but the bathrooms are generally dirty, and some cable channels for your viewing pleasure (even though you probably didn't come to Kratie to watch TV). WiFi in reception. Singles US$7, doubles US$15.
- Silver Dolphin Guesthouse (www.silver-village.com), No 48Eo, St Suramarit (Riverside Road) (firstname.lastname@example.org), ☎ (855)012 999 810. checkout: 12 noon. Silver Dolphin Guesthouse and Rooftop restaurant is ideally situated by River, just 20m from the Tourist information, it is the most convenient location to spot the view of the town as well as the sunset which can over discover from the unique Rooftop in Kratie. Over here, guests can enjoy easily to access to all that the lively city that has to offer. Step into one of 12 inviting rooms and escape the stresses of the day with a wide range of amenities such as shower, television, balcony/terrace, internet access – wireless (complimentary), fan. Besides, the hotel's host of recreational offerings ensures you have plenty to do during your stay. Superb facilities and an excellent location make the Silver Dolphin Guesthouse the perfect base from which to enjoy your stay in Kratie. Singles US$4, doubles/Fan US$5-$13; Twin/Fan USD$7, Triple/Fan River View Room USD$12.
- Banlung - This town is located beside spectacular natural attractions, including waterfalls, volcanic lakes and natural parks, and has hill tribe villages.
- Chlong - A small town, about 30 km from Kratie.
- Kampong Cham - the third largest city in Cambodia, full of colonial charm.
- Stung Treng - The town most tourists pass through on the way to Laos.
- Sambour district - a small and charming town along the Mekong river about 38 km from Kratie
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