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.
From Kampong Cham (to the south) the road is currently in good repair. From Stung Treng (to the north) the road is good and has been sealed; 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 7.00am and cost $10. You will have to switch buses half way through this journey at Skuon or Suong.
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 hours
- to/from Stung Treng: 20-25,000 riel in the back, 25-30,000 in the cabin, 10-12 hours
- to/from Ratanakiri: US$12 in the back or in the cabin, 12 hours
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.
Motorbike rentals are available at the Star Guesthouse. A 110cc Honda step through bike for US$6 per day, but it isn't really worth it. 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.
- Phnom Sombok, (head north and look for the 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.
- 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. Guess how many columns it's got?
- 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.
- Irrawaddy Dolphin Watching, The best spot to watch the dolphins is Kampi village, 15 km north from Kratie.. There are less than 80 dolphins here and you may only see them from a distance. 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. 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 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.
- 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 machine only accepts Acleda ATM cards AND Visa cards. A more expensive option for funds, but saves a 3-4 hr trip to Kampong Cham. The ATMs require a 6 digit PIN.
- Canadia Bank ATM on the northern edge of the town. This ATM does not charge a fee.
- 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 and Vietnamese dong. 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. The Riverside Guesthouse usually offers the best rate for kip, though still poor.
- The market is located along the main road at the centre of town, and there you can find the standard assortment of local foods, fruits and meats, as well as a small variety of handicrafts and things. Remember your bargaining skills and etiquette when here. [23 Dec 2011: The market was burnt down a few months ago, and they are currently rebuilding it. In the meantime, the vendors have spread throughout town]
- A couple of barbers shops are located 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.
The two backpacker staples are the Red Sun Falling, on the waterfront opposite the port building, and the Star Restaurant on the corner near the market. Both have 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.
- 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$1-3 and slightly more expensive daily specials. Lots of vegetarian food, including marinated tofu burgers. Advertises as having the cheapest, coldest beer, from US$0.75) and pastis is only US$0.75.
- You Hong Restaurant, is attached to the guesthouse of the same name (next to the market) and has an impressive menu, but can cook only some of it fairly well. They also have an Internet connection, which is slow, but usually working.
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).
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. Singles US$10, doubles US$15.
- 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. Singles US$8, doubles US$15.
- 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.
- Balcony Guesthouse, Rue Sumamarit (on riverfront 350 m north of bus stop), ☎ +855 16 604036 ([email protected]). Opened in April 2009, jointly Australian/Khmer managed, has large,light,clean rooms with good quality furnishings. Relaxing restaurant/bar on the balcony overlooking the Mekong, a perfect place to watch the sunset. There is also a communal area with an extensive collection of DVDs and also WiFi-enabled Internet. Doubles(shared bathroom with hot water)US$5, doubles(attached bathroom)US$7; 1 large twin room US$11, A/C extra.
- Star Guesthouse, ☎ +855 72 971663, +855 72 753401. checkout: 12 noon. Has been elevated by tourist and guidebook alike to the status of best in town, but this is debatable. It often gets the lion's share of backpackers during the busy parts of the year. The rooms are ok, and the staff speak some English, and can offer local travel tips for you. WiFi downstairs. Singles/twin US$4, doubles US$5; larger rooms cost US$2 more.
- Wat Roka Kandal, (About 2 km south of the town centre (transport is not hard to organise)), ([email protected]; [email protected]), . These bungalows are by far the most romantic place to stay in Kratie. Two traditional wood houses, right on the river bank and next to a restored ancient pagoda, have been fitted with mod cons such as showers and air-con. Unfortunately they closed April 2010, due the Kracheh Province government did not extend the permission to run the bungalows since the German activities stopped at this time for the restauration of the Wat Roka Kandal US$15-20. They can sleep two, or a family..
- You Hong Guesthouse, (Opposite the northern entrance to the market). Has close links to many transport options and you may find yourself dropped off there. Restaurant is very average, with basic rooms (fan or air con - directly above the bar), and is popular with budget travellers. The Internet service is a good feature (but expensive, and you don't have to stay there to use it). The atmosphere out front is about as bustling as Kratie gets. US$7-15.
- 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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