Posted by James Antrobus on Friday, April 4, 2014

Kratie (pronounced kra-chey) was my first stop in Cambodia. After taking the boat from Don Khon to Ban Nakasang it was only 20 minutes to the border. On the other side of the border it was obvious there were far too many of us for the bus. Nearly three hours later, a second bus arrived for the five hour ride to Kratie.

The town is small with most sights within walking distance. A lot of shops occupy the ground floor of old French colonial-era buildings, the upper floors mostly look residential as people make use of the balcony space.

Central Market is always busy but particularly so on a Saturday after school finishes at 12pm. Yes - school on a Saturday! There is a mix of everything: raw meats, fresh fruit, clothes and a number of sugarcane juice sellers.

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Drive-thru shopping at Central Market

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The riverfront is quite developed with some guesthouses and places serving up Khmer and Western food. A little further down though, about 15 minutes walk, the road pretty much runs out. While the main road continues in parallel, a dusty road takes you through a small village, the roads lined with simple wooden houses, some dogs and the odd cow. The people here are extremely friendly and a handful of kids shouted hello from their homes as I walked past.

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Koh Trong

A five minute boat ride from the riverfront is Koh Trong island in the middle of the Mekong river. The boat will only leave when it’s full so sometimes there is a bit of a wait, but for 1000 riel (~15p), you can’t complain. You can hire a bike for $1 and spend a couple of hours cycling around the one path that circles the island. Most of the houses have farmland and livestock and it’s an easy way to experience some of rural Cambodia without traveling to the middle of nowhere.

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Chhlong is a small town about 40 minutes south of Kratie. A traditional market is set inside an old French quarter, surrounded by crumbling colonial-era buildings. Lonely Planet says that visiting Chhlong from Kratie isn’t worth it but I’d disagree; walking around the market, decrepit buildings and cattle roaming about the streets is a decent way to spend a morning. Besides, getting there is always half the fun (like seeing a man lay on top of a full minibus, for example).

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Mekong Turtle Conservation Center

About 40 minutes in the opposite direction from Kratie is the town of Sambor. In a small patch of land in the 100 pillar pagoda is the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center (the land was donated by the temple). After a softshell turtle thought to be extinct was rediscovered the centre opened to raise hatchlings to 10-months old, improving survival rates and boosting the turtle population. The whole thing is community ran and relies on donations and the $4 entrance fee from the center. The staff spoke limited English but they were very helpful and showed me around the center, dished out turtle trivia and hand-fed a turtle a banana.

Sambok Mountain Pagoda

On the way back from the turtle center I stopped at Sambok Mountain Pagoda. The temples there were pretty average but the walk up the 360 steps and the surroundings are great. It wasn’t worth the trip on it’s own, but certainly worth stopping at on the way. I said hello to a couple of novices (monks) before walking down these stairs and they laughed but were too shy to reply. Just as I got to the bottom I heard a loud hello from the top!

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The first of three sets of stairs at Sambok

More photos of Kratie on Flickr.