The tuktuk driver took us to an area of the riverbank road where there was a choice of accommodation. It was just a few steps from the Balcony GH which I had noted down as a place to stay. I got the last room with its own facilities. In this case it was a large room with two double beds, but as I would change to a smaller room the next day I only had to pay the smaller room charge.
The expat owner, well legally his local family down as officialy the owners, was a friendly ex-Kiwi. But one who had lived in Austrtalia for many years. However, Andrew did seem pleased to have New Zealand roots and passport. It turned out that he has a doctorate in archeology. I find it interesting to meet such a varied range of people as I travel.
Later on that evening I was able to have a meal at one of the roadside stalls with the two Swiss women. One was a primary school teacher and the other had just completed her medical studies. Her mother had rung to tell her the results and so she was on her way home for graduation. As we talked I added to my knowledge of Switzerland. They came from the German speaking part of the country but could also speak French and English. Interestingly, English is now the first foreign language the primary school children start learning I the German speaking section. Perhaps that was true for the whole country as well?
The next day the Swiss woment moved on although I did catch up with John again briefly at a cafe.
At the Balcony I got chatting to Joseph, an older Austrian man. It turned out that he lived in Beijing and worked for or actually managed, the Austrian Tourism Office for China. He had spent his working life moving around various overseas destinations for Austrian Tourism. He had now been in China for around nine years. He was a great conversationalist and had a variety of languages he could speak. At the guest house he was taking the chance to have Khmer lessons each day. He had visited Cambodia a number of times and was making good lingustic progress. Certainly, he took every chance to practise.
Coming into the conversation group was a young twenties something Australian woman, Es – a Welsh name, who joined us for some meals and for out trip to see the dolphins. She was a graduate in Sales and Marketing and was keenly reading a book on the psychology of evolution. She was finding it very interesting as her major degree subject had been psychology.
There is not a lot to do in Kratie to be honest about it. So sitting on the balcony at the Balcony GH reading was a relaxing way to enjoy the destination. It was also cool with a gentle breeze during the heat of the day. On the front lawn beside the lily pond was a open sided gazebo with a couple of hamocks providing another cool and relaxing spot. Even I managed to successfully get in and out of a hamock although I did feel that I could easily tip out if I wasn't carefull.
Kratie is located on the banks of the Mekong River and naturally a road runs along the river bank. On the riverside of the road is a wide path or esplanade. Walking along it though isn't always easy as market traders and food stalls with their seating seem to spread out over it, forcing walking on the road itself.
There is or had been a central market building which had burnt down. Now a double story replacement is being constructed. As is the case in Cambodia, the scafulting is simply thin brances and tree trunks fastened into position. Looking at the wall of the new building is like looking at a wooden pallisade from ancient times. I spent a bit of time watching the workers putting more trunks into place. They would have one foot places on a secure looking crosspiece and another on something less secure while they attached the next 'stick' in place. They didn't look very safe, but then neither did the construction process.
In the meantime, stalls are spread along most of the streets and sometimes block the street for traffic. So walking through the narrow passageway between stalls can often bring you up against a motor cyclist trying to pass along as well. Everybody just takes that in their stride. The people are very accepting.
Of course the market consists of all the regular stalls. There are plenty of women's clothing outlets and hardware sellers along with plenty of fresh vegetable and fruit stands. Down one dusty street I found the meat and fish sellers. Surprisingly fly free at most stalls. I find it interesting to pass along seeing the mostly women sellers, trimming their meat and scaling fish. They all seem so skilled in it. At one stall, a girl was beheading small fish and removing the innards then passing the fish to a boy who split it open and scaled it – all very quickly done.
Several of the meat stands had full pigs' heads on display. Some of the fish stands had bowls of live fish, including a mass of riggling eels at one place. Others had piles of animal intestines for sale.
On the corner of a couple roads full of stalls, I spied a man using a saw to cut a large block of ice. He was working on the back of a hand cart. From behind I took some photos and video of the action. His friends and customers could see what I was doing and when he stopped told him. I gave a wave of thank you and moved on down the row of stalls. On the way back one of the friends indicated that he would like to see the picture. So I set my camera to show one of the videos. It shows as a still until I press a buttlon. So once the ice man had seen the picture of himself and grinned I pressed the button and it started moving. That really got an excited reaction. The size of the viewing group increased and the ice man especially laughed out loudly and with lots of excitiment. They watched it several times before the iceman and I shook hands and I moved om.
Backing the market stalls in the streets are the usual shops and businesses and customers have to wind their way through the stalls to get to them. Quite a number of shops selling amplifiers and music mixers for some reason. Also large speakers. I found a car battery shop with boxes of the product piled up outside, as every shop does. One brand was Obama Power. Several were variations on on the Panasonic name. Lots of phone sellers, often along with other quite different products. Nokia seems to be the most common brand for sale in Kratie. There didn't seem to be many (any?) smart phones though.
All of the shops were single units as if they had been or still were, house shops. Certianly it was common to pass shops were a whole group were sitting on the floor together having a meal. In fact often when you looked into a shop it looked rather like looking into a home. A sort of strange combination of contents and use really.
One cafe had all the seats at tables facing just one way. Facing a large tv screen showing a DVD feature film. To either side were a couple smaller screens showing different tv channels. There were a fair number of the seats in use, so the idea must work even if the clients stay longer than they need to.
Did I mention how dusty the roads were? Looking down a road showed a haze of dust which did look very photogenic in the strong sunshine. I took some photos of course but would have like to have had a larger zoom range to really pull in and compress the street view. I think that would have produced quite a good effect.
An interesting town which looked a little run down. It would amazing the transformation if only everywhere had a fresh coat of paint.
On my final day I spent the morning wandering around the streets again. It was a national holiday to celebrate the king's father's 89th birthday. Most of the businesses were open as usual but there were less street stalls especial in the meat and fish. The streets were decorated with flags and pictures of the king.
In the afternoon, Joseph, Es and I rented a tuktuk and headed off to hunt for the local dolphins. It turned out that the guest house manager was also the tuktuk driver, but he only had a two seater machine. So a cushion was produced for Es to sit on the front 'shelf'. Both of us offered her a seat but the driver said no as he needed to balance weight.
It was about a 15km drive along the riverbank road till we reached the boat landing. Most of the route passed through continous roadside housing – which varied considerablly in quality and size. Most were village homes made out of wooden planks but some out of cement and others just huts from palm fronds and matting for sides. Many were on high posts to get above flood levels. We did pass some evidence of flooding still covering some low farm land.
Because there were three of us we broke into the second price structure for the boat, $7 for 90 minutes. I noticed that the next day, 1st November would be the beginning of the tourist season and the boat time dropped to just 60 minutes.
We headed out into the middle of the river where a couple of boats already were. Sure enough when we got to that area we began to have dolphin sightings. We were not very close but could see them emerge from the water for breathing. Ocasionally I spotted a tail as the dived back underwater. Within 100 metres of dolphins the boats are supposed to stop engines and us a paddle.
We followed them up river for a while and then motored ahead to where branches of submerged trees were sticking out above the surface. The boatman tied the boat to a branch and we floated there waiting for more dolphin sightings. They did surface at a distance. At our best count we decided that there were perhaps just four, but of courde we could not be sure. A couple seemed to be black but the others were a pale blue-grey. With my short zoom lens I did not get very close images and need to enlarge them on the computer to see them more clearly. I did waste a lot of time with the video filming the river surface in the hope of getting them breaking out. No I didn't in case you ask.
I did feel that we got more sightings that I had expected, especially considering how rare they now are. It seems very likely that numbers are too small to ensure their continued existence in the Mekong. The part of the river where we saw them is an area of deep pools which retain a good depth even during the dry period.
Well we got within five minutes of our 90 and thought that was pretty good.
Back at the guest house we sat down for pre-dinner drinks which slowly became dinner drinks. We ordered a pizza to share then another then broscetta then pate and bread. In the end the evening saw three bottles of Kangaroo Tail red wine get drinked away. It was a very pleasant evening with Joseph telling about his job as a Austrian Travel Office manager, life in China and lots of chatter about films. Every now and again he would rush off to check the International Movie Data Base to check a directors name and so forth. We both have similar interests in film.
The previous evening we had something similar with Joseph ordering the bar's last Jacobs Creek red to go with garlic bread, pate and more pate. Both nights Andrew would come in and out of conversations as his bar and serving work allowed.
But on the holiday evening we could hear concert music being amplified in the night. About 10pm when the dinning was finished, Andrew suggested we go and find the concert as in previous years it had been pretty good. So four of us managed to get onto the tuktuk and off we went along the river bank road to the Ministry of Culture grounds to see the 'action'. Although I filmed a couple of items by the same singers, the crowd was very small and the performances were adequate. So instead of having the planned 45 minutes there, we were off again in 15.
Well it was an experience even if it didn't meet Andrew's expectations.
Next morning it was a quick bagette before the mini bus pick up arrived at 7am. So I was off and my visit to Kratie was over. It was interesting and different to many other destinations. There was the dolphins of course but it was also the relaxing and talking with interesting people which will be the highlight.
There were other guests, mostly young couples who came and went each day but they tended to keep to themselves and I guess avoid old guys. But then they were not all English speakers and that would perhaps be a reason why the stayed more to themselves. Not unfriendly, just private.