I feel that I’ve been conditioned to fear Asian roads and Asian traffic. Wether this is a product of indoctrination from films, stories and scare-mongering, or because everywhere I go I see spray-painted white outlines of corpses on the tarmac, we’ll never know. In any case, when Rich suggested we hire motorbikes and “traverse the Mekong”, I have to say that initially, I was less than enthusiastic. To ease me into the idea, we mapped a circuit. 50km in total – up the East bank, ferry across the Mekong, down the West bank and ferry back to Kratie. Sounds simple right?!
We hired a couple of bikes for $6 each (I think mine was a Honda Dream), bought 2 liters of gasoline from a roadside stand ($2) and gingerly pulled out onto the open road. The traffic wasn’t bad and the road surface, for the most part, was good-ish. The first stop, the Kampi dolphin pool, was 14.5km North of Kratie. For the full story and useful tips, check out yesterday’s post: In Search of The Irrawaddy River Dolphin.
After a fascinating and relaxing hour of dolphin spotting, it was back on the bikes!… but only for a couple of kilometers. After no time at all we saw the signs for the Kampi Rapids. Similar to the ‘entrance’ of the dolphin pool but a LOT more obvious. The fee was just 2,000 riel (50 cents) to park in the sort of monitored, shaded dirt parking area and you received a receipt for your bike which I can see would be pretty handy at peak times. It was still pretty early when we arrived. We were starving and there were restaurants directly opposite the parking, however… I had read that the one further on had better food and colder drinks so we pressed on over the old wooden road bridge. After some snooping and an embarrassing sign language episode with local villagers (one of whom bought us a live chicken) we found the restaurant that can only be the one I read about. It was like an old, dusty, tree-house with heavy shutters that opened on to the river.
Great view, and cheap food…. if you only wanted instant noodles that is. All the drinks were served warm with ten teaspoons of white sugar, whether you wanted it or not. At the conclusion of our ‘meal’ I wondered what the other restaurants were serving if this was the better one of the lot!
As a popular local picnic spot, the Kampi Rapids has a few little food stalls at the entrance, mostly selling soft drinks and dried fish and stuff… nothing particularly special. Foreigners have to pay a really small entrance fee. I forget what it was but less than $2 and this is understandable as it’s a really nice place to chill out. Once in, some body will show you to your ‘area’. They put mats down and string you up a couple and hammocks.
The surroundings are epic. The Mekong flows on all sides and beneath you which is a bit scary as it’s super fast moving in the middle. My hammock hung directly over the water!
Rich went for a quick dip but had some serious trouble fighting the current. I stayed where I was and had a little nap in the sun.
As we still has quite a way to go, we left the rapids after an hour or so and made our way back to the bikes. Again, we did a lot of re-tracing our steps and riding in circles but eventually we found the ferry to the West bank. It’s just a dirt track after the wooden bridge in Thom even though the directions said it was a few km further down the road in a town beginning with S (just so you know). It was a steep ride down to the ferry, but due to our excellent timing, we drove right on. We then got to watch as locals attempted to come down the bank and board with bikes and mopeds piled high with local things. You know, chickens, plastic bowls, baskets, food, bits of scrap metal and wood. A few bikes were dropped but eventually we were all loaded up and we reached the shore of the West bank in 15 minutes or so. It’s not very far and the boat is quite fast, but there are a lot of tiny hidden islands to navigate around, some just below the surface of the water.
As first on, I was sat directly in front of the engine which was literally deafening and I was kind of worried that it was going to explode any minute, showering me with hot dirty oil and schrapnel. Luckily, it didn’t. Wouldn’t sit there again though! Exiting the ferry was an experience in it’s self. Obviously, due to our supreme motorbiking skills, Rich and I kept the power steady and powered up the sand bank with ease (ha!) …. not so much the case for two German guys though. One did a wheelie, one fell off and they were both seriously sweaty by the time they reached the road above. Pretty funny to watch. The West bank road was everything the East bank wasn’t. It wasn’t paved, but was lined with beautiful views, friendly people and interesting sights at every interval. We parked up and ran down the bank for a closer look. Having ‘chatted’ to the locals beforehand and found out the best place to go (lots of hand gestures) we ended up with a gaggle of young spectators that where eventually joined by their parents, then most of the village! This ride was what you imagine when you think ‘motorbiking through rural Cambodia’. Our armes literally ached from waving at so many friendly people and excited children.
I guess if you have to walk two cows to the next town, you might as well right? (Cambodia is terrible for standards of animal welfare).
Having taken in the sights, sounds and smells of the West bank, we were getting pretty sunburned so found the closest ferry port and got in line. Just to note here, Yes, I am wearing my pajamas but in my defence so are all the locals!
When we arrived, the ferry had just sort of landed. Well, it was actually still quite a way off the shore but it remained there while everyone off loaded and it couldn’t get nay closer. Fair enough, you may think… but take a look at how deep it was!
After half an hour or so, everything had made it to shore. Most of the motorbikes came on to the beach, coughing and spluttering. One had a stream of water spurting out of it’s exhaust! Then it was my turn to board…
Simples! The fare was only $0.75 each and we were back in Kratie in no time. The next day, we had planned to get the ferry to Ko Trong. An island in the middle that you could see from both banks. However, I woke up with a terrible cold and headache and after an attempt at breakfast, I felt I had no option but to spend the day in bed. Face down, asleep, with my mouth open. Sexy. Rich went off to Ko Trong and ended up in an impromptu local karaoke party. Rice wine flowing, he belted out a rendition of Titanic to the roar of the crowd.
It was pretty high tech for an island in the middle of the Mekong though. Considering they don’t have electricity, they had a car battery powering a keyboard and a mic!
Apparently, they wanted to hear some English music so Rich broke out the ipad, plugged it in to the speaker and off they went. One guy discovered that it had games and didn’t utter a single word for the next hour until he gave it back.
Strangely, there was also a floating Vietnamese village, though we’re a little confused what a Vietnamese village was doing floating in Cambodia!
Last but not least, no trip would be complete with out one more alternative mode of transport. Sorry, I forgot we were in the middle ages! Journey complete, we split Kratie the next day and headed to Don Det, Laos. The food was mediocre to poor, the town it’s self was so… Blah and it smelled like preserved eggs and dried mackerel. Little did we know, our trip was about to get WAY better…
Anybody ever ridden a cow? elephant? donkey? What was it like?