MEKONG RIVER CAMBODIA

MEKONG RIVER CAMBODIA

MEKONG RIVER flows through the east-central portion of Cambodia. Over much of its course it occupies an elevated bed paralleled by natural levees. Beyond the levees are huge depressions known as beng . The Mekong River is navigable from the sea by small ocean-going vessels as far as Phnom Penh. Shallow draft boats are necessary to further upstream. The northern Mekong River area of Cambodia is fairly undeveloped. There are some stretches where the villages are more than 30 kilometers miles apart. River traffic is light. The main fishing season is after the rainy season ends in September and the fish begin migrating northward. Villages use scoop nets to gather small, silvery fish.

The Mekong River is one of the world's great rivers. Originating in Tibet, not far from the source of the Yangtze River, it tumbles down through the Himalayas and southern China into Southeast Asia and flows along the borders of Laos, Burma and Thailand through the heart of the Golden Triangle into Cambodia, where it flows in one direction in the wet season and the opposite direction in the dry season. It finally empties into the South China Sea at the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Its source in Tibet as not discovered until 1994.

The Mekong River goes by many names. It is known as Lancang Jiang (Turbulent River) in China, the Mae Nam Khing in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, Tonle Than (Great Waters) in Cambodia and Cuu Long (Nine Dragons) in Vietnam. It is also known as River of Stone, Dragon Running River, Mother River Khong, and Big Water.

The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the 12th longest in the world and the 10th largest in terns of volume. With about half of its length in China, it flows for 4,620 kilometers (2,870 miles) and provides food and water for 60 million people and disgorges 475 billion cubic meters of water each year into the South China Sea.

The Mekong River is one of the wildest rivers in he world and is surprisingly undeveloped for such a large river. There are no large cities or industrial zones along its banks. It is not dammed. Until 1994 there were note even bridges across the lower stretches of it. For the most part the it is brown and muddy and still wild and free. The Upper Mekong features turbulent rapids, steep gorges and long section with no people. Often the only way to cross it is on cables strung between cliffs. The Lower Mekong River is calmer and more placid and incredibly wide in some places.

Around 60 million people depend on the river and its tributaries for food, transport and many other aspects of their daily lives.China has placed three dams across the upper reaches of the Mekong and more are planned. But otherwise the mainstream flows free.

A good book on the river is Mekong by Edward AA. Gargan (Knopf, 2002) written by a former correspondent for The Times. Great Mekong Subregion Atlas of the Environment by the Asian Development Bank and United Nations Environmental Programme is well written and contains excellent photographs, charts and maps.

KHONE FALLS AND LIMITS OF THE MEKONG RIVER AS A TRANSPORT ROUTE

Khone Falls (on the Mekong River along the Laos-Cambodian border) is the widest waterfall in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. The series of rapids and falls are 6.7 miles wide, with a drop of 70 feet. The falls are most impressive at the end of the rainy season when the flow is 1.5 million cubic meters per second. This is more than any other fall in the world, and twice as much as Niagra Falls.

Known properly as Khônephapheng Falls, Khone is six mile chain of cataracts. There are two main cascades: Phapheng and Somphamit Falls and several smaller sets of rapids. In some places some flimsy bamboo platforms have been set up for fishermen to use. Don’t try to use them yourself. The magic manikhot tree that sits in the middle of the falls is said to have never been touched by human hands. The river cruise to the falls passes by numerous islands and temples with saffron-robed monks.

The falls are one of the reasons why the Mekong River was one of the last rivers to be explored and developed. Fish amazingly can make their way up the falls but boats can’t. It dashed the hopes of French hoping to use the Mekong River as a transportation link to China.

The French built a 14-kilometers railway so that goods could be moved across two islands to bypass the falls. Cargo at one end of the railway was hoisted from boats and placed on railcars and unloaded back onto to boats at the other end of the line. Sometimes entire boats were lifted and put on railway cars The railroad operated until the end of World War II and was the only railroad built in Laos. After the war the rails were carried away by villagers. All that remains really are two piers, a bridge between the two islands, remains of sleepers and gravel and a rusting steam locomotive. On Khone Island you can hike on part of the old railway bed.

Flow of the Mekong River: Harmony Patricio, a conservation biologist and the conservation director at FISHBIO, told mongabay.com: “One unique thing about the Mekong is that it has the highest range of flows of any river on Earth. The difference in flows between the wet season and the dry season is immense. During the rainy season, the water levels rise and deposit a lot of nutrients and sediments along the banks. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, April 23, 2013 |~|]

During spring melt and the monsoon season from May to October, the Mekong became a raging torrent, sometimes producing a flood wave that is 46 feet high. Annual floods often kill dozens of people. Floods in Cambodia and Vietnam in 2000, killed 500 people and wiped out herds, crops and orchards. At the end of the dry season in March, April and May the river level can drop as much as 40 feet in some places, exposing large rocks and sand bars, and making navigation even in small boats difficult.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA

The Mekong River Cambodia’s largest river, dominates the hydrology of the country. The river originates in mainland China, flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand before entering Cambodia. At Phnom Penh, with alternative arms, the Bassak River from the south, and the Tonle Sab River linking with the " Great Lake " itself –Tonle Sap – form northwest. It continues further southeastward to its lower delta in Viet Nam and to the South China Sea.

The Mekong River in Cambodia flows southward from the Cambodia-Laos border to a point below Kracheh city, where it turns west for about 50 kilometers and then turns southwest to Phnom Penh. Extensive rapids run above Kracheh city. From Kampong Cham the gradient slopes very gently, and inundation of areas along the river occurs at flood stage--June through November--through breaks in the natural levees that have built up along its course. At Phnom Penh four major water courses meet at a point called the Chattomukh (Four Faces).

The section of Mekong River passing through Cambodia lies within the topical wet and dry zone. It has a pronounced dry season during the Northern Hemisphere winter, with about 80 percent of the annual rainfall occurring during the southwest monsoon in May-October. The Mekong River average annual flow at Kratié of 441 km3 is estimated as 93 percent of the total Mekong run-off discharge into the sea. The discharge at Kratié ranges from a minimum of 1,250m3/s to the maximum 66,700m3/s.

Tonle Sap and the Mekong River: The Tonle Sap (north of Phnom Penh in Cambodia) is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia at the end of the wet season but is only a large lake in the dry season when it shrinks to a fraction of its wet season size Stretching almost all the way from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat, it provides water for half of Cambodia's crops, and yields fish that supplies Cambodia’s population with half its protein It is also one of the country’s most important transportation links.

Tonle Sap lake—which is connected to the Mekong by a short river also called Tonle Sap—alternately feeds, and feeds from, the Mekong River. During raining season from June to October, the lake is fills with water flowing from the northward-flowing Mekong River and becomes 14 meters deep in some places and expands it surface area to around 10,000 square kilometers. In dry season from November to May its shrinks in size to 3,000 square kilometers, with an average depth of only two meters as water flows out from the lake when the Mekong changes course and flows south.

In the Angkor era, Tonle Sap was to the Khmers what the Nile was to the Egyptians: a source of abundance that freed labor to produce grand monuments and create a high level of culture. In the dry season, the Khmers captured the lake’s retreating waters and used them to irrigate crops, and thus were able to grow two or three crops a year. In the wet season, they used the waterway’s advancing waters to carry quarried stones to build Angkor’s great temples. In the Khmer language "Sap" means “lake.”

SIPHANDAN AND KHONE FALLS

Siphandan (on the Mekong River north of the Cambodian border, 148 kilometers from Pakse), or 4,000 Islands, is section of the Mekong River that encompasses 50 kilometers or so and is so wide the river resembles a lake. During the wet season the river is 14 kilometers wide. The widest section of the river. When the river recedes it reveals numerous islands, channels and islets, some of them nothing more than rocks with a hardy bush or two on them. Their number depends on how high or low the river is. The largest islands have year round residents.

The biggest attractions are the falls and the river dolphins, riverside hamlets and old French plantations. The river itself is teeming with life A study in the 1970s described it “among the most biologically productive of all systems on earth.” Among the 150 species of fish found here are catfish, climbing perch, nandid, threadfin, halfbeak and goby.

Siphan Done (4,000 Islands) embraces the widest waterfall in the world (See Below). A fault line just above the border with Cambodian braids the river, creating enormous variety in landforms and scenery. "Many Khod" grows in the small island in the center of waterfall. People in this region believe that whoever has its fruit will gain magic powers immediately. At restaurants in the area, the main item on the menu of course is fresh fish. One more exciting places to visit is another fascinating waterfall called : Liphi Or Somphamid waterfall which is located on Done Khone Island.

At Done Khone- Done Det village, You can see the ruins from Laos was a French colony: an old bridge for sending goods from DoneKhone to DonDet and back to Khone to load in the ships there. From both islands you can see the old ship harbor, fuel store, old train track, and old train engine. At the end of Done Khone you can see the only group of fresh water dolphins in Laos. You can also stay overnight at Done Khone or Done Det.

Khong Island is the largest Siphandan island, measuring 18-by-8 kilometers. On the river boat trip to the island you will see fisherman casting nest as they have done for hundreds of years. There are some tricky rapids near Khong Island that make for a thrilling boat ride. Khong is home to 55,000 residents and has a number of guest houses. The island is quite beautiful. Many people rent bicycles and ride around checking out the rice fields, vegetable gardens, flame trees, coconut and betel palms, and occasional wats.

Khon Island is place where tourist gather to try and catch a glimse of the river dolphins. They are most likely to be seen off the southern tip of the island in the early morning or late afternoon from December to May. The best spot of all is on Kham Island, is a small sand island within Cambodian territory on the Mekong River. Boats make runs to this island for a small fee. Viewing the dolphins from boats isn’t really practical because the boats scare the dolphins off.

Khone Falls (on the Mekong River along the Cambodian border) is the widest waterfall in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. The series of rapids and falls are 6.7 miles wide, with a drop of 70 feet. The falls are most impressive at the end of the rainy season when the flow is 1.5 million cubic meters per second. This is more than any other fall in the world, and twice as much as Niagra Falls.

Known properly as Khônephapheng Falls, Khone is six mile chain of cataracts. There are two main cascades: Phapheng and Somphamit Falls and several smaller sets of rapids. In some places some flimsy bamboo platforms have been set up for fishermen to use. Don’t try to use them yourself. The magic manikhot tree that sits in the middle of the falls is said to have never been touched by human hands. The river cruise to the falls passes by numerous islands and temples with saffron-robed monks.

The falls are one of the reasons why the Mekong River was one of the last rivers to be explored and developed. Fish amazingly can make their way up the falls but boats can’t. It dashed the hopes of French hoping to use the Mekong River as a transportation link to China.

The French built a 14-kilometers railway so that goods could be moved across two islands to bypass the falls. Cargo at one end of the railway was hoisted from boats and placed on railcars and unloaded back onto to boats at the other end of the line. Sometimes entire boats were lifted and put on railway cars The railroad operated until the end of World War II and was the only railroad built in Laos. After the war the rails were carried away by villagers. All that remains really are two piers, a bridge between the two islands, remains of sleepers and gravel and a rusting steam locomotive. On Khone Island you can hike on part of the old railway bed.

KAMPONG CHAM

KAMPONG CHAM PROVINCE is located in the eastern heart of Cambodia bordering Kratie Province to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, Prey Veng Province to the south, Kampong Chhnang to the west and Kampong Thom to the northwest. Due to its advantageous location with the mighty Mekong flowing through the whole province, Kampong Cham has not much to fear in terms of water supply.

The sprawling township of Kampong Cham stretching lazily along the west bank of the Mekong River has much to offer, from temples to deep forests of numerous rubber plantations (a legacy of the French colonial period) to peaceful stalls along the river where visitors can sit back and soak in the atmosphere over a beer or fresh coconut. Kampong Cham is also located at a crossroads. It is the gateway to exotic Mondulkiri Province through Kratie, and it's a common port city on the mighty Mekong. Via the national highway No 7 the province is easily to enter and to explore. The province is divided up into 16 districts, with 173 communes and 1,748 villages.

Kampong Cham Province has a population of 1,914,152 people (2007) with 928,504 males and 985,648 females. Generally, the people make their living from rubber and cashew nut plantation, fishing, rice farming and producing a rich array of fruits in fertile orchards, including durian, rambutans and lychees. In an effort to entice foreign investment, the province is offering generous business concessions to those who wish to invest in rubber plantations inside the country. Kampong Cham and Kratie have an abundance of red soil and water resources, which create ideal conditions for the cultivation of rubber.

The cool season in Kampong Cham is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 17 to 27 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 28 to 36 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 27 to 35 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.

Kampong Cham City (123 kilometers northeast from Phnom Penh) is the capital of the province of the same name and the third largest city in Cambodia. With its Mekong River location and relatively close proximity to Phnom Penh and Vietnam, Kampong Cham has always been an important trade and transportation hub. The highway from Phnom Penh is in excellent condition-you can get here in just under two hours by road or by the bullet boats that are a main mode of transportation between towns on the Mekong River. Either way it's a nice trip, with views of the rural countryside or river area, depending on which way you go.

The town itself is quaint and charming with its bustling morning river scene and wide boulevard streets beside the river. There are a few worthwhile attractions nearby and with it's location on the way by boat or road to Kratie, Mondulkiri, Rattanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces; it's a nice jump-off point. Kampong Cham is a mix of the old and the new, with a new temple being built in and around old ruins and the big ferry boats taking people and goods to the other side of the Mekong, right next to the construction of the first bridge ever built here.

Because there is little foreign investment and no massive tourism (almost every foreigner who comes here is a backpacker), this city is quite poor with a few modern buildings, though not lacking in French architecture from the colonial period. It is similar to many other Cambodian cities, being rather dirty, with garbage a common sight. The people of Kampong Cham are very friendly and open to engaging with tourists. If recent projects seem to be improving the state of things here (relative to other Cambodian cities), remember that both PM Hun Sen and former Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara are originally from this province.

GETTING TO KAMPONG CHAM

Kampong Cham can be reached by either boats or a recently constructed asphalt road. It takes about 2 hours by vehicles or 2.5 hours by boats from Phnom Penh to the city of Kampong Cham. Bullet Boats: This is a nice option, allowing you to travel on the Mekong. Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham takes two hours and costs 10,000 riel. The boats depart just north of the Japanese Bridge (around 150m) on the Phnom Penh side of the Tonle Sap River. Kampong Cham to Kratie is a three hour boat ride and the cost is about 15,000 riel. The boats usually do not continue on to Stung Treng, as the water level must be very high to enable the boats to clear all of the small islands and clumps in the river between Kratie and Stung Treng. The boats usually don't even go during the rainy season, as there aren't many people travelling on this route. Taking a Motorbike on a Bullet Boat: The cost of taking a motorcycle with you by boat for a section of the trip is the same price as for a person. It's not recommended, though, as the porters who load and unload the boats are a hassle to deal with and if they happen to drop your motorcycle in the river (a real possibility), it's your loss and not theirs. If you have a motorcycle, ride it. It's not recommended to combine the two modes of transportation.

Getting to Kampong Cham by Bus or Shared Taxi: Hoh Wat Gentling Bus Company and Sorya Bus Company (168) have a/c buses to and from Kampong Cham on a regular schedule every day. Their main bus terminal is near the southwest corner of the Central Market (or New Market) in Phnom Penh. The trip is 6,000 riel. In Kampong Cham, bus arrivals and departures are at the Kampong Cham Market. Please see the Getting Around chapter towards the front of the book for all bus schedules.

As it is quite cheap and quick with the air-con buses from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham, there is not much of a reason to take a taxi. A share taxi from Kampong Cham to Kampong Thom is 8,000 riel. The road is in good condition. The share taxi do not go all the way to Kratie at this time, only as far as Snoul, the small town that is the juncture point for the road to Kratie and to Sen Monorom town in Mondulkiri Province. In Snoul there are only sometimes shared taxis plying the route to Kratie. If you don't have your own motorcycle as transportation, your surest bet is to take the bullet boat if you want to go to Kratie from Kampong Cham.

Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham: As mentioned earlier, the highway from Phnom Penh is in excellent condition; you take Highway No 6 from Phnom Penh (crossing the Japanese Bridge) and go to the roundabout in Skun comprising a stature of children holding a bird. Highway 6 continues on to the left, going to Kampong Thom and Siem Reap. For Kampong Cham, you veer to the right and follow Highway No 7. A scenic option to this is to follow the river road on the eastern side of the Mekong River (if own vehicle). It takes a bit more time but if you have time it's worth it. Security is not a problem. Until the new bridge over the Mekong River is finished, you still take the big ferry across if you want to explore the eastern side of the province or continue on to Kratie or Mondulkiri Provinces by motorcycle or vehicle. It's 200 riel per person and 400 riel for a motorcycle.

Kampong Cham to Snoul and Kratie or Sen Monorom: The motorcycle ride from Kampong Cham to Snoul is not with the best road equipped, but it's doable. Just before you reach Snoul there is a junction in the road with a police box on the right side. Follow the road to the left and you are on the highway to Kratie. You go through the town of Snoul just ahead where there is food and fuel.

Back at the junction by the police box just before you get to Snoul, following the curve to the right takes you to Mondulkiri. About 7 kilometers past that curve you come to a four-way junction. Turn left there and you are on the dust highway (laterite surface) to Sen Monorom. Fuel and drinks are available at the four-way junction and 60 kilometers later, so you can bypass Snoul if you like. The road from Snoul to Sen Monorom is generally in good condition. It'sonly a dirt road but it's nice and level, because it was put in for the logging trucks. The road gets quite tricky during the rainy season, however, when the clay gets wet and it becomes similar to riding on ice. The scenery is beautiful and you're passing one of the remotest places in the country.

SIGHTS IN AND AROUND KAMPONG CHAM

King's Residence is considered as one of the most important tourist attractions in Kampong Cham. Visited by travelers from all over the world, it was a dwelling place for monarchs who ruled Cambodia but has been deserted for a sometime. The complex comprises an outside building which was used by the local people so that they can come and meet the king. The ground of King's Residence include a beautiful fountain. Once you are inside you can see a number of chambers which were used for various purposes. The sprawling architecture is spread over acres of land. Today the ground of King's Residence, Cambodia is used for various purposes. One can often see old people of the town taking an afternoon stroll down the paths of the palace. The palace which was once an epitome of class and grandeur is now used as a gathering place for the common people.

Prey Nor Kor Knong-Krau Temple (42 kilometers from of Kampong Cham) is an ancient site located in the southeast of Kampong Cham province, at Prey Nor Kor village, Daun Tey Commune, Ponhea Krek district. The temple is accessible by the National Road No 7. Turn right onto a trail at Dam Nak Cha village. There are four main trails at the public gathering place of Daun Tey Commune: 1) the trail at the public gathering place of Knar is six kilometers in length. 2) The trail from the main road to Preah Theat is five kilometers. 3) The trail to Dam Nak Cha is 10 kilometers. 4) The trail from Poan Chrey to Prey Nor Kor Knong is 5.3 Kilometers. The resort of Prey Nor Kor Knong-Krau temple is the gathering place where the local people and tourists meet each other for enjoying popular games and religious purpose during a traditional festival.

Built in the 9th century, the Temple of Prey Nor Kor has the same form as the temple of Sam Bour Prey Kuk and was the site of the assassination plot against a princess by Kun Bot, who mobilized troop to fight successfully against the princess. Prey Nor Kor Knong-Krau temple covers s 2500 meters and embraces Thum Temple, which is located on the high hill of the Khoeun. It includes three temples made of solid brick. The one at the left is badly damaged. The other two temples are in relatively good condition. Inside these two temples, there are some statues and broken ancient objects.The local people believe that the temples have been protected and maintained by sacred spirits. If tourists would like to photograph the two temples, they should light incense to pray for allowance first. Otherwise it is said the picture of the two temples do not appear in their cameras.

Preah Theat Temple is located to the east of Thum temple. It embraces six temples, which were damaged by war. At present, only one temple remains but it is has collapsed as a result of digging by looters in search of treasure. Preay Theat Pond is located at the northeast of the Thum temple.

Preah Theat Teuk Chhar (39 kilometers from Kampong Cham) is a group of temples in Thmo Da village, Beung Nay commune and Thmei village, Krouch commune in Prey Chhar district. Visitors can reach Preah Theat Teuk Chhar by taking National Road 7 from Kampong Cham, turn right at the provincial road and drive 13 kilometers before turning right again and driving another 5 kilometers along a canal trail, to the temple site. The temples were constructed in AD 1005, during the reign of King Suryavarman I. As proposed by King's adviser Chung Chheal (also named Chekngak Khealleah or Leaksintra), the King agreed to build these temples, and Leaksintra started construction on the site called Sithiborya that which owned by the King, who also contributed money. Leaksintra, however, used his salesmanship to encourage the local people to contribute money as well, until the project was finished.

One of the temples houses a Shiva lingam named Sreipatresvara, and two divinity statues called Paramesvara and Sarasvata at both sides. Another cavelike temple believed to house a god is located along a canal, near a waterfall. Badly damaged over the years, only one door frame remains today, and it is overgrown with vegetation. The architect excavated a large pond on the right side of the temple called Leaksintrada. A golden Silva lingam was kept in the middle of the pond. Nearby, a village of wealthy people was formed. In addition, people from nearby villages were invited to live there, too, and the village soon became a crowded but cheerful town. Leaksintra told the king of the new town, and the king went there to celebrate the town's inauguration in AD 1025. He gave the city numerous gifts, including 29 soldiers and a rice field that surrounded the temple.

He had ponds dug and a huge court built for festival celebrations, and he gave decorations for the temple. He named the site Leaksintrabot in honor of its architect, Leaksintra. Later, the site became a place for religious worship. The religions practiced changed from king to king. Some kings practiced Hinduism, while some practiced Mahayana Buddhism. Others were Theravada Buddhists, which explains why there are so many small temples at Preah Theat Teuk Chhar. All told, there are 551 small temples which are influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism.Some of the temples contain statues of heroes who gave their lives for the nation. Many of the temples were destroyed by years of war. Others were heavily damaged. Today, monks and visitors to the site search in hopes of finding the name and foundations of these temples so they might be rebuilt. Some temples have been rebuilt already, their wood and tile roofing replaced with concrete.

Phnom Srey and Phnom Pros (seven kilometers from Kampong Cham and 114 kilometers from Phnom Penh) are located at Kro La Commune, Kampong Siem District about 500 meters off the main road. The pagoda of Phnom Pros is officially name called What Sovan Kiri Rotanak Phnom Pros. About onne kilometer to the north, there is another mountain, which has pointed peak called Phnom Srey. There are modern hilltop temples on each of the hills that you can explore. Phnom Srei also offers good countryside views, while Phnom Pros is considered to be a good relaxation spot.

North of the Phnom Srey, there are other mountains such as Dang Rek, Ba Ley and Chhuk. The mountain of Pros has rounded peak and is approximately 300 meters in height. The top can be reached by road. At the top, there are is five-tower temple modeled after Bontey Srey temple and two pagodas closed to each other: one is the old pagodas has two towers built in time of Sang Kum Reas Niyum. The other is currently under construction. Under the temple, there is a 15-meter-high statue of the founding monk of pagoda—Keo So. At the mountain base, there is a monastery where monks are staying.

From the top of Pros Mountain there are beautiful views of Kampong Cham province. From 1975-1979, the mountain was a big Khmer Rouge detention used for torturing Cambodian people in Kampong Cham province. Between the two hills is the location of the Kompong Cham Killing Field. The mountain of Srey has a pointed peak and can be climbed up by 308 Stair steps. At the top, there is a ruined temple, with a few nuns and no monks who stay to maintain and collect contribution to rebuild the temple. Many local people come here during traditional Khmer festivals such as Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben.

Phnom Srei and Phnom Pros translates into Man Hill and Women Hill respectively. The common legend told about these hills is that two teams (one of men and one of women) were competing to build the tallest mountain before sunrise. This competition occurred because the Khmer custom was that a man needed to go to the woman’s parents to ask permission for marriage, and the men were challenging this. As the story goes, the women lit a fire at night, which made the men believe that the sun was rising. They stopped working, and the women won the competition. Thus men still need to ask the women's parents for permission, and Phnom Srei is higher than Phnom Pros.

In ancient times, according to the longer version of the same story, there was a queen named Srei Ayuthiya. Since no man could propose to such a beautiful, noble woman, she decided to choose the man of her own preference for her husband. After that, it became the custom in the country that a woman proposed to a man. Some women, especially those who were not so appealing, were very unhappy with this arrangement and wanted to change the custom. One day, the women thought up a trick to make the men come to propose to them again. All the women gathered for a meeting. At that time, the women employed their trick. They dared the men for a contest.If the men won this competition, all would remain the same and women would have to continue asking the hand of the men, while if the women won, the men would have to ask the hand of the women. Work on the mountain must continue until the morning star rose, and then they could stop.

The men believed it would be easy to win this contest, because they were much stronger and could carry more earth, so they accepted the contest. Both started working hard, digging the earth to build the mountain, and the men were clearly winning the competition.In the middle of the night, while the men took a rest, the women hung a lantern way up in a tall tree. The men, seeing the light of the lantern, thought that it was the morning star and went to sleep, convinced they had won. But the women continued constructing their mountain. When the daylight arrived, their mountain was higher that the one from the men. They woke up the men and showed them t

KRATIE

KRATIE PROVINCE is one of Cambodia's eastern provinces. It has a small population, with most people living on the riverbanks of the Mekong. Beyond the riverbanks it is a remote place with almost no people, only thick-forested areas. The provincial capital is also called Kratie. It lies on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, which flows through the province from the north to south. Katie Province is famous for its sticky rice (krolan) and pickled fish (nem), as well as delicious tropical fruits and fresh fish that are included in local dishes.

Kratie Province covers 11,094 square kilometers, of which 83 percent is forest, eight percent is occupied by agricultural land 0.5 percent is covered by red land in Snoul district. The province is bordered to the north by Stueng Treng Province, to the east by Mondulkiri Province, to the west by Kampong Thom Province and to the south by Kampong Cham Province. Kratie was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War period, especially between 1970 and 1975. Some of the big craters left by the bombing are now ponds filled with water. On the small parcles of agricultural land are rice fields and agricultural plantations. The province is best known for its 140 kilometer stretch of the Mekong River, including sections with small rapids and critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

The current population of Kratie is approximately 290,000 and the population density is 26 people per square kilometer. Roughly 70 percent of the people live along the river, whereas 30 percent live in the mountainous area. There are seven types of tribes in Kratie: the Phnorng, the Kouy, the Mil, the Khonh, the Steang, and the Thamoun.

Generally, the people make their living from rubber and cashew nut plantation, fishing, rice farming and producing a rich array of fruits in fertile orchards, including durian, rambutans and lychees. In an effort to entice foreign investment, the province is offering generous business concessions to those who wish to invest in rubber plantations inside the country. Kampong Cham and Kratie have an abundance of red soil and water resources, which create ideal conditions for the cultivation of rubber.

The cool season in Kratie is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 18 to 26 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 27 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 26 to 34 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.

Kratie Town (348 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh) is the provincial capital Kratie Province. It lies mostly on the east bank of the mighty Mekong River. The stretch of the river around Kratie town is home to a group of rare Irrawaddy dolphins. The dolphins are the main tourist attraction of the province and the town. The river also has hundreds of green island, and circling white water, which are also attracting some tourists. Kratie town is sleepy but picturesque with sandbars and big islands among the bends in the river. Unlike in many towns around Cambodia, the war years were fairly kind to the French architecture and the roads, at least in the town itself.

Kratie town is famous for its horse carts. A local association of horse cart operators conducts tours around the town and north along the Mekong River to the famous Kampi dolphin pool. Travelling by horse cart is a unique way to experience the riverside town. There are some nice-looking homes of French and Khmer style scattered about Kratie town, adding to the pleasant feel of the place. You'll also find a bustling market which is a great place to watch frogs being skinned (and escaping first through the holes in the nets), sample some delicious foods (such as freshly grilled corn cakes) and generally take in rural Cambodian life. A few dozen freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins make their home in the Mekong River, just north of Kratie.

The Kratie market is right in the thick of things, just a block from the river. It's the usual all-purpose variety with local shops dealing the local daily consumer products, like fish, fruits, vegetables, meats and other packed products. There are two small night market areas. One is across the road from the northern side of the market. The other is on the street and just east of the Heng Heng Hotel. There are a couple of photo shops near the pack of guesthouses just west of the market.

Whether you are just on a trip seeing the river towns along the Mekong or taking a full circuit trip around the east and northeast, Kratie is a nice place to spend a night or two. The river scene of Kratie has a beautiful river boulevard with dozens of snack and drink stands in the late afternoon and evening, making this a nice spot to chill out and watch the people parading by. There are also a few big concrete decks along the river scene. The river road is a great place for a stroll or jog. Enjoy the dramatic sunsets over the Mekong.

GETTING TO KRATIE

You can reach Kratie Town by bus, minibus or taxi from Phnom Penh along National Road Number 6 and 7. If you are going to Kratie from Phnom Penh, the road to Kampong Cham is excellent (National Highway No 6, after the round about in Skun National Highway No 7), the road from Kampong Cham to the Snoul (also Mondulkiri) junction isn't that great, but it's definitely doable. The last section taking you to Kratie from Snoul was recently paved and remains in good condition. This magnificent Highway No 7 led until the Lao border in the country's rough North. Snoul to Mondulkiri If you are heading to Sen Monorom from Kratie, proceed to Snoul and pass through the main town area. You will come to a fork in the road where you stay to the left. Follow this about 7 kilometers and you will come to a four-way junction where you turn left. This laterit-paved highway takes you to Sen Monorom. The road is nice and level having been cut by logging companies for their trucks. Fuel and food are available in Snoul town and at the four-way junction. Security on these stretches is not a problem.

Kratie to Stung Treng: The National Highway No 7 led through a nice remote countryside, where you rarely meet other vehicles. There are several small villages near the highway where you can gas up your vehicle or pop into one of the tiny basic-need stalls to eat something. By Bus: Coming from Phnom Penh, Kratie town is accessible via NH No 7. There are several bus companies, such as PPPT, Hour Lean and Sorya going to Kratie or passing by while they are heading to Stung Treng or Rattanakiri. The easiest way to get there is to buy a ticket at the central bus station southwest of the central market. Sorya goes twice a day, at 7:00am in the morning and 12noon. The trip will take around 6-7hours and costs approx. US$6.

By Shared Taxis: Shared taxis are going frequently and for sure faster to your desired destination. Departing opposite of the central bus station behind the gas station you’ll find one of these or a minibus. The price comes at US$10-12. It may happen that you have to change the taxi in Kampong Cham as some taxis just go there and back. Others will already wait for you to take you to Kratie or further up.

By Bullet Boat: There are several alternatives to get to Kratie, the easiest of which is by the bullet boats that ply the Mekong River. If you are coming from Kampong Cham and don't have a motorcycle, the bullet boat is an easy and comfortable option. The bullet boat from Phnom Penh isn't departing anymore to Kratie, as the road conditions are wonderful and most of the people go with the quick and affordable bus. Although it is possible to take one bullet boat from Kampong Cham or back departing early in the morning around 7:00am. The boat pier in Kampong Cham is directly in front of the Mekong Hotel. The trip takes just three hours and costs US$7. The Kratie-Stung Treng bullet boat trip only runs during the rainy season when the water level in the Mekong is sufficient enough to allow the boats to get through the numerous stretches of shallow rapids and various other obstacles on this stretch of the river. The trip upriver to Stung Treng takes around 6-7 hours, with the trip back down to Kratie, going with the current, taking about 4 hours. The price is around US$8.

SIGHTS IN AND AROUND KRATIE

Chruoy Rey is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Kratie. Situated in the Kantring Village in the Kaoch Trong Commune, it contains elegant structures that occupy an important place in the history of Kratie.

Phnom Sambok Resort (11 kilometers from Kratie) is a natural and historical resort located at Thmor Kre Commune, Kratie District. It can be reached by the National Road No 7, then turning more 500 Meters to the mountain. Phnom Sam Bok is the cultural and main tourist resort of Kratie province. The resort has good location and assured safety for tourists who visit. Phnom Sam Bok has been a tourist resort since the time of Sang Kum Reas Ni Yum.

The mountain has two peaks: a rounded peak and a pointed peak. On the mountain top there are splendid views of the Mekong River. The mountain is rich in big trees and birds. At the bottom there is a concrete stairway to leads to place where gold was once mined. According to legend once upon a time, there was a king named Cha Krey Sara Varman a son of Preah Bat Hathak Athi Reach Varman. After he was he took the throne he told his high officials to find a gold mine. The local people there called the place ‘Kan Leng Sam Bo Meas’ which means ‘a place very rich in gold’. Long time after that, the word changed to ‘Phnom Sambok Meas’. Then only ‘Phnom Sam Bor’ until now.

At the beginning of the 15th century, there was a monk named Neak Voan and a student of a crocodile named Neak Sen. Neak Sen became the teacher of a crocodile. Nen Thun and Neak Sen did meditation on the mountaintop of Sam Bok. Neak Voan had very strong ritual formulas and he was well known to people near and far. The local people learned ritual formulas from Neak Voan. Since Phnom Sam Bok has been a worshiping place.

100-Column Pagoda (36 kilometers north of Kratie) is located in Sam Bor District and reached by the National Road No 7. The 100-column pagoda was built on the place where the Royal Palace temple of Sam Phu Borak Capital of the Chen La civilization. There are four Buddhist temples in the area, each facing in a different direction: 1) Vihear Lao faces to the west. 2) Vihear Sar Sar-100 (100-Column Pagoda) faces to the north. 3) Vihear Kork Keut faces to the east. 4) Vihear Kork faces to the south (of this temple only bases remain). During the Khmer New Year, the local people who live near the former Sam Phu Bo Rak Capital usually celebrate the four-day festival by starting at Vihear Sar Sar 100 first, then Vihear Kork and Vihear Lao lastly.

Vihear Sar Sar-100 was built in 1860. It is 30 meter by 30 meters in size. In the old days there was thatched hut at the site set up by Preah Ang Chan Reachea II dedicated to the power of Vihear Sar Sarr-100 to maintain the soul of Preah Neang Varakak, who daughter was swallowed by the crocodile, Nen Thun. Vihear Sar Sar-100 is different from other Buddhist temples as it faces to the north. In the 1960s the temple was damaged by strong lightening, which caused 22 columns to burn down and statues to be dirtied by smoke. Because of this incident, the temple was pulled down and rebuilt by the local people, but it had only 78 columns. Starting in 1978, 100-columns pagoda was once again renovated to be 35 meters in length, 18 meters wide, with 116 columns. Sey Ma was buried there on January 14, 1998.

IRRAWADDY DOLPHINS

The Irrawaddy dolphins found in Cambodia live mainly in the Mekong River around Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. The number of these mammals is estimated to be between 40 and 60 and they are often seen travelling in small groups of 6 to 10 individuals. The females usually give birth to young once every two years most often during the months of June to August. The young dolphins are about 1 meter in length at birth and suckle milk. By adulthood the dolphins can attain a length of over 2.5 meters and weigh up to 180 kilograms. Their diet consists mainly of small fish, shellfish and snails. The dolphins can swim at speeds up to 40 kilometers per hour and stay submerged for periods between five and ten minutes.

Kampi Resort (15 kilometers north of Kratie) is natural resort and a jumping off point to the see the freshwater dolphins. To reach it travel along the National Road No. 7 to the north until you arrive at the bridge of Prek Kam Py, where there is fine view of the Mekong River wiith thousands of vegetation-covered islands. From January to May, the resort is a popular for swimming spot, especially during the Khmer New Year. The riverbank is sandy. The river is a half meter to 1.3 meters deep and flows with undangerous speed. Kam Py resort has good services for visitors such as the crossing bridge, floating cottages, soft-drink shops, restaurants, emergency care, guards and security as well. Recently the provincial tourist office has endeavored to upgrade the resort to be better and more attractive.

Irrawaddy Dolphins in the Mekong River in Cambodia (15 kilometers north of Kratie: Rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins make their home in the Mekong River, just north of Kratie. Only around fifteen to twenty remain in this stretch of the iver. The Dolphin Habitat in Kratie is situated at Kampee Village and Resort in the Sambok Commune. Besides being a wonderful tourist hub the Dolphin Habitat, also plays a significant role in the conservation of dolphins. The amazing spectacle of dolphins in freshwater is indeed a feast for the eyes. It is popular with kids and foreign visitors.

The Irrawaddy Dolphins make their home on a beautiful stretch of the Mekong River near a small set of rapids. They make upward arches, breaking the surface of the water as they swim about the area. They are not jumpers like their sea-faring relatives and are quite a bit shyer as well. They have good reason to be shy towards humans as they have been hunted and killed by fishermen in the past. The hope is that their numbers will slowly increase, as more fishermen in the area are educated about the dolphins are most active in the early morning hours (around 6 am) and the late afternoon and early evening hours. However, tourist that go out in mid-afternoon heat of the day report numerous sightings.

A local family hires out their small boat. A young man in the family takes you out on the river for a closer look. The charge is 3,500 riel per person. To get there, just follow the road north from the Globe traffic circle for 14 kilometers. Turn left at the dolphin picture sign. The family and river are there.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) population inhabits a 190 kilometers stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Laos. The latest population is estimated between 64 and 76 members (2008 figures). The Irrawaddy dolphin is identified by a bulging forehead, a short beak, and 12-19 teeth on each side of each jaw. The pectoral fin is broadly triangular. There is a small dorsal fin, on the posterior end of the back.

See Irrawaddy Dolphines Under South and Southeast Asian Animals

Koh Pdao (40 kilometers away from Kratie Town) is a Mekong River island located in Kratie Province. It is is well known for its fresh water dolphins. Tourists can enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Mekong River scenery while watching Irrawaddy dolphins swimming next to their boat. In the evenings beautiful sunsets turn the river into a golden banner. On top of that visitors can help communities through participating in community activities such as digging fish and frog ponds, building chicken and duck pens, farming, etc. Koh Pdao is reached by a 45 minutes drive from Kratie Town by taxi or motor taxi and another 20 to 30 minutes by a slow boat down the Mekong River.

Phnom Preah (30 kilometers away from the town of Kratie) is a picturesque wildlife and nature reserve alluring local as well as foreign visitors alike. Located at the Chrauy Thmar Leu Village in the Chhloug Commune, it is home to many species of wildlife including a vast range of birds and mammals.

Phnom Sopor Kaley (30 kilometers from the town of Kratie) is one of the top tourist attractions in Kratie. It is a historical site with some famous buildings. Located in Chrauy Banteay Village in the Chrau Ampil Commune of the Prey Prasap District it takes only one hour to reach from Kratie town and has an idyllic location in the foothills of the Sopor Kaley Mountain. At the top of Sopor Kaley mountain there is an ancient pagoda, which has a height of 100 meters. A laterite road leads visitors to the top of the mountain. The visitors have to climb 800 concrete built steps to reach this ancient pagoda, where tourists can enjoy breathtaking views of the farmland and the rural areas of Kratie, which lies adjacent to the spectacular Mekong River.

There is a popular belief that this mountain received its name from a crocodile, which was called Sopor Kaley by the locals. Nen Thun, a famous fighter defeated and killed this crocodile in a fight. After it died it got transformed into a mountain, which is now known as the Sopor Kaley Mountain.

Sambor Town (35 kilometers from Kratie) is reached on nice ride through countryside hugging the Mekong River past the dolphin site. About 24 kilometers from the Globe circle, you come to a fork in the road. The road to the right goes to Stung Treng, but you want to follow the road to the left. This is the better of the two roads and the one that hugs the river to Sambor town, another 11 kilometers away. Stay left at the fork as you near the town and you wind your way to Wat Sambor, located near the river. The front temple is fairly new, with a one hundred-year-old temple just beyond the rear of that temple. The town is pleasant and food, drinks, and fuel are available. As for the ruins shown on the official Cambodia map (south of Sambor), there is nothing left of them any more. Just one good- luck stone is all that the locals saved, putting it in a thatched temple hut a kilometer off the road. Wat Sray Sahn-tah-rah-boh is a big name the small temple on the river road.

Sambor Town was part of the Funan civilization, the most ancient Hindu state of Indochina, whose history goes back to the A.D. 1st century. The capital of the Sambor Town was positioned in the present Cambodian province of Prey Veng. The dynasty claims to have traced its origins from Brahmane Kaundinya, who had come from India. Sambor Town dates back to the Sanskrit registrations which date back to the A.D. 3rd century, This information comes from ancient Chinese texts. The first embassy of the Funan in the court of China dates of the year 225.

Sambor Town is a reasonably pleasant place. Sambor Prei Kuk is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has 3 complexes, surrounded by two walls. There are bricks towers, done in a variety of forms, such as oblong, square and octagonal. Each tower is ten meters high and ten meters wide. The brick is finely sculpted in sturdy relief. The decoration is an inspiration of typical Indian architecture. (In India, the lion is often represented, but this animal does not exist in Cambodia). The door frames are done in stoneware. The temples at Sambor Town, date back to the beginning of the A.D. 7th century, 600 years before the construction of Angkor Vat.

STUNG TRENG

STUNG TRENG PROVINCE is a northern- northeastern Cambodia. It was formerly called Xieng Teng and was once a part of the vast Khmer Empire, then the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang and later the Lao kingdom of Champassack. During the period of French Indochina it was again ceded to Cambodia.Stung Treng Province is famous for its Lao-style sticky rice (krolan) and pickled fish (nem), as well as delicious tropical fruits and fresh fish that are included in local dishes.

Covering an area of 11,092 square kilometers, Stung Treng is a remote and sparsely populated. It borders Laos to the north, Ratanakiri Province to the east, Preah Vihear Province to the west and Kratie and Kompong Thom Provinces to the south. Stung Treng Province is divided into five districts, 34 communes and 128 villages.

Stung Treng is a unique province quite distinct from other Cambodian provinces in the Mekong basin. Extensive forests, intersecting rivers and streams and low population density characterize it. Stung Treng includes also the western chunk of the massive Virachey National Park, accessible from Siem Pang, a small beautiful town on the Tonle Kong. The province also features three big rivers the Tonle Kong, the Tonle San and the mighty Mekong with its hundreds of small islands scattered on the river stretch in Stung Treng Province.

The population of Stung Treng constitutes just 0.7 percent of Cambodia's population. The population density is 7 people per square kilometer, which is nine times less than the national density. As the population is low and the province is endowed with natural resources, the immigration rate is very high. This fact has been proven by the population census in 1998, which shows that 19.4 percent of the province's population has migrated from outside, of which male migrants constitute 55 percent. The most commonly stated reasons for immigration were moving with family, followed by searching for livelihood.

Similar with other provinces, the female population is higher than the male population. The result of the census in 1998 demonstrates that 50.5 percent of the population is female. In Stung Treng, about 79.4 percent of the population are involved in the agriculture sector. The secondary and tertiary sectors account for 2.4 percent and 18.2 percent respectively. There are 54,488 male and 55,217 female with a total of 109,705person.

Stung Treng's economy is based on fishing, agriculture and silk weaving. Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River are at the heart of an ambitious development programme to tackle poverty and attract tens of thousands of visitors to the province. The Mekong River Discovery Trail Project hopes to draw visitors to view the endangered freshwater river dolphin, which mostly in 10 deep-water natural pools in a 190-km stretch of the Mekong River, mostly between the quiet provincial capitals of Kratie and Stung Treng.

The cool season in Stung Treng is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 18 to 26 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 27 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 26 to 34 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.

Stung Treng Town (348 kilometers from Phnom Penh) is the provincial capital of Stung Treng Province and is an important trade hub with a few hints of Lao influence scattered about, owing to the fact that the Lao border is about 50 kilometers away. Situated near the confluence of the San River and the Mekong River, it is a friendly, quiet country town on the banks of the San River, with the mighty Mekong coming into the picture on the northeastern outskirts of the town.

The San River goes by three names, depending on which of the locals you speak to. Some call it the Kong River because the San and Kong Rivers merge together about 10 kilometers northeast of Stung Treng town, confusing people about which name the river should bear. Others call it the Sekong River, which is the combined name of these two rivers. Whatever name the fiver beside the town goes by, it's another one of Cambodia's beautiful picture-postcard river towns. It's a nice place to kick back and chill out if you are on a circuit tour of the Northeast River Scene, from here to Laos.

The San River is fronted in Stung Treng by a nice stretch of paved road. It's the center of socializing (as in most Cambodian river towns) in the late afternoon and early evening hours as the locals ride up and down the stretch enjoying the view and each other. Drink and dessert stands spring up earlier to serve the daily merrymaking crowd. It's a nice spot for a walk or jog any time of the day as the river road turns into a pleasant rural road that leads to the airport 4 kilometers north of town.

The river port area just in front of the small city park is fairly busy, handling trade between Cambodia and Laos. The ferry across the San River to where National Highway No 7 continues north to the Laos border is also at this pier. The fare is 300 riel per head. We went for a ride on this stretch (2,000 riel for taking a big bike on the ferry), but there is not much to see along the way besides light jungle and some remnants next to the road that was a target of carpet bombing during the Vietnam War years (the road was recently overhauled and is now one of the best in the country). The road works its way eastward so it does not afford views of the Mekong River as one would hope. The few residents we saw along the way were truly amazed to see the likes of us, who would want to be there.

GETTING TO STUNG TRENG

There is no flight operating to this province yet. Bus: Coming from Phnom Penh, Stung Treng town is accessible via NH No 7. There are several bus companies, such as PPT and Sorya going daily to Stung Treng. The easiest way to get there is to buy a ticket at the central bus station southwest of the central market. Sorya goes twice a day, at 7:00am in the morning and 12noon. The trip will take around 7-9hours and costs approx. US$8.

Bullet Boat to Kratie: Unfortunately, the bullet boats usually don't journey beyond Kratie. The stretch between Kratie and Stung Treng is loaded with small islands and clumps, with a fair number of dead trees thrown in for good measure. The journey is made only when the water is very high, which doesn't occur during a good portion of the rainy season. When the boat is running it beats taking a share taxi as, unlike the road, the river affords a smooth ride. The trip downriver to Kratie takes around 4 ½ hours and six to seven hours coming upstream from Kratie. As of May 2000, the bullet boat was running every other day at a fare of 20,000 riel. If the boats are making the run, take it- it's a pretty stretch of the river. It's not sure if they still run, probably just occasionally.

Shared taxis and Pick Up Trucks to Stung Treng: Shared taxis ply two routes from Stung Treng, one to Banlung (Rattanakiri) and the other south to Kratie. For the trip to Banlung, bring food, water and mosquito repellent because if there is a breakdown (not uncommon) on this bumpy backwoods laterite road you may be caught in the jungle for the night. Shared taxis usually go in groups in case of a breakdown, but as the other taxis are usually full as well, people do end up stranded and sleeping out in the elements at times. The five-hour trip stretches to seven hours during the rainy season (fare: $8-10 for taxi/$5-7 on the back of a Pick-up). From Stung Treng to Kratie, the fare is about 20,000 riel.

Motorcycle to Stung Treng: Banlung to Stung TrengThe 146 kilometers journey from Banlung to Stung Treng takes 5 ½ hours during the rainy season, so knock at least an hour off of that in the dry season. The road is generally lousy, passing through areas of bomb craters that create deep lakes during the rainy season, but you can skirt around the perimeter of most of them. Where you can't, the road goes zigzagging through the jungle, which is slow and slippery in the wet months. Having said that, there are a few decent stretches and the last 19 kilometers (after the road merges with Highway 7) are fairly easy ones.

The same suggestion we made in the share taxi part of this section applies for riders on this road. Bring food, water and mosquito repellent. If you have a breakdown, there may not be anyone else coming by, depending on the time of day. It's always best to get an early start to improve your chances if you do have a problem. Stung Treng to Kratie The recently new paved National Highway No 7 has now become one of the best roads in the whole country. The trip is 142 kilometers and takes about 1½ to 2½ hours. There is no problem regarding security.

MEKONG RIVER TRIP IN STUNG TRENG

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 kilometers 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.

Highlights of the Mekong Discovery Trail: The Trail offers many opportunities to view critically endangered Mekong River Dolphins. Less than 100 of these animals are left in the Mekong. Well managed ecotourism is part of the solution to increase their value to local communities and ensure their long-term protection. [Source: mekongdiscoverytrail.com ]

Kratie town is famous for its horse carts. The Trail has helped establish a local association of horse cart operators who will conduct tours around the town and north along the Mekong River to the famous Kampi dolphin pool. Travelling by horse cart is a unique way to experience the riverside town of Kratie and its many attractions including the French colonial architecture.

House Boats on the Mekong at Stung Treng: A very special way to relax and experience the Mekong River is on a traditional river boat. Sit back and enjoy the magnificent sunsets and sunrises and spectacular flooded forests of the Ramsar wetlands. Buy fish from passing boats and stop at riverside villages to shop in local markets. A very personal way to experience the home life and daily rituals of Khmer villages is to stay in homes or Wats. Home stays and Wat stays are available at several places along the Trail. The Trail guide book provides a few tips about etiquette to make it easier to connect with the local cultures.

There are opportunities to trek through fringing forests that line the banks of the river, and to enjoy wonderful views over the maze of islands and braided river channels north of Stung Treng. A local guide will assist with navigation and make the experience so much richer. Experienced and intrepid mountain bike riders who are prepared for an 'off the beaten track’ experience can travel through some of the least disturbed and most remoteparts of the Mekong, and stay overnight in guesthouses and home stays in rural villages along the way.

Mekong River between Stung Treng and the Laos border is very light on population and heavy on beautiful scenery. Boulder outcroppings, numerous sets of rapids, swirling pothole currents, wide sweeping stretches of river and forested landscape along the banks all await the boat traveler. It makes for a great trip, either for the traveler that wants to continue on to Laos or for those wanting to enjoy a wild stretch of the Mekong in Cambodia. [Source: mekongdiscoverytrail.com ]

The trip is difficult to downright impossible to make on this shallow stretch of the Mekong during the dry season, with countless sunken islands and a virtual forest of trees growing right in the middle of the river. The trip becomes an obstacle course for the boat drivers this time of the year, as they carefully try to choose the best way to guide their craft through the maze that nature has created without losing a propeller to the river. The best time of the year to take this trip is from May to November when sufficient upstream rains have raised the river to a level that allows the boats to pass through carefully.

There is not a whole lot to do once you get to the border area, but travelers can leave their passport with Cambodian immigration (at the small checkpoint on the west bank of the river) and cross to the Laos side to eat at a riverside restaurant and look at the tiny market in the Laos village of Geedahn. Cambodian immigration officers may ask you see them, but it is not a fee set by the central government so you don’t have to pay it. There is also a guesthouse to stay at near this village (on the Laos side of the river, but a couple of hundred meters south along the riverbank where it is still Cambodia).

Which was built here for border traders that lose the day light hours and need a place to spend the night. It’s a nice enough place, but overpriced, with a room that includes two big beds and a fan going for US$ 8 a night. Electricity is running between dusk and midnight. To take the trip, head down to the riverbank area (near the small bullet boats just east of the pier) in Stung Treng town before 8:30 am and talk to one of the operators of the small freight boats. The fare is 15,000 riel (one way) and the trip to the border area takes about 5 ? hours, but is cut down to just over three hours on the trip back south as the swift current on this stretch of the Mekong pushes the boats right along.

If you want a faster journey, approach one of the small fiberglass boat operators, the ones that have the 40-hp outboard motors-they want US$ 20-$25 (one-way) to make the trip- but if you are looking for a quick trip or fast fun, the trip time going upriver is cut down to only 1½ hours. The slow boats are fast enough coming back downstream so you could save money by grabbing one of those on the return trip. For those wanting to cross into Laos using this route you will need a Laos’s visa in your possession and you also need to stop at the main police station in Stung Treng town to get a letter of permission to cross the border at this point. This is shown to Cambodian immigration will not let you stamp out of the country without this.

Kantuy Ko is a wildlife preserve in Stung Treng with rare plants and animals, including possibly tigers and other mammals as well as various kinds of reptiles here too. Easy to reach from Stung Treng and near Samki Village.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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