In Search of Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins in Kratie, Cambodia
Kratie has become a popular stopover on overland routes from Cambodia to Laos. One of its main attractions is the rare freshwater Irawaddy dolphins, classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.
They are similar in appearance to a Beluga whale and most closely genetically related to the killer whale (orca).
When you think of the descriptor “rare,” you might think that there is a slim chance of catching a glimpse of said discrete creature. As the river boat dolphin viewing ride was an optional activity, it naturally cost extra money to participate. Our group was, understandably, a bit wary of paying money to go cruising around looking for a dolphin that may or may not show itself. And besides that, with all of the overland traveling, you sometimes just want a little break to rest and relax, maybe check your email.
We were assured that it was actually rare to NOT see these rare dolphins; most groups see at least one.
So off we went, on a sunset boat ride on the Mekong River. Honestly, if I hadn’t seen a single dolphin, I still would have been happy with my decision to fork over the extra cash and go. Cruising along the Mekong at sundown was serene and relaxing. The sunset was radiant.
Question: Do you ever have a hard time choosing which photos to use in a blog post or share on Facebook or Google+? So, say you have fifteen sunset photos, and you like about ten of them; each are slightly unique, accentuating different features of the sun, sky and water, but you know that other people will likely not care about seeing ten of your sunset photos. What do you do? I struggle with this all of the time, as a trigger-happy individual. The thought is: take a million shots, and you’ll have so many options to choose from.
My photographs are far from professional, but I find that I sometimes really like them, regardless. I guess I’m just proud of the artful composition that comes across in one out of every twenty or so (the rest are crap). Or maybe it’s just my really nice camera and the really beautiful setting cutting me a break! Regardless, I think I like my own shots more than the average person does, and I’ve come to terms with this. It still makes me happy to compose and shoot a beautiful memory that I can be proud of.
Back to the dolphins..
So, we did see quite a few (about five) Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong. I wouldn’t say that it is worth the effort to journey to northeast Cambodia just so see some dolphins swimming in a river. If you do love wildlife and appreciate getting a glimpse of an at-risk species, then it may be worth it to you. There are other places you can see Irrawaddy dolphins, though, that may be easier to access. See a list of their habitat locations here.
Our G Adventures group consensus at the time was that Kratie, as a destination, and the activities associated with it, were not a highlight of our two week tour. In fact, once we made it to Luang Prabang, Laos a few days later, some of us were wishing we had skipped Kratie and southern Laos in exchange for more time in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng (Blog posts forthcoming, this weekend. If you are touring Cambodia and Laos overland, though, it definitely makes sense to stop in these locations). However, as I review my photos and write this post, reminiscing about the not-so-spectacular but laid-back Kratie in northern Cambodia and Don Khong and Dong Deng Islands in southern Laos (tomorrow’s post), I feel not regret but nostalgia.
At the time, what seemed somewhat a waste of time, really turned out to be moment in time- of reflection and appreciation for a quiet part of the world that maintained a subtle, humble beauty in its nature and people.
I reflect now on how similar the marshy river lands in Cambodia and Laos were to my southern Louisiana. They may not have the striking limestone karst mountains of Vang Vieng and the Andaman Sea, or the stunning architecture and charm of the lovely and ever-entertaining Luang Prabang, but these sleepy locales offer a distinctly authentic experience.
There are almost no signs of tourism, which is refreshing, yet at the same time, the environment and people invite you in, in the most genuine way, as guests of their land. If you enjoy and appreciate Kratie and the others, on their own terms, you will look back later with warmth in your heart and such a deep gratitude for being able to experience this peaceful, secluded, quiet, and simply lovely part of the world.
Moral of the story, for me? Slow down, take it all in, and just enjoy!
Thanks for stopping by!