Dolphins on the Mekong

22 Feb

Kratie, Cambodia: Sunset over the Mekong

Kratie, Cambodia: Sunset over the Mekong

I was eighteen when I read about the pink freshwater dolphins on the Amazon. I’ve dreamed of seeing them ever since, and Z and I will do this later on this journey.

In the meantime, though, we stopped in Kratie on our way back from Ban Lung, Ratanakiri, to see the Irrawaddy dolphins on the Mekong, and avoid a repetition of our experience on the way up.

The Kratie pod cluster around 15km upriver from the town itself. We took a sampan out to see them from the riverside there, the driver paddling the boat so quietly that the huffs and snorts and squeaks of the dolphins echoed across the water.

The freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin is an endangered species, but this pod was full of life. They surfaced, puffed and played in groups of two or three, one pair arcing so close to the boat that we could see the expressions on their faces.

For Z, in all honesty, the rapids were more exciting. During the dry season, a band of rapids stretch across the Mekong, less than a kilometre from the dolphins, and serve the town and surrounding villages as a type of public swimming pool.

Low reed islands and eddies of slow water slow their force remarkably. And a network of wooden walkways and bamboo-shaded platforms reach out across the water so families can watch their kids at play.

But they do have force, though. When Z ventured out, hanging dutifully onto the wires that had been suspended there for support, all 27 kilos of him was knocked off his feet.

I had anticipated something of this kind, so effected a not-entirely-impromptu rescue from the bridge. Helped, praise the lord, by a couple of passers-by.

The local kids standing in the calmer waters a few metres further out watched with a curiosity only matched a few minutes later when he achieved the largest splinter ever seen.

Still I can’t think of a better place to watch our first Mekong sunset, with sampans rocking on the water, low islands in the distance, and sheets of gold running across the vast expanse of river and turning slowly into pink as the trees on the far bank shade from green to black.

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