This was without a doubt, the highlight of my trip to the old Khmer Empire. Confession: I haven’t yet gone dolphin watching in Sri Lanka which is more or less one of the “big fives” of the island – but now I have seen fresh water dolphins instead – and what a beautiful sight it was!
It’s a fairly long drive to Kratie Province from Cambodia’s capital. It’s very much away from the city, past villages on dusty roads, but driving past these rural lifestyles can amaze you. I watched as vegetation changed, the town houses quietly shifting to makeshift cabins on stilts (the river floods the area during the 06 months of rain). School kids run around in their dirty shorts, barefoot and happy.
The atmosphere quietens down, almost to suit the deafening silence that the fresh waters demand. We stopped by Kampong Cham, sort of a street market en route to Kratie Province. The delicacies were fascinating and an exciting moment to the long drive we had been on.
Tarantulas – yes, the spider – are captured from the mountains beyond the villages, de-fanged and deep fried. I didn’t dare, but my friend declared that it tastes like chicken; and of course on the menu were deep fried larvae, beetles and grasshoppers and a selection of tropical fruit that are also favourites back in Sri Lanka!
After a good half an hour spent testing out these various gastronomic delights, we hopped back in to the van. The area is rustic and charming in its own way, and its inspiring to watch how livelihoods and lifestyles are have grown over the years on the river banks and around the monsoons.
We made another quick pit-stop here in Kampong Cham, the third largest city in Cambodia to see the 800m long bridge, built along the Mekong. The bamboo structure is built by the villagers themselves on the instructions (and payroll) of a wealthy businessman in the area. Its construction begins towards the end of the monsoons in preparation for the dry season. When the rains begin, the entire vicinity gets flooded, the bridge is submerged and destroyed and is rebuilt in the subsequent dry season. Quite a feat.
The whole contraption looks unsteady but is heavily used by the villagers; they say a small Maruti can drive on it although we only witnessed bicycles and motorbikes wobbling along.
As dusk crept in, everything quietened. The winds stilled, the voices were lowered. It felt like the entire city held its breath and were whispering through the sound of quiet lapping of water on the river bank.
We took a boat ride into the calm waters of the Mekong, the golden sunset in the background…and we waited. Fresh water dolphins are shy, they come up for a split second and dive back into the safety of the waters. They’re light pink and gray… they’re beautiful.
After the initial wave of excitement rolled over, the three of us realized that we had gone quiet. We were staring into the still waters, the soft lapping sounds as the dolphins came up for air, watching the sky turning all shades of pink and orange. We were deep in our own thoughts, perhaps contemplating on life and its twists and turns.
…and so, after a very solemn evening on our third day in Cambodia, we went back for a cold shower, a warm plate of Thai rice and some chocolate and drinks from the closest grocery. We shut down, with our thoughts still loud in our minds, in preparation for another long drive to the infamous Siem Reap.