Sixteen kilometers north of Kratie, Camodia is one of the best places to see the endangered Mekong group of Irrawaddy dolphins, a beakless freshwater dolphin which resembles a porpoise (in my untrained opinion). To avoid the blazing sun as much as I could, I woke up at 6:30, had some delicious cheese on toast (real cheese!), and biked for an hour along a quiet and paved (yet bumpy) road. The ride itself was really nice, and since every child (and most young men) whom I passed smiled and said hello I arrived at the boat site in a really good mood.
I was the only one there. I paid my nine dollars and walked down a long concrete staircase to the boat dock. Since I was the only tourist around, all of the boat pilots and women from the souvenir stalls sat on the hill above the water, watching me go down the stairs. It was a little awkward, especially since I have a tendency to trip.
I greeted my boatman happily and he frowned at me a little. Should I get in? I asked. He frowned. Okay… I hopped in anyway, and we pushed off.
Soon we approached the downriver part of some low rapids and my driver turned off his engine. “Hello!” he shouted at me, and pointed to a splash of dolphin.
“Ahhhh!” I cheered quietly to myself. “Oooohh!” I sighed, as more and more dolphins splashed energetically, surfaced peacefully and swam side by side. It seemed they were everywhere! I sat on the bow of the boat and my boatman smoked a cigarette in the back. He pushed slowly on the oar, inching us closer to the action.
Since the engine was off, and there were no other boats around, sitting in the middle of that stretch of the Mekong felt so peaceful. A dolphin would surface, making me smile, then back to the quiet of the river. It seemed the first time in weeks that I hadn’t heard the nearby construction of a new guesthouse or bungalow. Or a rooster.
Taking photos of dolphins is really hard though, and they really aren’t the most photogenic creatures. They pop up quickly for a breath of air and then disappear. So… my one good photo!
Stunning, I know.