Mekong Journals: 1

December 13, 2011 in Mekong Journals | Comments (0)



[In January 2003 I accompanied an expedition that was conducting a survey of river dolphins on a stretch of the Mekong River in Cambodia. The expedition was led by Isabel Beasley, who was then a PhD student specializing on Orcaella brevirostris: also known as the ‘Irrawaddy Dolphin’ this species is found in many Asian river systems and deltas. The journal I kept during the expedition will appear on this site as a continuous series of posts. This is part 1 of the series.]


January 5, 2003



The town [pronounced kra-chay] looks handsome from the river. There is a line of freshly-painted villas and the landing consists of a steep flight of stairs. But it is hardly a ‘town’ – just a couple of streets of pucka houses, sleepy-looking, quiet, charming in a way. At any rate, a great relief after the chaos of Phnom Penh.



Isabel [Beasley] lives on the second floor of a small Khmer house that overlooks the river. The view from her balcony is terrific – a broad swathe of the Mekong, with beaches of white sand on the curves. The house is built of polished wood and even though it isn’t built on stilts it somehow has the feel of a house on stilts. The landlord lives downstairs – a friendly Khmer family – and Isabel has the upper floor to herself. She’s kept it very bare and clutter-free which suits it well. The breeze blows right through and it’s very airy and well lit. Also comfortable – there’s a fridge and a shower and a good bathroom with a chowbaccha [open tank]. It doesn’t have a kitchen however, and Isabel evidently has all her meals out. There are some nice little warung-type restaurants lining the riverbank. We went to one of those for lunch and the food was delicious.

Right opposite the river-landing is a freshly-painted quite opulent building, with a sign that proclaims it to be a kind of dolphin headquarters. I was surprised to come upon an institution dedicated to dolphin research but it turns out that dolphins are a big deal in Kratie. There were many backpacking tourists on the boat up from Phnom Penh and Isabel tells me that they all come to Kratie for the dolphins.

The boat (Express motorboat) from Phnom Penh was perhaps the most horrible vessel I’ve ever traveled in. I had to squeeze myself into a tiny seat, in the middle of a row of three. There was a video system blaring music and playing Cambodian MTV-style song sequences. It was a nightmare.

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