Giants of the Mekong

Cambodia with its Indiana Jones style temples, bustling market places and beautiful south-east Asian beaches is a must-see for any intrepid traveller. But it isn’t Angkor’s world heritage status or Phnom Penh’s rich cultural heritage that left the biggest impression on me.

In the middle of my three week adventure around Cambodia, relaxing with a Khmer beer on the terrace of my hostel, a group of travellers relayed tales of their recent trip up the Mekong to see some of the last remaining fresh water dolphins. Compelled by their animated story-telling I got up early the next day, headed down to Phnom Penh’s central marketplace and rode with the locals full speed along the chipped and rugged gravel roads for around six hours.

Arriving in Kratie I was taken aback by the charming rural village feel, with its neat rows of traditional Khmer houses circling around a busy central market place. Suffering from an outbreak of Dengue fever every second shop front had been converted into a make-shift hospital with rows of stretches holding in them Cambodians young and old, weary from the debilitating illness. I remembered to sleep in my net that night!

After an evening of delicious Cambodian fish curry, palm wine and some particularly atrocious karaoke I retired for the night, ready for the next day’s adventures.

In the morning an energetic tuk-tuk driver raced us out to the banks of the Mekong River, 10th-longest in the world, full of enthusiasm and spark, it would appear that his cousin has just the boat to take us out.

Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised to see that the whole area has been preserved as a nature park and that only authorised boats were able to take people out to see the dolphins. Irrawaddy dolphins, like the regular sea faring kind, are mischievous and playful animals. It was obvious from the beginning that they knew the drill well. We were told that they were all around us but the murky water meant that we couldn’t see them unless they wanted to be seen. So the next hour or so was made up of them popping up to say hi on one side of the boat before disappearing up the river coaxing us into a chase.

Weighing in at around 130kg and stretching to over 180cm these guys are not exactly what you would call small. They have the appearance of a greyish dugong- so not exactly the beauty of the river, but still there was something very charming about the way they took us around the river. As time went on they would stay up for longer letting us have a good look at their round stumpy noses and short angular dorsal fin.

We were told that these playful and inquisitive creatures are numbered at only about 80, as their naturally inquisitive and friendly natures have led to their diminishment in this area. It was profound and sad to think that I may be one of the last generations to encounter one of these beautiful animals in the River Mekong.

S Menz

More information on advertising opportunities,
Click Here