AU REVOIR OTRES BEACH:
When you have stayed in the same place for 2 weeks or more, the locals are starting to get to know you and who you really are.
A ‘cosiness’ starts to envelop you.
Invariably, it becomes easy to just stay where you are and stop moving on.
But that is not what I am here to do.
There is always a certain amount of sadness when I leave somewhere like Otres Beach and the friends that I have made.
At Otres, I ‘lived the dream’ on a tropical beach with a waterside bar and I started to get involved with Hobicats, Kayaks and in sorting out ‘Adventure Tours’ for tourists.
If I had followed it through, I would have been getting pretty close to my ‘perfect retirement location’… except for the fact that I would prefer a bit more of a sober working environment…
But leave I must. Au revoir Otres Beach. Hopefully, we will meet again.
JUST PRESS ‘PLAY’:
I am making my way to North East Cambodia in search of some play time. It really isn’t that ominous. The world is modern – not like it was 40 years ago.
You can easily jump on and off an aircon bus and book accommodation in advance on the internet (or just turn up and walk in off the street). If you need money, you just walk up to an ATM.
Everywhere you go, there is always someone who speaks English… anyone can do these trips to these sorts of remote places.
SNOOKY TO PHNOM PENH:
I booked a US$8 Aircon Bus from Snooky to PP. I made the booking at my hotel (Otres Beach Resort) and also booked a Tuk Tuk from OBR to the bus station for US$5.
US$5 is a reasonable price – it may have cost me more negotiating directly with the Tuk Tuk driver. By now I knew everyone at OBR, so they gave me the best ‘tourist’ rate (but, I still didn’t get a ‘locals’ rate).
The bus left the station early at 10:15 but stopped 2 more times in Snooky to pick up more passengers. We finally left Snooky at 10:45. As we drove through Snooky, we drove past 2 police ‘scooter traps’. At the 2nd there were 3 young Chinese girls all looking perplexed as to why they were receiving their fines… I wondered if they knew to keep a couple of loose dollar notes in their pockets…
We got to the outskirts of PP at about 3:00pm but hit roadworks which delayed us by 30 minutes. We finally arrived at our bus terminus at 3:45pm.
There is no central bus station in PP so each bus company stops at its own offices which are spread across town. I caught a Tuk Tuk from my stop to Hotel Zing (at the Central Market); it took about 10 minutes and cost me US$2.
I booked in at Hotel Zing because it was near Sorya Transport (the bus company that runs the bus out to Kratie).
Being near the central market was a pleasant change from my last stay in PP – which was in the touristy area near the river. The Central Market area had a lot less tourists and felt so much more ‘Cambodian’. But, obviously, there was also a lot less going on.
I was only in PP for 2 nights and 1 day but I had time to wander around the Central Market and also take the short walk up to the Russian Market. I didn’t think much of the former. The latter was most definitely the best of the two – and I would recommend it for people who want to do some shopping.
On my first night I just sat down at a ‘hawker’ opposite the Central Market about 50m from my hotel. I ordered a can of Angkor Beer and Chicken Fried Rice for a total of US$1.75. It was nice to be back in the land of real Cambodian prices.
I broke my old shoes in Otres Beach and my backup shoes have no tread on them. You will find a lot of tile floors in S.E.Asia which can be slippery. When it rains, these floors are very dangerous. I have lost my footing so many times… it was only a matter of time before I slipped and hurt myself. Shoes with proper grips are a must. At the Russian Market I bought a 2nd hand pair of Nike jandles for US$8.
In Otres, I topped up my SMART SIM with US$6 and bought another 4GB, 1 month data package for US$5. For some reason, it took the money but did not give me the internet connection. I tried everything to fix it but, in the end, it was so complicated and SMART provide so little information that I gave in.
So, instead, I bought myself a US$1 Metfone SIMcard and a 2.5GB, 1 month data plan for US$5. Total cost US$6. On sign up I got an extra 5GB free. It worked first time (but so did the SMART when I first bought it). But, in the end, I just couldn’t be arsed mucking around with SMART. I had no idea what was going on, what packages I had, why my money was disappearing, and why I couldn’t get my vital internet connection. For US$6, life is too short. It was better to throw SMART away and start again.
I was at Hotel Zing for 2 nights. I paid US$17 / night for a modern twin bed room with aircon, cable tv, in-room wifi, minifridge, kettle, and ensuite. The room was on the small size but reasonable value for money overall. The only downside was that there was no hot water.
Whilst in PP, I walked down to the Sorya Bus Station and booked a US$8 ticket to Kratie for the next day.
I also took the opportunity to get a US$2 haircut in a local barber’s. Whilst there, I saw a young Cambodian boy having his ears cleaned. When I was told that it was US$2, I was in like Flynn. I’ve been meaning to get my ears cleaned for ages!
On my 2nd night in PP, I walked into a local cafe about 30m from my hotel. I sat and worked. I got through 4 cans of Angkor and a Pork Loc Lak for US$3.50.
PHNOM PENH TO KRATIE:
I arrived at the Sorya Bus Station at 9:30. The bus to Kratie left promptly at 9:45. It was a standard aircon bus.
By 10:50 we had broken down and were parked up at the side of the road awaiting assistance to arrive from PP. A replacement bus picked us up and we were off again at 12:20pm.
When we got to Kampong Cham, I was expecting the bus to follow the river road to Kratie. Wrong. Without knowing it (and without being told when I bought my ticket) my bus was going via Snoul. This meant a BIG loop along NH7 to (almost) the Vietnamese border before swinging north on NH7 to Snoul. From Snoul, it was west again to Kratie.
Insight: We stopped in the middle of nowhere for lunch. I bought a US$1 bag of ‘frosted’ dried bananas to take back on the bus. I was sitting on the bus eating away on my bananas like they were pop corn and glanced over at the little Cambodian girl opposite me. She was doing exactly the same with a bag full of fried crickets. You see a lot of them in this area of the world. I think that what they say is true, 1 to 2 generations from now the world will be eating insects as a standard part of our diet. We will have to. They are a great source of protein and traditional food sources around the world are under pressure to keep up. It is only our western ‘queeziness’ that’s holding us back.
We got to Kratie at about 6:30pm (that is double the stated 4½ hours for the trip).
I pre-booked 3 nights at the Silver Dolphin Guesthouse.
I had a Twin with fan, in-room wifi, balcony, and ensuite. It cost US$8 / night. I wasn’t expecting the nicest place in town – that was not what I was after. I booked it because it had a rooftop bar and I wanted a place to stay where I could meet people.
I booked 3 nights so that I had 2 clear days to investigate ‘Mekong River Adventure’ options.
The Sorya bus terminates on the riverfront an easy 400m walk beside the river to the Silver Dolphin.
A backpacking girl from my bus got to reception ahead of me; when I arrived the receptionist was very attentive. He took us both up to the Rooftop Bar: my room and the girls dorm were both on that floor [I needed to remind myself how old I was!].
My room was one of the biggest that I have slept in whilst I have been away. Online it says that it has two single beds… in reality, it has two double beds.
As expected, the room was nothing flash. But, it was good enough for two GRANDPAckers off on an adventure.
That evening, I stayed in the Silver Dolphin Rooftop Bar, had a few draft beers (US$0.75 each), and ate Fish Amok with Rice (US$2.75) for dinner.
My first day was a Saturday, so the central market was fairly busy. As is the case at weekends, many of the locals could be found watching TV / movies in cafes that had been converted into mini cinemas.
For lunch I stopped at a group of 4 hawkers. There I had a pork noodle soup with basil for US$0.75; it was nice to get back to the local US$1 meals again.
There really isn’t much to Kratie. It has a central market which is the town’s focal point. The streets around the market are shabby and uninteresting. There is very little for tourists to do – except to go on any day trips that might be available… There is nothing endearing about Kratie… except for the lovely people.
After touring town for a second time and asking around, I discovered why there was nothing on the internet about kayaking down the Mekong. There’s nothing on the internet because there’s hardly anything available.
I found one shop: Sorya Kayaking Adventures & Cafe. They did:
- ½ day Dolphin Trip $20-45
- 1 day Dolphin Plus Trip $35-60
- ½ day Te River Trip $10-35
- 1 day Te River Trip $25-50
- ½ day Mekong Island Trip $10-35
The prices were dependent on how many people went. For the cheapest price, you needed 7 or more. The most expensive price is for you on your own.
I was looking for more than a 1 day trip. I had a chat with the owner of the Silver Dolphin and he knew of nobody doing a 2 or 3 day kayaking trip.
I had found out what I needed to know very quickly. I did not need 2 days in Kratie after all…
Whilst in Kratie I rented a ‘basket’ push bike for US$1 / day for 2 days. On the second day I did a big tour following NH7 out to Kratie Airport. I, then, cut across countryside on dirt roads back to the river.
These were normal Cambodian rural dirt tracks where, in areas, they are riddled with pot holes, grooves, and puddles.
As a result, I was forced to go to Kratie market and get a ‘proper’ pair of shoes. Which I duly did at a cost of US$14. I suppose, at least now, I will have some shoes that may last the rigours of my adventures in Stung Treng…
KRATIE TO STUNG TRENG:
Phnom Penh Sorya Transport are the only bus from Kratie to Stung Treng. On Sunday, I bought a ticket for Monday. A 2½ hour bus trip for US$5.
The bus was scheduled to leave Kratie at 3:00pm. It arrived at 3:03pm and left at 3:08pm. Given that the bus had come from Phnom Penh, I was impressed.
After a largely uneventful drive to Stung Treng, we arrived on schedule at 5:30pm.
Stung Treng is one of those places that, when you search for it on an accommodation booking site, returns “location unknown” or “no hotels found”.
Stung Treng is similar to Kratie: there is a central market that is the focal point which is surrounded by shabby streets. The riverfront is OK and there is limited accommodation along that riverfront with river views. And, similar to Kratie, there is nothing endearing about Stung Treng… except for the lovely people.
Indications on the internet were that the most expensive hotel Double with Aircon was about US$20 and that you could get “OK” Double fan rooms with ensuite for about US$7, so I did not bother booking anything in advance.
The bus stops opposite the market and 100m meters from the port / riverfront. Surprisingly, there were no Tuk Tuk drivers waiting to harass me, so I headed for the waterfront with my suitcases in tow.
I turned right / east and passed the Riverside Guesthouse (which is meant to be one of the big Backpacker guesthouses in town) and on to the Gold River Hotel (which is Stung Trengs ‘up market’ offering at US$20 / night). I was looking for the Sok Sambath Hotel which had good write-ups; alas, a local told me that it had closed down. I asked about my plan B which was the Sekong Hotel; alas, that was closed too.
Whether or not they were really closed I am unsure, but I walked west along the riverfront and checked in to the Mey Li Mu Met Guesthouse at US$7 / night for a Double with Fan, ensuite, cable TV, and balcony view out over the Mekong. I checked in for just 2 nights – which gave me 1 day to check out where better to stay and what my ‘adventure’ options might be.
Again, I found very few options in Stung Treng. The only trip organiser in town is Xplore Asia who do:
- A 2 night Kayak trip around the Dolphin Pools, Sunken Forests, and Waterfalls up near Preah Rumkel, Ou Svay, and the Laos border: US$95 for 1 person and US$60 for 3 or more people. The price includes guide, equipment, and accommodation but not food and drink.
- A 2 night Cycling / Boat / Kayak trip from Stung Treng to Kratie: US$90 for 1 person. You camp on islands in the middle of the Mekong River. There are 3 legs of cycling – each of about 45kms. This trip back to Kratie might be too much for my back – so I decided to skip this one.
- A 2 night fishing trip for US$650! I don’t like fishing that much (not unless it involves being underwater in SCUBA gear!), so I decided to skip this one.
I found out that there may be a lot more options in Ban Lung (the capital of the Rattanakiri province) in the far North East..
JUST PRESS ‘CANCEL’
I knew that going in June was pushing my luck a bit but the monsoons in the North East aren’t really meant to start until July.
The rains start earlier but that is good for kayaking… it gets the rivers flowing!
The day that I went to book the 3 day kayak trip the Xplore-Asia office was closed. The next day the heavens opened up with monsoon rains. Needless to say the heavy rains put a dampener on my plans and quashed everyone’s interest in joining or leading such a trip.
Bugger, this adventure will have to wait for another year. Next time, I’ll turn up in May.
My ‘expedition’ to the North East has been a big ‘flop’.
Both Kratie and Stung Treng did nothing for me and I failed to have an adventure.
Never mind, all is not lost. My ‘adventure’ budget can live and fight another day. Perhaps it’s fate telling me that, somewhere down the track, there is something better waiting for me. 🙂
The good news is that for the 23 days that I played around with my river trips and ‘adventures’, I saved NZ$33 / day for a further 23 days. This means that I carry forward over NZ$4,000 / US$2,700 / €2,450 / £1,700 to my future adventures budget. I should be able to have quite a lot of fun on that money.
Meanwhile, I need to get out of Stung Treng. The choice is a 11 hour $8 bus to Phnom Penh or a 6 hour $10 Minibus Taxi to Siem Reap. I will head for Siem Reap and decide where I go to next once I get there.
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