Kratie is a heavily forested province spanning the Mekong River, whose banks are home to most of the province’s population. Beyond the river it’s a remote and wild area that has seen few outsiders. Most visitors are here to view the rare freshwater dolphins found 15km north of the provincial capital, and for good reason, as other attractions are thin on the ground. However, the town of Kratie is a charming little place and makes a good base to check out the surrounding countryside.
This was once of the first areas to fall to Khmer Rouge control in the civil war, although for several years it was in fact the Vietnamese communists who were running the show. The port of Chhlong in southwest Kratie somehow held out against the communists until 1975, probable a useful way for the Khmer Rouge to acquire arms from corrupt government force. It was also one of the first provincial capitals to fall to the liberating Vietnamese forces in the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge on 30 December 1978.
In the past, getting about was easier by boat than by road, as most roads in the province were pretty horrible. However, Kratie is now connected to Kampong Cham by two good roads: reconstructed NH7 which winds through Snuol before boomeranging back towards Phnom Penh, and the pretty road south to Chhlong and the district of Suong. The long haul north to Stung Treng has long been a truly nasty piece of work, but is earmarked for upgrade by the Chinese sometime during the lifetime of this book.
Kratie is the best place in the country to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, which live in the Mekong River in ever-diminishing numbers – for that reason alone it is well worth a stop when traveling by land between Phnom Penh and Ratanakiri or the Lao border. A compact but populous riverside town, Kratie (pronounced kracheh) is well preserved as it was spared the war-time bombing that destroyed so many other provincial centres. It was one of the first towns to be ‘liberated’, by the Khmer Rouge (actually it was the North Vietnamese, but the Khmer Rouge later took the credit) in the summer of 1970. There are some dramatic sunsets over the Mekong and some very old Khmer houses on the northern reaches of Rue Preah Sihanouk.