To kratie, goodbye crocodile island hello crocodiles actual and mythical, and riverside break local style

I’m writing this in the VIP suite of a Kratie hotel.  It is not the dolphin hotel in Kratie.  At first I was neutral on this point, having no idea what that hotel is like, but to be honest, this hotel – although it looks spectacular is pretty rank.  Point number one, nowhere near the river which is a big disappointment as the finale hotel of our trip. Secondly, it really stinks of stale cigarette smoke.  C) the wiring is hilarious, I decided to calm myself with a cup of complimentary coffee, but this necessitated taking life into my hands as the only power point available is at height requiring me to hold kettle throughout the boil cycle, and as the point isn’t secure either you also have to hold the wire in a position such that current flows.  The reverse principle of those childhood games where you have to move a circle of wire along an electrified curvy route without making contact and causing it to buzz.  If you are age-appropriate as a reader, you will know what I mean.

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Frankly, I’d rather be back at the homestay.

The homestay, sigh, on crocodile island.  It was absolutely glorious there.  Although I’ve enjoyed all the homestays I’ve been at (well, there have only been two others to be fair, but I still feel that is a moderate basis for making comparisons) this was the best.  The location was absolutely spectacular, the family friendly, and maybe I get the routine a bit more now.  Plus it was better being a small group.

Terrible night’s sleep though.  Partly I’m self-conscious about going to sleep for fear I’ll snore or fart or whatever because no-one else in the world does those things when slumbering right?  Then there was the excitement of thinking through all the day’s and even past weeks’ events, add in the unfamiliar noises of crickets and/or frogs throughout the night, early morning roosters, random phones going off with Khmer music ring tones (strangely calming); safety lights on all night so no idea what time it was; gurgling of small child throughout the night, drum banging by slightly older child during the night and of course, waking up in the night, no idea of the time, and deciding, yep, I really do need to go to the loo.  Venturing out to the squat toilet at no-idea when time was an adventure in itself. For a start the stilted houses seem to breathe and move.  Their wooden structures and slated floors are (I hope) more robust than they appear, but any movement seems to rock the whole dwelling.  The stairs are rickety and I was a bit nervous in case there would be dogs around, and whether or not I’d be able to locate my shoes for the trek across unknown dirt paths to get to the carefully constructed toilet block.  I had a headtorch, but it picked out a pair of green eyes staring back, and I had to cross a road, work out how to open a gate and avoid disturbing resident frogs in execution of what we will call my ‘bathroom necessaries’.  Mission accomplished, I took a moment to gaze up at the night sky.  It is rare to see a sky without light pollution, and here in Cambodia, on the whole the skies have been cloudy too, this was not.  it was beautiful.  I’m not a star-gazer, so I don’t know what constellations I was gazing at, I do know that it looked different in an upside-downy sort of way from skies over Sheffield.  Upshot was, slumber wasn’t in abundance, but who wants to waste time on an island homestay by sleeping through the whole experience?  Quite so.

I have no watch or clock with me, so I stirred when household awaking sounds built up. Peering out of my window, I saw my fellow traveller making his own trek to perform ‘ablutions’ and no doubt ‘necessaries’ and so took that as a cue to get up.  Not much effort required beyond pulling a comb through my hair, taking my anti-histamines and donning such clothes as I have with me that passed the sniff test or were such a near-fail that they got the benefit of the doubt.  Travel, and swimming fully clothed in the Mekong is playing havoc with my wardrobe, many items are now properly trashed.  I will be having to wear my weather balloon shirt on the last day’s excursion back to Phnom Penh!  As I dressed, one of the children in the house, a boy I think gazed round the curtain at me with a curious expression ‘good morning‘ he said, with perfect intonation. That seemed to be the limits of his conversational expression, but his pronunciation was absolutely refined to perfection.  It was most unexpected.  This homestay seems generally to have a lot more English than the others I stayed at.  It’s too limited for conversation, but enough to exchange greetings and communicate a little over things like ‘the food is delicious‘ and ‘your home is beautiful‘ which is a reasonable start.

We didn’t have breakfast at the homestay as it was apparently ‘too hard for them to do‘ I’m not sure why. The lack of baguettes seems to have been a critical factor.  I wonder what they think will happen to us if we fail to have a baguette in the morning.  Maybe it’s like those salamanders that have to have iodine or they remain perpetual tadpoles?  Whatever, it was clearly a risk our guide was not willing to countenance.  I might be inclined to say health and safety gone mad, but I shall desist.

I was up and ready to go.  I therefore took on the onerous photographing duties whilst waiting for my fellow traveller to reach readiness.  This enabled me to get the shot I’ve been meaning to get for ages of the garbage bin that is made out of recycled car tyres.  They look fabulous, and are everywhere. Genius idea.

On our bikes by about 7.00 a.m.. No problem with the legs I’m glad to report, but significant problems with my arse, which has apparently been newly (and inconveniently) reconfigured such that there is no comfortable way to position myself on the bike.  Our guide refers to this as monkey-bum.  He may have a point.  It was a couple of kilometres along dirt roads of the island to get to the ferry point.  It was gorgeous in the early morning light, just stunning.  Loads of children in bright white shirts were pedalling to school – how their uniforms are so pristine in this environment I have no idea.  I have only just realised that all school uniforms seems to be identical. White shirts and blue skirts or trousers.  We passed the primary and secondary schools, at one the children were standing solemnly for an outdoor assembly, singing the national anthem we were told.  It all looked very solemn. The younger children were assembled at solid-looking wooden desks under the shade of the pagoda.  I don’t know the name of the island we were at for our first homestay, but this one, Crocodile Island, seems big, and pretty developed.  The road was better and there seemed to be more robust communal buildings.  I did have a deja-vu, double take moment, when we passed a civic building that was identical in construction to the one at which we were so warmly welcomed by the leaders at our last Kratie homestay.  It was a bit surreal.  Not the same though.

We turned off the main track, and through some rice fields and crossed the island.  A few locals passed us on motorbikes tactfully giving us room and not bothering with the usual horn honking routine.  They probably knew from bitter experience it wouldn’t hasten their journey by encouraging tourists to move aside, more likely just panic us into wobbling and toppling over, forming an even greater obstruction than previously.  We ‘suddenly’ arrived at what might reasonably be described as the ferry terminus, where there was a cafe area, and various signs explaining the eco-tourism project and how the island welcomes (and needs) tourists as part of spreading money around and to protect the dolphins.  Somewhat incongruously, there was a very shiny tuk tuk there, first one I’ve seen on an island, but then again, why not.  Tourists will want transport to their homestays if they come on that route and have no bike to transport them.   The view across the Mekong was just stunning.  You could see the silhouette of the hundred pillar pagoda over the other side.  Couldn’t really capture it on film of course, but trust me, it was gorgeous.

After a short period of hanging around we were shouted at, and advised to head down the slope and board the ferry.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but the ferry was fine and fun.   A wide-bottomed shallow boat, already crammed with a few bikes and locals making their way back to the mainland.  A ramp was in position to wheel our bikes aboard, and our guide piled our bikes discretely to one side where they would be out-of-the-way for all but the poor woman balancing on the side of the boat who I thought might be pushed in by her proximity to the stacked bikes.  After a bit more faffing, it was time to depart.  There was much shoving off the bank, and trying to get the ferry to shift to no avail, we were thoroughly beached.  We were cajoled to clamber over the stack of motor bikes so all the weight was moved to the rear of the boat, and with a bit more shoving and less-than-reassuring jumping around with the weight the front of the vessel lifted enough to free us from the bank, and with an inelegant chug, we began our manoeuvre round… just in time to see a quartet of other tourists, also with bikes descend the bank.  I wasn’t sure what would happen at this point.  Would they be left marooned? Nope, the ferryman did an awkward circle back to the bank and the four cyclists were scooped up with more shuffling around on the deck to get everyone on board.   Then we were on our way.  The cyclists turned out to be two different couples who’d met up by chance.  Two were retired british teachers, cycling from Laos to Phnom Penh, the others were germans taking year to cycle all over Asia.  Impressive.  I was jealous of their padded cycling shorts, but not the weight of their gear they were having to lug around with them.

It was a quick shunt across the Mekong, and we alighted the other side.  Another really steep slope tested my metal as we had to ascend the bank.  It is so hot already.  It was busy too, lots of people taking stuff off the ferry, including a mysterious pile of empty plastic containers (for petrol).  Others had boarded another ferry about to go back.  One guy on a bike appeared to be laden with nothing by shoelaces.  Is there really conceivably a shoelace shortage on Crocodile Island?  As nobody wears shoes over there it’s hard to know what the target market might be, or what they were if not that.  I shall never know.  The ferry was crazily cheap.  I’m trying not to think how much of a premium we have paid for our guide, and how we have basically paid another tour company a fortune to subcontract to another for significantly less than half price if the brochures I’ve seen lying around are anything to go by.  I tell myself that the trip was worth what we paid because I wouldn’t have been able to organise it on my own, but if you are coming after me, do yourself a favour, come to Strung Trent and then book direct with Cambodia Mekong Trails, they deserve the business.

Next stop, breakfast.  It was a short cycle ride, through the streets avoiding bikes and some roaming cattle that were nosing through bins as they ambled down the street.  First we dumped our bags back with our driver who was in the same spot we’d left him yesterday, parked up outside the 100 pillars pagoda.  I really like him, he seems funny and kind.  The first place was rejected as no baguettes.  We then went on to another where baguettes were on offer, where, to be contrary, we had noodles and mixed veg, mine had a fried egg on top, the other had meat, and our guide had rice with some repulsive looking non-specific meat which he ate with relish.  We had a wonderful riverside view and iced coffee to follow.  A young boy came on a bike laden with firewood at one point, the young woman waiting on us was wearing some very short shorts which in this context seemed genuinely shocking.

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After our very substantial breakfast, we rolled out and over the road to the hundred pillars Pagoda.  I feel a bit inadequate here because I couldn’t really follow the story of this properly.  Something about a crocodile that a monk used to cross  a river, and the daughter of a king who didn’t want to marry someone so the crocodile ‘rescued her’ but taking her into its belly, which ever so slightly means she got eaten.  This annoyed the king quite a lot, so the crocodiles were hunted and then something about you used to have to display a crocodile skin outside hanging if there was a funeral, but now there aren’t any crocodiles so you have to improvise with a crocodile shape?  I did get that the bones of the princess are allegedly buried here still, and that 100 women were killed to be buried with the princess to care for her in the afterlife.  Not a great end for them.  The bones of each woman were placed under a separate pillar.   So then, it gets even more complicated.  The Khmer Rouge, knowing this story, believed that under each pillar would be not only bones from the sacrificed servants, but potentially gold or other treasures buried with them to also assist in the afterlife.  Therefore, they destroyed the temple as they tried to ransack what lay beneath, there was nothing ‘only bones’ (only I don’t know if there really were or not).  Upshot is, the temple we now see, spectacular as it is, is in fact relatively new.  It has been reconstructed.  It now has 116 pillars (I didn’t count them).  Anyway, believe what you will, tourism Cambodia has an entry on the  one hundred pillar Pagoda, but it doesn’t altogether enlighten.  Once inside the pagoda there were elaborate pictures telling the story, but I was still very much confused…

So we went in, blazing sunshine.  The first stop was a detour round the back where our guide said we might see a python or cobra, I was confused, though that doesn’t take much.  What we actually saw was a forlorn looking crocodile in a too-small pool contained with chicken wire fencing.  The area was strewn with rubbish and discarded water bottles, it was totally inadequate, shockingly incongruous and just really depressing.  I know animal welfare standards are different here, but the casual cruelty and disregard for basic needs is extraordinary, and sometimes it takes your breath away. We’d been told about the sacred crocodile, and how the monastery houses a turtle conservation project, and Buddhists shouldn’t kill animals and should do good and then you see this casual cruelty. It is ignorance not malevolence, but it’s horrible.  I felt bad, is it here to impress tourists, is my presence making it worse?  You can pay to help feed the poor beast apparently, as the monks can’t otherwise afford to.  I don’t even know if this is a species that was ever native to Cambodia.  It was truly bizarre.

So we wandered about the temple, and got hot and bothered.  I was impressed by the visual paintings representing the story but remained confused about what tale they were telling.  We climbed the steps to the central pagoda, and our guide encouraged us to go into the central building. to me, this felt intrusive. Our guide got a blessing.  He explained something about holding some sacred thing up above his head as it helps the monks predict the future for you ‘but you have to think whether you believe what they say or not’ he cautioned.  Not iron-clad guaranteed predictions I’m guessing then.  We could see the monks’ living quarters, young people screeching around on their motorbikes ‘disrespectful, this should be a place for old people to be calm’ and flags flying.  It was visually spectacular.  It feels ancient, but of course it is anything but. From up high you can also see the river beyond the high walls of the temple, stunning.

Then, to the turtle sanctuary.  The  Mekong Turtle Conservation centre is based within the grounds of the Pagoda.  This is a project trying to bring back from the brink these bizarre looking soft-shelled turtles that I had never previously heard of.  The website blah-de-blah at one point explained:

In Cambodia? Visit the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center in Kratie today and see one of the world’s rarest and largest freshwater turtles, Cantor’s Softshell Turtle!

The Mekong Turtle Conservation Center (MTCC) is located at the beautiful and historic 480 year old 100 Pillar Pagoda, (Wat Sor Sor Muoy Roy), north of Kratie town in Sambor district. The MTCC was opened by Conservation International to increase the wild population of the endangered Cantor’s Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) in the nearby Mekong River, through headstarting turtle hatchlings from the community-led turtle nest program.

The facility has  over forty indoor tanks containing juvenile turtles which are kept for a 10 month period before releasing into their natural habitat, the Mekong River. This headstarting process increases hatchling survival rates. The MTCC also has as a large outdoor pond for the turtle breeding program where you can view the larger adult Cantor’s Softshell Turtles. There are also many other Asian turtle species at the facility to see.

However, the website domain appears today when I looked (August 28 2017) to now be nothing to do with the project, no mention of the Mekong Turtles at all. There is however a Mekong Turtle Conservation Facebook page so I presume the work continues…

Well, I just don’t know.  On the plus side, this work is clearly critically important, and I don’t think anyone else is doing anything.  It is small-scale but if their stats are to be believed successful to some extent, they claim a few thousand hatchlings are released back to the river each year, which considering they were thought to be extinct is no mean feat.   These turtles can live for 200 years, and reach sizes of 2 metres, though I doubt very much there are any that large left out there on that polluted and over fished river.

We wandered through display with bored looking receptionist who vaguely stared at us as we gazed in tanks with mud at the bottom. Took a while to realise each had a flattened looking stone in the bottom, half buried in the sediment. One was exposed enough for a picture.  They are strange-looking creatures.

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These are the hatchlings, to be kept here in safety for about 10 months, then they are released into the river.  Twice a year this happens and tourists can pay $18 to join the mass release, I think in May and again.. some other time, I can’t remember when. There were some reasonably informative signs, but hard to gauge the extent to which project might be succesful.

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We were shown a separate area where some tortoises and terrapins were housed in adjacent pens.  One ‘turtle’ no idea what species looked injured and sick.  I queried this with the woman who was nominally showing us round, or more accurately following us around to ensure we didn’t torment the turtles.  Presumably, because this was her job.  When I drew her attention to the injured one, she immediately banged on its shell and then poked it with a stick, so I felt bad for even mentioning it. The conditions didn’t look good to me. The water was still and muddy with no vegetation, and the mix of different species from different countries might account for the fight injury.  It may be that these terrapins or turtles like still water, but this looked like an unclean pen to me, rather than a habitat choice.  I was confused.  On the one hand this project is clearly trying its best to reverse the decline of a vulnerable species, on the other, if it can’t look after even these common species and meet their basic needs, is it in fact a doomed project unworthy of support.  I felt depressed and despondent really.  It does feel like game over for indigenous wildlife in Cambodia.

We walked through a pretty little planted area to a deep, silted pool, where a guy was wrestling with a pipe to refill it.  A super lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective) shot out of the pipe, into the pool and then swam furiously across the pool before bolting up the steep-sided pool and escaping the other side.  Impressive.  The pool apparently  houses a very large flat shelled turtle, but as they only surface once every 12 hours it is not likely that anyone will ever see it.  This poor turtle is not a glamorous or intrinsically loveable species.  It looks like it didn’t finish evolving.   This man is the person responsible for the care of the turtles.  He had some English and I asked about the project and he came across as committed.  I asked him about the injured turtle and he did look and confirmed it was from fighting though he didn’t seem inclined to do anything about it like separating the species.  He did however clarify.  The project is really concerned just with these flat-shelled turtle species, that is his specialism.  However, because of the name ‘turtle’ conservation, unwanted tortoises and turtles get dumped on them from time to time and they do their best but they are not the priority.  This is sad, but it is sort of defensible that once they take in these other species they aren’t really equipped to look after them, but feel obligated not to turn them away.  The impulse to care is alive here, but the funds and knowledge base seem pitifully low to my cynical and more privileged perspective.  Maybe it just isn’t fair to judge by western standards, but surely we should still push for improvement, not pretend things are OK when they are clearly not.

I asked about the crocodile and he said he didn’t know about that, it is to be fair separate from his project.  However, he speculated that people get the crocodiles (no idea where from or why) when they are small, they grow, they can’t cope, and then they bring them here for the monks to care for because the temple is concerned with the crocodile because of its history.  He was vague about what would happen to it. People can pay to feed it as an offering.  Maybe it will be released.  Really, where?  How would that work?  – though apparently a crocodile farm somewhere got flooded in the rains and a load of crocodiles escaped into lake tonle so hey, some rough justice there!  (Can’t find a reference to it anywhere though, so maybe that’s an urban myth too?)  I kept thinking of the Tiger Temple in Thailand I think, which claimed to protect tigers but was just a big tiger part smuggling operation.  I don’t accuse the monks of this scale of abuse, but I was left thinking where is the cobra our guide mentioned as being resident here, and the crocodile was not in an appropriate enclosure at all.  I know it’s a generalisation, but it does seem that culturally animals are regarded as unsentient objects, chickens tied upside down and hanging post sale; pigs upturned and transported live on the back of a moto; starving dogs roaming; mangy skeletal cats; neglect and abuse is everywhere, it’s to me horrific.   I’m getting tired of the fun poked at me constantly for being vegetarian too, mostly ex-pats to be fair, but really, it’s like people have become desensitised to animal cruelty, and whilst they claim to be ‘only joking’ every meal is an exaggerated celebration of animal cruelty.  Eating pork and saying it’s the pig we’ve just seen suffering on the back of a motorbike isn’t funny to me.  I’m not so naive that I think me not eating pork will make the blindest bit of difference here, but I do question why so few people see any connection between what they consume and how animals are treated.  Ironically, the chickens probably do best, not at the end of life, but at least they are free range and most get the chance to raise chicks – if you ignore the cock-fighting aspect I suppose…  It’s complicated.  Oh well.   Please though, could I eat one meal here without someone making a snide remark about my being vegetarian,  I don’t bang on about your food choices.

So on balance, I thought I’d rather encourage the turtle project than not, so gave a 10000 reil donation, which is just $2.50.  They get $4 admission from each overseas visitor and they get about 5-10 a day, which isn’t much.  We had to sign a book saying our nationality on arrival, so they keep a record.  I might read up more about it.  Maybe it’s too late for the dolphins, but perhaps the turtles still have a chance.  Local people tell the project when they seen hatchlings emerge, and they are brought to the centre to be raised to help them through the first vulnerable 10 months or so.  I couldn’t work out the survival rates at the centre, but they are better than in the wild for that time at least.

We emerged from the temple, me with my depressing thoughts surrounding me.  Time to lube up with sunblock.  I nipped back to use the loo, and was jumped by a trio of small boys sitting on a wall adjacent to the toilet block. They were small, smiling and unthreatening, but were nevertheless demanding money.   ‘Give money‘ they said, miming that they needed to eat – which was clearly errant nonsense, there was nothing pitiful about this group, rather they were opportunists.  I was smiling but assertive saying ‘no‘ adamantly, to which they delightedly responded ‘yes, yes!’ it became a bit of a game, and I didn’t pass any money over.  I asked them why they weren’t at school, but they only had the vocabulary for ‘give money’.  Even so, it did shock me, it was so blatant you wonder if they do get given money from time to time, I really hope not.

So then we hit the road.

Again.

The road was dusty, but on the whole it was a much easier surface than yesterday, and we made reasonable progress in ridiculous heat.  We passed so many temples en route.  There were children screaming hellos, some with increasing desperation.  The light was sharp and strong and sometimes you had no idea where the children’s calls were coming from, but I felt compelled to return the shouts wherever possible.  It seems rude not to.  I got one particularly spectacular high-five from a girl who has been trained in this nearly broke my wrist, respect to her though for getting the idea though, I’ve previously expressed disappointment with the calibre of high five offerings, (technique, not enthusiasm) but this was epic.  We stopped at various view points.

At one point we came upon a monks’ procession, collecting water and drinks as they were hosting some training event – our guide removed his cap as we cycled past.  We also heard more of  giant centipedes.  Our guide explained that he likes to put them in his rice wine because if you drink it after cycling it will stop the stiffness. I asked him if it worked.  ‘of course‘ he said, looking at me like I was mad, why would he do it otherwise being the clear implication.  Silly me.  There was also a convoy of cars each with a loud speaking blaring out something from the front. Turns out they were selling bedding and mattresses, en masse so it seemed.  I suppose in these relatively remote places trade comes to you.

We passed a funeral in progress. Our guide paused, and carefully explained again the significance of the flag hanging outside.  It is very important, if a flag is outside, then it means the body of the deceased either is or is not inside, I just can’t remember.  Oh dear.

After some negotiation, we stopped at the most amazing riverside lunch spot a place where locals hang out to enjoy the river, relax on hammocks and even take a dip.  It was an extraordinary place, a maze of thatched resting areas, projecting out into the water.  There was a swimming point, slightly in from the fast flowing currents.  We could see people repairing some roofs further down, and a man struggled through the heat unloading new sections from his moto and taking them down to the location where they were needed.  Our guides organised a steamed fish lunch, we looked impressive, freshly plucked from the Mekong, I wonder how much longer fish will survive there, nets seem to obstruct the entire waterway in places, I can’t imagine how any get through.  It was beautiful indeed though.

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I lay on my hammock of choice, chewing away at the sugar palm segments that our guide had bought for us from a vendor who handed them across in little plastic bags.  It was delicious.  You basically chew the juice out and then (delicately) spit out the residual fibre, which is a lot like hay, and quite copious in quantity. I ended up with quite a little pile alongside my hammock, like a cat that had spat up a load of fur balls but not thought to secret them behind the sofa.  I was enjoying relaxing until large group of high-spirited men came to shriek, drink and play cards with their mouths and vocal chords operating most effectively right at my ear drum level.  Oh well, it was a bit of local spirit after all.  When you arrive, you have a little ticket issued for your bike or whatever and then if you buy food, as we did, you can choose a hammock of your choice, otherwise you can bring your own food and rent a space.  It was a good set up.  Not somewhere I’d have been comfortable checking out without a local guide to navigate how to interact with it, but having done so, I would again.  Though how I would order anything from a menu written entirely in Khmer I have no idea.

As we approached Kratie, a dog started chasing a guy on a bike laden with shiny cooking pots of all shapes and sizes. The dog was quite persistent, and I was mightily glad not to be in its sights as it would outrun me on a bike for sure. our guide explained that we would be OK ‘if a person eats lots of dog, then they take on the smell of it, and the dog knows, that is why he is chasing it‘.  I assume this to be errant nonsense, but then again, what do I know.  I didn’t get chased and I’ve not eaten dog so perhaps the case is proven after all.  Equally, I am forever being bitten by mosquitoes, and that is the only living creature I will actively kill.  Perhaps they know….

At some point, the shouts shifted to include ‘what’s your name’ or even ‘bye, bye’ which was both impressive and confusing when it was shouted at us as we approached.  We had a few near misses en route when our guide did emergency stops to remove a bottle from the road or other random stuff, but for the most part did alright.  Most cars were OK, we had our minibus trailing in any case. There were a couple of terrifying duel moments though, when a couple of cars simultaneously decided to pass us on roads that were half tarmac and half unsealed roads, sending up clouds of dust as they raced one another to pass us. Scary.

In another area part of the road had disappeared due to a landslide last year causing road to just vanish into the Mekong.  I asked if any houses were lost, apparently not, which is pretty lucky.

At some point, we got a message through saying our hotel changed due to an ’emergency’ I suspect the emergency was that they forgot to book us in.  We were to have instead VIP suites at what turned out to be a non riverside hotel.  We (or more accurately I) nearly got lost in Kratie as our guide sped off.  The hotel externally looks impressive, but is a good kilometer away from the riverside.  Our guide saw us in, and then we had the awkward farewells, I did self-conscious tipping on behalf of the two of us.  $20 to our guide for the whole trip and $5 for the driver, for whom I have a soft spot.  I have not the faintest idea if this tipping was appropriate. I am torn. I find the whole tipping business a total nightmare.  I also resent it quite frankly, this is a blooming expensive trip anyway, and I don’t see why we should have to keep tipping as well.  On the other hand, wages are so low here it seems mean not to, service was good and ultimately they will probalby make better use of the money than I would in relative terms.  I am tired though of endlessly spending.  I felt like I also ought to give money for blackboard paint fo the school, but then I think I’m volunteering for 3 months to support CRDT which is doing work in rural communities so that is a donation in a way, just not one aligned so directly to beneficiaries.  It’s all so complicated.  Angst and ever-present non-specific guilt is a terrible thing.

I had a shower weak trickle of cold water.  First world problems I know.  but i was miffed, it was the smell of smoke.  Urgh.  Then we met up at  6.15 and walked into town to river, and found le tonle restaurant as we knew we’d get a reasonable meal as we did, but it was sooooooooooooooooo slow service wise, I was losing the will to live by time we got our pudding of pancakes.   Also, cocktail made me tipsy and therefore paranoid.  I felt like I was being mocked because of my RP accent, but I can’t help the way I talk.  Also my resistance to getting on a moto was challenged.  No I don’t want to thank you for asking.  Acquisition of an avoidable head injury is not on my to do list for today.

As it happened, the walk back wasn’t  too far.  I was hopeful of a good night’s sleep. I can’t believe this adventure ends tomorrow.  We’ve done so much   Highlights – so many.  Kayaking through sunken forest; sunset bathing in the Mekong at the homestay last night, rhino insects in the forest and that huge unexpected tranche of waterfall with Laos at the far side are but some.  Wow, what a week.  Maybe a smokey bedroom isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things!  Sweet dreams and happy travels.  Make those memories whilst you can.

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