Cambodia

Mekong Provinces

Kompong Cham, Kratie and Stung Treng make up the Mekong Provinces. Despite the Mekong River, its waterway and perpetual irrigation, these provinces are surprisingly economically unimportant and laid back. But with the new Chinese-built road now open and fully functioning - its easily one of the best in the country - the Northeast's provincial charms may soon be eradicated.

Kompong Cham and around

Kompong Cham is the fourth largest town in Cambodia and is a town of some commercial prosperity owing to its thriving river port and also, it is said, as a result of preferential treatment received from local boy made good, the Prime Minister, Hun Sen. Town and province have a combined population of more than 1.5 million people.

There is nothing in or around Kompong Cham to detain the visitor for long, most merely pass through, en route for Stung Treng and the northeast, but it is a pleasant enough town to rest awhile.

The small town of
Chhlong
, between Kompong Cham and Kratie, is one of Cambodia's best-kept secrets. The small town, nestled on the banks of the Mekong, 41 km from Kratie and 82 km from Kompong Cham, is one of the few places that survived the Khmer Rouge's ransacking and contains a multitude of French colonial buildings and traditional wooden Khmer houses. Of particular interest are the foundations of 120 antique houses and a 19th-century wooden Khmer house supported by 100 columns. Formerly a base for workers to surrounding rubber plantations, it is easy to feel nostalgic for a bygone era in Chhlong, with its wats and monasteries, an old school and charming market set in a colonial-style building. It takes four hours to get there get there by minibus.

Kratie

Kratie (pronounced 'Kratcheay') is a port town on the Mekong roughly half way between Phnom Penh and Laos. It is a delightful place with a relaxed atmosphere and some good examples of shophouse architecture. In the dry season the deep blue Mekong peels back to reveal sandy beaches like those you might find at the Thai seaside. Sunset is a real highlight in Kratie, as the burning red sun descends slowly below the shore line.

Koh Trong Island
, directly opposite Kratie town, has a lovely 8-km stretch of sandy dunes (in the dry season) where you can swim and relax. Aside from the beach, the island consists of small market farms and a simple, laid-back rural life - highly recommended for those who want to chill out. On the south side is a small Vietnamese floating village.

Kratie's main claim to some modicum of fame are the
Irrawaddy dolphins
that inhabit this portion of the Mekong (Kampi pool), 15 km north of the town on the road to Stung Treng. The best time to glimpse these rare and timid creatures is at sunrise or sunset when they are feeding.

Kampi Rapids
, provides a refreshing and picturesque area to take a dip in the clear Mekong waters (during the dry season). A bridge leads down to a series of scenic thatched huts which provide shelter for the swimmers.

Twenty one kilometres further north of the Kampi pool is
Sambor
, a pre-Angkorian settlement, but today unfortunately not a single trace of this ancient heritage exists. The highpoint of a trip to Sambor is more in the getting there, as you pass through beautiful countryside, than in the temples themselves. Replacing the ancient ruins are two temples. The first and most impressive is the 100-column pagoda, rumoured to be the largest new pagoda in the country. It is a replica of the 100-
column, wooden original, which was built in 1529. During the war, Pol Pot based himself out of the complex, killing hundreds of people and destroying the old pagoda.
The new one was built in 1985 (perhaps the builders were slightly overzealous - it features 116 columns). Some 300 m behind the gigantic pagoda sits a much smaller and arguably more interesting temple. The wat still contains many of its original features including a number of wooden pylons that date back 537 years.

Stung Treng

Yet another eponymous provincial capital on the Mekong, Stung Treng is just 40 km from Laos and a stopping off place on the overland route to Ratanakiri. The town has a frontier feel to it though it is now set to lose its wild and remote feel due to the building of the mammoth Chinese road and a striking bridge that has created good links to Laos. Pigs, cows and the odd ox-cart still wander through the town's busy streets but there isn't a lot for tourists around Stung Treng. Some tour guides will organize a boat run to the Laos border to see riverine life and some waterfalls but you will need a Laos visa in order to do this.
Lbak Khone
, the 26 km rocky area that the Mekong rapids flow through en route to the Laos border, is one of the country's most stunning areas. Many tour operators will offer land transport to this area (as only the very, very brave would try by boat).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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