How to See Irrawaddy Dolphins in Kratié, Cambodia
Irrawaddy dolphins are endangered freshwater dolphins that can be found in South and Southeast Asia. In the Mekong River, spanning Cambodia and Laos, there’s only about 92 Irrawaddy dolphins left.
Irrawaddy dolphins are protected in Kratié. But knowing there aren’t many left, I was so happy that I got to see them. The best way to spot them is when they come up for air. You can hear them exhale through their blowhole while their bodies rise a bit out of the water. They’re playful and adorable, with rounded foreheads that remind you of a beluga.
There are two ways to see the dolphins. You can either join a kayak tour or take a boat from Kampi.
Join a dolphin kayaking tour
There are two companies that you can take a kayaking tour with in Kratié: Dolphin Kayaking Adventures and Sorya Kayaking. They provide transportation to the launch point and back to Kratié, dry bags, water and snacks, and life jackets. Sorya Kayaking also provides breakfast.
Pricing includes the entrance fee to the dolphin-viewing area and is based on the amount of people that sign up. For solo travelers, it can be a bit difficult because sometimes the trips fill up quickly and other times, there won’t be any sign-ups. So if you’re traveling alone and set on kayaking, I recommend contacting both companies as soon as you arrive. Also, staying for at least two full days gives you a few chances of there being other people to share the cost with.
I took a morning half-day tour with Dolphin Kayaking Adventures, and it was a wonderful experience. It’s a one-man show run by Lucky, who is a local tour guide. I didn’t know what to expect, so we did a lot more kayaking than I thought. We kayaked down the Mekong River and stopped for a snack break at the flooded forest, where large trees are growing out of the water. The area is beautiful, with gold-flecked sand and huge trees with twisting roots. You can wade around or go for a swim.
Then, Lucky took us to the area where the dolphins are. Since they’re endangered, I expected to wait around before seeing one. But as soon as we pulled up, a dolphin came rising out of the water. We spotted around five or six dolphins, and I was surprised at how quickly and frequently we saw them.
We finished the trip by kayaking to the point where the motorized boats depart from. In total, expect to kayak about 12 km.
Take a boat
To reach the boat, you’ll need to rent a motorbike or take a tuk tuk to Kampi, which is about 17 km north of Kratié. The drive is straightforward since there’s only one main road, but it is bumpy and dusty. Once you get to the launch point, you’ll see a booth with the prices listed. As of December 2022, it costs $10 USD per person for a group of one to two adults. For a group of three or more, it’s $8 USD per person.
You’ll then walk down a long set of stairs to the yellow longtail boats and spend 60 minutes out on the river spotting dolphins. I was expecting to wait a long time before seeing my first dolphin, but I saw them as soon as we got to the area. So 60 minutes should be plenty of time for dolphin watching.