Central Cambodia


Global Mark : 16.00    Top Five : No1

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Market Relax Fiesta 


5 5 3 3 5 2 5 16.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
1 100% 100% 100% 16 16.00

Description : A stretched riverside town in the middle of charming & smiling villages. 

Comments : Considered by some as a transit point on the way to Ratanakiri or Laos, its surroundings' charm certainly justify the round Mekong's trip from Kompong Cham.

What to do ? Walk the nearby villages / Say lot's of "hello-bye-bye-my-name-is-XYZ-fine-thanks-you" / Examine superb Khmer houses / Spot old temples / Become a football or volleyball attraction / Explore Vietnamese & Khmer temples on the opposite island / Visit Buddha temples at Sambo, the first capital of Cambodia (40km north) / See fresh water dolphins (20km north) / Go up and round an hilly pagoda for a superb panorama (13km) / Watch sunset over the Mekong / 

What you may not like ? Your first impressions : a rather developed town full of karaoke parlor / The lack of spotless accommodations / The rather remote attractions / The lack of good bicycles to rent / 

How long ? When does your visa expire ? 

Where to stay ? 

  • Plenty of places offer rooms for R5000 but, as in Kompong Cham, those are usually very basic, dirty, & noisy as badly isolated with wood partitions. Apsara GH, opposite the taxi station (50m north of the market) is slightly better than most in that category as isolated from the karaoke area and with English speaking owner. Their Dbl at R10000 or their bathrooms are however a joke !
  • Santepheap Hotel, opposite the pier / Rooms w. shower & TV $7, w. AC $14 / Rather clean but also rather small & basic means rather expensive. The rooms in the back could however be the most quiet in town...
  • ® Star GH, south-west corner of market on St No10 / Rooms w. shower $2 small, $3 bigger, $4 brighter, $5 w. satellite TV, one huge room with balcony overlooking the market $5 / Bike to rent $2 per day / Go there for the cheapest acceptable rooms, to share the life and maybe meals of the hospitable family and to get info on the surrounding attractions / What you may not like : the noise from the street or the badly isolated rooms, the lack of freshness, the not always reliable info
  • ® Phnom Meas GH, east of the above / Acceptable rooms $4 easily down to $3 / At the discount price, it is a good option to the above as maybe slightly quieter (there is also a karaoke opposite)
  • Heng Heng Hotel (072 971405), St No10 near the river / Rooms w. shower & TV $6, w. AC $12 / Go there for the cheapest comfortable hotel rooms / What you may not like : the lack of freshness & the noise.
  • ® Vimean Sok GH, north-east of the market, St No8, opposite the Red Cross / Room w. shower $4 easily down to $3 / Go there for the correct small rooms in a more relaxed area. 

Where to eat ? If craving for fried millipede (with egg, R2000), head to the small restaurant with the red Angkor Beer sign on St 9 and ask them to catch some for you for the next day (if really craving, catch them yourself). For cheap dinner, a restaurant opposite Phnom Meas GH offer "market style" dishes. Come early as most of the dishes are gone by 7pm. The food stalls on the market offer the same dishes at the same prices but without tables nor seat not karaoke TV ! You may hear from Star GH that Apsara Restaurant offer a all-you-want-to-eat special dinner offer for R3500 but this unfortunately isn't true yet. They however have a menu with decent prices written on it.

Walking around ?
Local people are always surprised to see a foreigner walking ("why did you not take a motorbike ?") but, with all those beautiful Khmer houses and lovely villages around, this is the only method to really enjoy & communicate with the friendly people. Even a bicycle would be too fast...

Half a day tour : 
After checking the small market, you could make a 30mn round trip passing the most beautiful Khmer houses : walk north on the road between the temple & taxi station until the intersection then head back along the river. Alternatively, continue a bit north and explore the small village.
Back in town, walk south for 30mn toward Wat Ratakandal. The new temple is as kitsch as usual but the old structure nearby is very charming. Of course, the road is also spotted with charming houses and waving kids. Come back via the river side road. You will pass the sunset viewpoint. 

One day tour :
Most of the attractions are however in the North and require a good full day out. If you wish to see Sambor (40km), you will have no choice but to get a motorbike. On your way, ask to stop at the dolphins (20km) as the best watching time is the morning. On your way back, stop there again and then get rid of your driver ! It is indeed a very enjoyable walk back...
Walking back from the dolphin area would require 3 hours of pure walking. But as the villages are worth a more leisurable pace and your efforts a few breaks, count on about 5 hours. Sambok Mountain & Hill Pagoda are a bit before halfway (1 hour pure walking, sculpted gate with women on crocodiles on the left) and worth the stairs climb for the good panorama. 
The tour to Sambor on motorbike was advertised by Star GH at $7 return. You can probably get it for $5 with an outside driver. From the dolphin area, I was asked R3000 for the trip back to Kratie. At the pier, drivers usually ask $5, rapidly down to $3 for the return trip. Bargain !

Spotting dolphins ? 
Believe it or not but you are likely to be able to spot the fresh water mammals any time of the year. For proof : I reached the area at 3pm when a storm was approaching and I saw three fins in less than 5 minutes...
There is a best time (early morning) and a best season (summer) but again, the animals look quite flexible with those schedules. In the morning, it should be possible to rent a small boat for around $1 from a bit south of the viewing platform (the latest has a clear sign impossible to miss). In case of doubt, ask Star GH : they claim to know where to find the dolphins when everyone else is looking for them...

Backpacker's Tips : Anonymous (Oct 01)
« There is now a US$5 charge to try to spot the dolphins !  At this price, it may not be worth bothering...» 


 << Discover the Khmer houses of Kratie

Leaving Kratie ?

To Stung Treng : Daily slow boat at 7am, R30000, 9 hours / Pick-up do the trip in around 6 hours and the road safety has improved. Still, ask around for the latest. / Quite a few hotels there.

To Kompong Cham : Slow boat at 4am & 5am for R10000, at 6am for R15000, 5 hours / Express boat at 6, 7 (Phnom Penh), 10:30, 11:30 & 13, R20000, 2 hours

To Phnom Penh : Express boat at 7am, R25000, 5 hours

Crossing borders ?

To Laos : the border is now officially open but there is still a need to bribe the guards. It was US$10 when it was closed. It is now around US$20-30... Bargain ! For more details, check How to go. From Stung Treng, you need to take a boat to the border. The announced time is 4 hours but it sometimes takes much longer. You need to reach the border before it closes at 5pm. The boat should cost US$5. Of course, you need a proper Lao visa or you won't go really far... (updated Oct 01)

To Vietnam : none of the two borders of Ratanakiri & Snuol are open nor are they expected to open soon but a $5 bribe apparently may make wonders if you have a proper Vietnam visa (no longer necessary to stipulate your entry point). This being said, there is a worry-free official border crossing from Phnom Penh...

Backpacker's Tips : Dylan, GB (May 06)
« Visa for Cambodia is availible for $20 at this border. Also few "tips" required (although may have been that 'boss' was visiting the office...) » 

Backpacker's Tips :  K, Australia (Sept 05)
« It's easy to cross from Stung Treng (Northern Cambodia) to Southern Laos. We travelled at the end of the dry season (May 05) so had to leave from Stung Treng, in the wet it is possible from as low as Kratie. To get a boat ticket - bargain hard, we had 5 people on the longtail and paid US$5 each. We all had arrived the night before and bought our tickets from Mr T - restaurant/guesthouse on river. We had talked to various different touts but he was the most honest, cheapest and nicest.The next morning we left at 0730hrs, it took 1 1/2 hours to the Cambodian border. As the river level was so low it was very scarey travelling at 50-60kph over rocks and rapids. It would be safer at other times of the year. A word of warning - avoid the back seat - the car engine is very noisy! Beautiful scenery. At the Cambodian border the guard took very little convincing to decrease his fee to stamp our passports from US$5 to $1 each. You then have to cross the river to Laos, Our boat driver refused to take us across without more money, managed to get him going without more money by producing our tickets which said Stung Treng to Laos - hold onto your tickets!

At the Laos riverbank you have to travel a short distance to the border post. There are moto riders who insist that you have to go with them - it's probably walkable distance (0.5-1km) but we ended up going with them for US0.5pp . At the border post the border guards were bargained down to $1 payment per person for stamping our passports. There is then a large parking lot which was empty but for a private bus (they wouldn't let us on) and a saungthauw. We managed to bargain the saungthauw driver down to US$2 per person to take us to the Don Dhet ferry landing. However there were some among us who were unhappy with paying that so were waited over an hour. In that time no other vehicles arrived. We eventually went with the saungthauw. It took 20-30 minutes. Caught the boat to Don Dhet (US$1), 10 minute ride, then had a wonderful relaxing time on Don Dhet - a stark contrast after Cambodia (which we also loved!)

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
« Stung Treng: Sen Pen Chet GH dbl br cw clean 3 $ good value. Many people arrive at noon and continue to Kratie with taxi or chartered minibus. The road is disastrous, better stay one night and take the early morning express boat to Kratie (8$) or Kompong Cham (15 $). Due to water festival we had to charter a taxi anyway. Sitting with four persons on the backseat is ok, sitting with two persons on the front seat cannot be recommended. Back of a pickup should be even worse. Best place to eat is Dara Restaurant opposite to pier friendly owner can give information about Rattankiri too.
Taxi to Kratie (40 $ for six persons) 3.5 h horrible road but new road from Kratie to Lao border is under construction, expected to be finished 2006
Kratie: Heng Oudom Hotel (new) dbl br cw tv very clean 3 $ excellent value, directly opposite to Star GH where majority of travellers stay. "Big" ac-bus to phnom penh 5 $ 6h excellent road. Cheapest way to PP alternatively take boat to Kompong Cham and pickup to PP (8.5 $ 6h) »

Backpacker's Tips : Spunky, Dutch (April 03)
« We crossed (march 2003) the border between Laos and Cambodia without any problem. The only thing was that it cost some money. To leave Laos we paid 3 dollar each, to enter Cambodia they asked again 3 dollar each. We just said that we had only one 5 dollar bill left and they accepted immediately. So I guess when you say you´ve got only 1 dollar to give, they will accept that too. Then we had to take a boat down to Stung Treng. This was pretty expensive. They asked 20 dollar each for the slow boat. We couldn't get the price lower than 25 dollars for the both of us and then not for the slow boat but for the speed boat (which was maybe not the safest but just a great experience!).
In Stung Treng we had to stay overnight. We stayed in Sekong Hotel. They have rooms for 3, 5 and 7 dollars. We took the 3 dollar room but  changed later to the 5 dollar room since we saw a rat in the first room! The more expensive rooms were really good and clean and some even have TV. A boy working in the hotel with the nickname James Bond, can arrange any transportation you like to elsewhere in Cambodia. Of course they earn money this way but, everybody has got to make a living or not? He was very friendly and funny so we gave him the job.

Backpacker's Tips : Chris, Switzerland (Jan 2001)
« What to do ? About 30 km north of Kratie there is a village of the hill tribe "Srechlik". They hunt with crossbow and arrows, grow rice and make their own wine. For transportation, they have big elephants (although I did not see them myself as they were at work). It is a great experience to visit them and see how they live. As a gift, it is best to bring bread, eggs, or even a living chicken. We even got invited to have lunch with them. The oldest son of the Star Guest House talks a bit of their language.
Where to stay ? Star GH / If you take a room to the back side of the building, there is no noise from the street / The information I got was always correct and reliable / Extremely hospitable family!
Leaving Kratie ? To Stung Treng : the road to Stung Treng is now safe. It is under strict control of the army. The drivers do pay them as the salary from the government is not very high and does not always make its way up to them. This keeps them away from banditry. / To Phnom Penh : the express boat is 30000R now.

Backpacker's Tips : Jackie Boyer, UK (March 01)
« About the trip to Schrelik. The oldest son of the Star guest house will leave for university soon. Also the villagers way of life is being ruined by the tourist there. They used to barter for what they needed and now they are starting to use money. The went to fetch the elephant for us even though we didn't ask them to, and wanted us to pay $10 to see and photograph it. » 

The trip back to Kompong Cham : SSSS / All around / R10000 / 5 hrs / Roof of a slow boat
Waking up at 3:15, I decided to take the 4am boat and finish my night on it. The pier was desert at that time but a girl indicated me the boat. - "Is this the one leaving at 4am ?" I took the lack of answer for a yes. Anyway, this was the only boat with some activity.
I went straight on the roof to lay down and get more sleep. I was awaken at 4am by the noise of an engine. 50 meter south of the pier, a slow boat was leaving. I jumped off the roof and caught the captain "What time is this boat leaving ?" - "5am" - "Do you really think I came so early to look at the moon ?" His poor English limited the conversation but the tone of my voice was, I suppose, clear enough.
And so we left at 5am, when the first lights appeared between the clouds. For the only time I had waken up so early, the sunrise was a bit weak. But I was on a boat cruising the Mekong and this added a lot to the experience. 
I slept a lot so I can not tell too much about the eventual change of sceneries along the way. We basically stopped at the same place where the same girls were selling the same snacks. The 6am express boat reached us at 7am which demonstrated that it was twice as fast. Or, more exactly, that it did not stop so much to pick up passengers.
I had the feeling that the boat was slower as the engine noise was slightly less annoying. But we were going downstream and therefore reached destination within the scheduled 5 hours.

See also the trip from Kompong Cham