Thursday 28th December
Miles: 20 Climbing: 217ft
Last nigh I reached Kratie, the closest village to the best dolphin watch spot. I’m very glad that I didn’t get here for Christmas, it’s no where near as nice Don Det. In fact, I spent part of the evening watching a very strange man prowl around the area outside my hostel. The locals appeared to know him and mostly ignored him until he did something very out of order. He was wearing trousers that didn’t fit and he had them unzipped and sitting so low that EVERYTHING was on show. And he wasn’t wearing any underwear. He stole anything he could get away with. He even came over to my side of the street at one point and took food right from my plate. It was both fascinating and horrifying to watch.
I didn’t really want to spend any more time than I needed to in Kratie so I had to find the Irrawaddy Dolphin today. I checked my map and discovered that there was a temple on the way there that was also a bit of a natural monkey sanctuary so decided to stop there along the way.
After cycling to the temple I locked my bike outside and climbed the many steps up to the top of the hill to the temple. There were paths leading off in every direction so I spent a long time exploring them, mostly alone as there was no other tourists there. There were lots of ornate statues everywhere and a lot of young monks praying. But I was disappointed to find no monkeys anywhere.
I was just about to give up and leave when I heard screaming coming from behind me. I looked across the courtyard to see a family running up the steps, screaming like they were about to die. As I approached I noticed that two of them were wielding large planks of wood above their head as if they were about to hit something. They calmed down when they got to the courtyard and stopped to catch their breath. I asked if they were OK, to which they just pointed down the stairs and said Monkeys before speaking amongst themselves in French.
At last, I had found the monkeys. Leaving the strange French tourists to catch their breath I started down the steps only to get stopped my the young boy from the family. He tried to hand me the plank of wood he had been holding and said I would need it. I politely declined and carried on towards the monkeys. I spent a good 5 minutes with the monkeys, they were acting like I wasn’t even there, until the French family decided to come back. I don’t know what those guys did the first time around but those monkeys were not happy. They were screeching and jumping around, all directed at the family.
I decided it was time to leave.
Next stop was just down the road where I had hear I could hire a boat to go and look for the Irrawaddy River Dolphin. For the equivalent of about £3 I hired my own boat and got someone to watch my bike.
We headed out to the middle of the Mekong where we sat and waited. The skipper of my boat could not speak any English so it was a very quiet trip to begin with. Soon we both heard the familiar sound of a dolphin breathing out as it surface and headed in the direction of the sound. Before long we were seeing them surface regularly. It was very difficult to predict where they would next surface so I only managed to get a few poor quality photos.
This was supposed to be the highlight of my trip, and it was, but for a very different reason that I had thought. Back home, I work on a boat doing dolphin watching trips on the west coast of Scotland. I really wanted to explain this to my skipper, that we do the same job. I found some photos on my phone to demonstrate. Photos of me on my boat and of dolphins next to my boat. And of course I pointed at him and them to myself and used the one English phrase everyone there knows, same same.
He appeared to understand and the next hour was one of the best of my trip. Using only a few sounds and gestures we had the most amazing conversation about dolphins. We talked about the different shapes of the two types of dolphins we work with, we taught each other the local names for them, talked about the fact the the Irrawaddy don’t breach but the Bottlenose does as well as the size difference. I was amazed at how well we could communicate because we had something in common that we both understood so well.
I was quite sad to leave him and head back to Kratie for the night.