My guide to Kratie town in northern Cambodia will inspire you to visit this lesser-known part of the country. Here, you’ll find instructions for getting from Phnom Penh to Kratie, hotel recommendations, and all the best things to do in Kratie, including how to see the famous Irrawaddy dolphins.
It’s no secret that I have a big soft spot for rural Cambodia – especially the northern part of the country that stretches along the Mekong river.
Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang and Kampot are among my favourite places I visited when I lived in Phnom Penh for a year. When my dad came to visit us and we took a trip together to Kratie in northern Cambodia, it also won a place in my heart.
Kratie is roughly four hours by car from Phnom Penh via National Road 7. As you wind deeper and deeper into the ‘real’ Cambodia – the Cambodia of rice fields, lotus farms and sleepy wooden villages – the chaos of the capital just melts away.
Kratie is a great place to stop and unwind. I recommend staying at least two nights to make the long road journey worth it (you can find detailed information about getting to and from Kratie in the next section).
There aren’t many things to in Kratie, but that’s part of the appeal. Hire a boat and go searching for elusive Irrawaddy dolphins, cycle on Koh Trong island, take a peek at a few local pagodas, then grab a few beers and watch one of the most epic Mekong sunsets in the region. This is what travelling in rural Cambodia is all about!
This comprehensive Kratie guide considers Krong Kratie (Kratie city) and Koh Trong island, as well as the nearby towns of Chhlong and Kampi in Kratie Province, plus Sambor District to the north.
In This Post
- Where is Kratie?
- What is Kratie known for?
- Is Kratie worth visiting?
- How to get from Phnom Penh to Kratie
- Where to stay in Kratie
- Things to do in Kratie & surrounds
- Where to eat & drink in Kratie
- Cambodia essentials
- 5 things to pack for Kratie
- More Cambodia travel resources
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Where is Kratie?
Kratie is located on the banks of the Mekong river 240km north of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. The nearest ‘big’ city, Kampong Cham, is 130km down-river, while Stung Treng (the gateway to Ratanakiri) is about 140km further north.
The Laos-Cambodia border lies 200km (about 3 hours’ drive) north.
Because of it’s location, Kratie is ideally situated as a stop-over between Phnom Penh and Mondulkiri/Ratanakiri or Don Det and the 4,000 Islands in Laos.
Kratie town is the administrative centre of Kratie Province. Whenever I mention ‘Kratie’ in this guide, I’m usually referring to the town, not the province. On Google Maps and elsewhere, you’ll often see it written phonetically as ‘Kracheh’.
What is Kratie known for?
Most people associate Kratie with Irrawaddy dolphins or Mekong Dolphins – a critically endangered marine species that lives in the turgid river waters. The area is home to a few small pods of dolphins, which you can view by boarding a boat in Kampi, about 15km north of Kratie town.
Apart from wildlife, there are some incredible pagodas in and around Kratie (including the biggest wat in Cambodia). Water activities and cycling are also on offer.
Is Kratie worth visiting?
Kratie is a small, quiet town that’s typical of rural Cambodia. The centre consists of a handful of hotels and restaurants, all perched over the Mekong.
As an advocate of off-season travel and venturing beyond the beaten path, I quite often recommend Kratie to other travellers (hence why I wrote this guide!). I personally love it – but at the same time, I understand that it’s not for everyone.
If you like nature, eco-tourism and wildlife, you should definitely consider spending a few days in Kratie. Similarly, if temples, markets and small towns are your thing, Kratie deserves a place on your itinerary (especially if you combine your visit with a stop in Kampong Cham, by far my favourite place in Cambodia).
The biggest factor when deciding whether or not to visit is travel time. It takes minimum 4 hours to get from Phnom Penh to Kratie by taxi – significantly more if you’re travelling by bus. If you only have a short amount of time in Cambodia, you might be reluctant to spend that long on the road, particularly if you’re not travelling further north afterwards.
How to get from Phnom Penh to Kratie
It’s possible to travel from Phnom Penh to Kratie by bus, minivan or private car. If you want to go from Siem Reap to Kratie, you can by-pass the capital by changing buses in Kampong Thom or Kampong Cham instead.
Coming from anywhere else, it’s best to go through Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh to Kratie by bus or minivan
Four local bus companies service the route from Phnom Penh to Kratie: Virak Buntham, Thang Vang, Sorya and Heng Sokkhoeun Express. Heng Sokkhoeun Express and Thang Vang will get you to Kratie the fastest (in 5-6 hours) via minivan. The first van leaves Phnom Penh at 4.30am (Thang Vang) and the last departs at 7.30pm (Heng Sokkhoeun Express).
As with all bus travel in Cambodia, I highly, highly recommend travelling in daylight hours and staying off the roads at night.
Tickets cost 10 USD, and both buses leave from the corner of Street 134 and Street 139, about 1km west of Phnom Penh’s Central Market. Tickets can be purchase at the office or online in advance.
Sorya bus is the best coach option. It’s slightly cheaper (9 USD per person) but it takes longer (approximately 7 hours travel time).
There two Sorya buses daily from Phnom Penh, leaving at 7am and 9.30am from the Sorya stop at the south-western corner of the Central Market. Again, tickets can be bought at the office or online in advance using the link above.
Note: There was a Cambodia Post VIP Van running from Phnom Penh to Kratie, but it has now ceased operation.
Phnom Penh to Kratie by taxi
The road between Phnom Penh and Kratie is not the best, so private car is my preferred method of transportation.
When we visited Kratie, we hired a driver and car for the entire weekend. On the first day, our driver took us from our accommodation in Phnom Penh to our hotel in Kratie. The next morning, he drove us to Sambor before taking us back home.
Stopping off in Kratie on your way from Cambodia to Laos (or vice versa)
Kratie is a mere 3-hour drive from the Cambodia-Laos border. If you’re travelling overland between the two countries, it’s ideally situated for a stop over.
There are no vans or buses that travel over the border and terminate in Kratie, so you’ll need to be a bit creative in organising your transport. Travelling south, the easiest course is to take a bus from Don Det to the border, cross by foot, then have a driver meet you on the Cambodia side to take you to Kratie. This recent trip report might come in handy if you’re planning to cross the Laos-Cambodia border DIY.
Don’t forget that you’ll likely need a tourist visa if you’re entering Cambodia or Laos overland. Use iVisa to check your requirements and organise an expedited visa online.
Where to stay in Kratie
Accommodation options in Kratie town are fairly basic. That is unless you want to spring for a more luxurious stay on Koh Trong island or a suite down the road at Le Relais de Chhlong (more on that historic colonial property later).
Here are the most reputable hotels in Kratie with the best guest reviews.
Budget accommodation in Kratie
Pomelo Homestay (from 17 USD) is perfect for an authentic experience. Located on Koh Trong island, the host Vireak loves to help guests explore the area and even lets you get involved in cooking Khmer food.
If you’re looking for a hotel, Balcony Guesthouse and Restaurant (from 8 USD), located on the riverfront, offers great views and a convenient location. You’ll need to pay a bit extra if you want a river view from your room.
Mid-range accommodation in Kratie
Mombrocheabrey Hotel offers more stylish and comfortable rooms from 20 USD. Set back from the riverfront, there are top floor rooms with Mekong views.
Luxury accommodation in Kratie
Rajabori Villas Resort offers up-market accommodation in a beautifully decorated, traditional Khmer wooden house. Rooms start from 65 USD. Located on Koh Trong island, the property features lush gardens and a huge pool.
Things to do in Kratie & surrounds
Here is my list of the top things to do in and around Kratie town. Since everything is quite spread out, it’s ideal to have your own car and driver, or rent a tuk tuk for the day.
Note that Pass App doesn’t service Kratie (yet), but tuk tuks can easily be organised through your accommodation or just by finding a driver on the street.
Mekong river cruise & Kratie dolphin watching
Taking a cruise to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins is a must-do in Kratie. When planning your trip, you should organise your transportation and accommodation around the dolphins. You have a higher chance of seeing them in the early afternoon, so if you only have one night intown, make sure you arrive in time.
You can see these peculiar-looking river dolphins by traveling about 15km north of Kratie town and jumping on a long-boat at Kampi. It’s a well-oiled operation, with a ticket booth and flat price charged per person.
Although sightings can’t be guaranteed, you’re likely to spot a pod with help from one of the observant skippers. When we visited, we sat for about an hour watching a pod of 6 dolphins. They only surface for a very brief moment, so the biggest challenge is to try and get a photo!
There are only a few hundred freshwater dolphins left in the wild, with the waters around Kratie holding the biggest population (you can also find them in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy river). Under Pol Pot’s regime, the dolphins were slaughtered and used for oil, which decimated their numbers. Today, fishing nets and pollution are the biggest threats.
They’re incredibly elusive and under-studied; at best estimate, there are only about 110 living in the Mekong. On the plus side, this is a huge increase on the 80 dolphins counted in 2015. Reports of newborn calf sightings are always popping up in the news – a very encouraging sign indeed.
Koh Trong island
Even if you’re not staying on this eco-tourism island (well, it’s actually a giant sandbar!), you can still visit for the day.
To get to Koh Trong, head to the pier in front of Jasmine Boat Restaurant in downtown Kratie and catch the 0.25 USD ferry for a quick 5-minute ride to the island.
Once you arrive, head straight to one of the vendors near the dock to hire a bicycle for 2 USD. It’s only 14km around the entire island, so it’s easy to manage in a morning or afternoon. As you cycle around, you can see pagodas, a floating Vietnamese village, rice paddies, and other hallmarks of rural Cambodia. There are a couple of homestays and resorts where you can stop for a bite to eat.
Ferries only run between 6am and 6pm. If you miss the last boat, you can always charter a skipper to take you back for around 15 USD.
Krong Kracheh Pagoda
Located in the centre of town just back from the waterfront, Krong Kracheh Pagoda is hard to miss. This glittering Buddhist pagoda is done up in gold and pink, and looks particularly pretty at golden hour.
If the doors are unlocked and there’s no ceremony underway, poke your head inside and take a look around (remember to cover your shoulders and kick off your shoes first).
Kratie Central Market
At Kratie’s Central Market, you can find plentiful quantities of freshly caught seafood and baskets of vibrant fruit and vegetables. I could be wrong, but this is the only place in Cambodia where I’ve seen betel leaf for sale!
It’s best to visit the market in the early morning when everyone is out doing their shopping. It’s a photographer’s paradise.
Kralan, Kratie’s local delicacy
If a trusted friend hadn’t introduced me to kralan, I never would have worked up the courage to try it! I’m glad I did though – it’s one of my favourite Cambodian snacks.
Every province in Cambodia is known for one or two specialty foods, and in Kratie, it’s kralan – a savoury treat made from sticky rice and red bean. As you can see in the picture above, it’s steamed and served in bamboo stems, which are sealed at either end with a tuft of bamboo shavings.
To eat it, you peel back the bamboo (like a banana peel) and start chomping on the firm-but-sticky treat from the top down.
You can find it at the market, at stalls around the pagoda, and being sold along the highway in and out of Kratie. You don’t have to buy a whole bundle – you can just buy one stick, which is plenty big enough for a quick snack!
100 Pillar Pagoda (Wat Sor Sor Mouy Roy)
Painted pristine white and decorated with Buddhist flags, the 100 Pillar Pagoda (also known as 100 Columns Pagoda) is one of the most beautiful temples in Cambodia. It’s also one of the largest.
In the 8th century, it was a Royal Palace, not a Buddhist monastery, that sat on this site. According to a rather convoluted legend, the first temple was built here to house the remains of the king’s daughter, who fell victim to a crocodile’s jaws in the river nearby. The 100 pillars were erected for her entourage, who were buried with her. The temple you see today was renovated in 1998 and actually has 116 columns – but hey, who’s counting.
While the outside is impressive, I loved the interior even more. Vibrant frescoes painted from floor to ceiling depict different Buddhist mythologies and will have you craning your neck for a photo.
The Pagoda is in use and frequently visited by locals, so be respectful during your visit (i.e. cover your shoulders, take off your shoes, and leave a small contribution in the donation box on your way out).
100 Pillar Pagoda is located in Sambor District, about 35km north of Kratie town along National Road 7.
Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre
Kratie’s other, even lesser-known animal emblem, Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, also calls the northern reaches of the Mekong home. The Mekong Turtle Conservation Center (MTCC), located on the grounds of the 100 Pillar Pagoda, does important work protecting this endangered species and educating local residents about habitat protection.
Hatchlings of various ages are raised at the centre, which is also home to a few larger turtles that have been rescued. Like the dolphins, they are notoriously shy. The bigger turtles rarely emerge from the mud and sand where they burry themselves as a protection mechanism.
Entry to the centre costs (2-4 USD), with all proceeds going to the NGO. MTCC also offers a tour package that includes an overnight homestay and early morning visit to see the turtle nests on Koh Trong. Contact them through Facebook for more information.
Fun side note: When we lived in Cambodia, Ross spent some time volunteering for MTCC through Conservation International!
Located about 10km north of Kratie town, Phnom Sombok is perched high on a hillock. To visit the main temple, you need to make your way up 300 stairs – an impressive line of monk statues standing in a single file, forming a guard of honour, as you go. As a reward for the climb you’ll get a fantastic view from the top.
Phnom Sombok is a good place to stop and stretch your legs on the way back into Kratie town after visiting 100 Pillar Pagoda. You can attempt the long climb to the top – or just admire the forest statues from the base of the stairs.
Wat Roka Kandal
This recently restored wat with beautiful stencilled interior pillars and an ornate timber roof is located about 3km south of Kratie town. Simple in design and less dramatic than the 100 Pillar Pagoda, it’s one of the oldest in Cambodia.
There is also a small traditional arts exhibition on show inside, and an opportunity to pick up a souvenir.
Lotus farms fringe the edges of National Road 7 and are visible from the highway as you’re headed in (or out) of Kratie. Ask your driver to pull off for a quick photo – but you’ll need to visit in the morning if you want to capture the blanket of pink and white flowers as they fold their delicate petals up during the heat of the day.
Sunset on the Mekong
The sunset in Kratie is absolutely stunning. Grab a drink at one of the restaurants or bars on the riverfront and take it all in.
Le Relais de Chhlong
Located about 35km (or a 45-minute drive) south of Kratie, Le Relais de Chhlong is a gorgeous boutique hotel set inside a French colonial building. Dating back to 1916, it originally served as a Customs House.
If you’re tempted to stay one more night in northern Cambodia and squeeze in another of those beautiful sunsets, Chhlong is a good place to break up the journey back to Phnom Penh. If not, you can always stop off for a photo and a wander around the historic property.
Where to eat & drink in Kratie
If you’re feeling hungry after visiting Kratie Central Market, Tokae Restaurant is a conveniently located on the market’s south-west corner. The striking wall mural will lure you in! The menu features a variety of Khmer and western dishes, including vegetarian options, and the kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Note that the Tokae rooftop bar and cooking school has unfortunately closed down.) More information & reviews here.
Le Tonle Training Restaurant
My favourite restaurant in Kratie, Le Tonle provides you with an opportunity to feast on some great food while giving back to the community. The social enterprise provides students with on-the-job training at the restaurant and adjoining guesthouse.
Food here is fresh, well-prepared and beautifully presented (especially the fish). More information and reviews here.
Sorya Café is located on the riverside and is a great place for sunset views. Most people come here for the pizza and to take advantage of the rooftop bar. It’s run by Sorya Kayak Adventures, who offer half day tours on the Mekong and an opportunity to see the Irrawaddy dolphins. More information and reviews here.
Related: My top 20 cafes in Phnom Penh.
For some local grub in a more traditional atmosphere, try Mlub Putrea, just north of the Central Market. Prices are great, there’s an English menu, and the home-made noodles are raved about. The friendly owner will make you feel very welcome. More information and reviews here.
Planning a trip to Cambodia? Here are some of the resources and tools I personally use to organise my travel plans in the Kingdom.
– Find affordable flights to Cambodia on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Cambodia and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Pre-book your hotel transfer from Phnom Penh Airport or Siem Reap Airport.
– Find the best hotel deals in Cambodia on Agoda, book a Cambodia hostel, or find a unique Airbnb (sign up here and get $55 AUD off your first Airbnb booking).
– Buy your Cambodia bus tickets online in advance through 12GoAsia or organise a private car and driver through BookMeBus.
– Download Pass App to book tuk-tuks and taxis on the go.
– Find the best cooking classes and foodie experiences in Cambodia.
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Cambodia.
– Try an alternative tour or DIY experience with social enterprise Backstreet Academy.
– Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Cambodia.
5 things to pack for Kratie
- A reusable water bottle. Absolutely essential in Cambodia for minimising plastic waste and staying hydrated. I love my S’Well water bottle – it’s vacuum insulated to keep water icy cold for the whole day, and it doesn’t sweat. If you like your mango smoothies, pack a reusable smoothie cup as well.
- Rehydration tablets or sachets. At the end of a long day bike riding or exploring temples, your body will be crying out for electrolytes (believe me!). I prefer Hydralyte tablets because they come in a handy tube. If you forget to bring some from home, the Double D brand is sold at most pharmacies and grocery stores in Cambodia.
- Rain jacket and travel umbrella for the wet season. Wet season is my favourite time to travel in Cambodia because the countryside is so verdant. Downpours come out of nowhere, so it’s essential to have a rain jacket with you at all times (I love the packable rain jackets by Lomon for women and EZRUN for men). I also carry a travel umbrella in case it’s too hot and steamy to wear a jacket. This one is UPF 50+, making it great for sun cover as well.
- A sturdy day pack. An anti-theft backpack is particularly good for the cities, especially Phnom Penh. Opt for a minimalist backpack that doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb.
- Cambodia guide book. I prefer Lonely Planet’s dedicated Cambodia guidebook or regional guidebook that also covers Laos, Vietnam and Northern Thailand.
More Cambodia travel resources
- Best Siem Reap tours for every budget and interest
- Where to stay in Phnom Penh
- Where to eat breakfast in Phnom Penh and where to find the best coffee in Phnom Penh
- 51 free things to do in Phnom Penh – the ultimate list
- Resort style swimming pools in Phnom Penh
- How to use PassApp to book a tuk tuk in Cambodia
- 41 things to do in Kampot
- Where to stay in Kampot
- My guide to Battambang, Cambodia’s cultural capital
- My guide to Kampong Cham, northern Cambodia’s most charming town
- My guide to Kratie, home of Cambodia’s best sunset!