A post by Victoria Lewis, CWF Semester 37:
Kratie! A relaxed and friendly riverside town and one of the most popular areas in Cambodia to see the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins which I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of whilst relaxing on a boat ride along the Mekong river with CWF and the other volunteers on a trip that will stay with me forever.
After a 6 hour long journey to the province of Kratie, we arrived at the idyllic Le Tonle tourism training guesthouse and restaurant, where we were greeted by the lovely Tola who told us all about the project at Le Tonle and how they provide vocational training to disadvantaged youths from Cambodians North Eastern provinces including Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri. We stayed in the guesthouse that evening, after visiting the main Cambodian Rural Development Team office for a presentation by Ul Socheat, to talk about CRDTs development activities in North East Cambodia to lift communities out of poverty through community based approaches.
The next day we were introduced to the amazing Puthy, our tour guide for the trip, who took us to see the dolphins, visit a bamboo rice making village, and the 100 Pillar Pagoda. From there we made our way to the island of Koh Pdao, a fishing village on the Mekong river, and checked into our home stay houses. I was lucky to be staying with a woman named Paula and her children, who made my stay very comfortable and exciting. Although we spoke very little of each other’s language, she gave us a translation dictionary so we could get to know each other a little better.
The next morning we embarked on what would prove a challenging but epic bike ride to see some of CRDTs community projects, the pond project, a vegetable model farmer and rice intensification project. The bike ride was lead by Puthy, the tour guide from CRDT tours, who took us through a beautiful rural trail through rice fields, local villages and across water stopping off along the way meeting friendly locals.
What no one expected was that what started as a simple ride around the village quickly turned into something rather more. After visiting some projects in the village, we set out to visit The Pond, a reservoir feeding an irrigation system used by more than 100 families, which along with modern planting techniques shown by CRDT model farmers, allows the villagers to produce a second rice harvest every year. What we had not realized was quite how far away it was, on roads and trails made difficult by the Cambodian rainy season. Through lush green rice paddies and tropical heat we rode, and rode. And rode. For what had begun a simple jaunt was now something more of a journey, hours of riding, and we were too far now to turn back. In the end it would take us hours to reach the pond project, and we would have to be picked up by a boat to be ferried back!
Luck had it that my flimsy flips flops broke 30 minutes into the full day bike journey, but Puthy came to the rescue and offered to lend me his shoes! I declined and decided to go bare foot until a local village lady ran out of her home to give me a pair of her shoes. How incredibly generous, someone who lives such a basic lifestyle and has little to no luxuries was so happy to give me a pair of her shoes. Acts of kindness like this have become quite a rarity in the western world, so this really touched my heart and showed me just how warm and caring many of the Cambodian people are.
Although the sun was beating down, the group remained happy and enjoyed waving at the locals as we passed by. When we reached the pond project we were greeted by the community chief who told us all about the project and how CRDT had helped their village.
The group then made their way back to the riverside where we were picked up and taken back to Kratie where we all refueled ready to head back to Phnom Penh to begin our teaching semester!
I had a great time on the trip to Kratie and Koh Pdao and I will never forget the beautiful people I met and the amazing nature that I witnessed. Thank you CWF, CRDT, Le Tonle and of course, Puthy.