These rare freshwater dolphins live in the stench of Mekong River just north from Kratie, Cambodia. They are the best sight to see if you ever find yourself in this little town in the Kratie Province. Though often misleadingly said to be river dolphins, they’re actually oceanic ones. They’ve just established subpopulations in fresh water rivers, like the Irrawaddy River, where they’ve got their name from.

The place to see the Irrawaddy dolphins is at Kampi. It’s located about 15 km north from Kratie, and you can take a moto to get there. From Kampi, you can take a tour of a traditional fisherman boat to get you out to the middle of the river. The best time to see them is in the early morning hours, late afternoon or early evening hours. There are just about 15-20 individuals left living on the Irrawaddy river. But fortunately, their numbers have slowly begun to increase, as have the education of the fishermen for the benefit of these rare species. The protection of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin is crucial to the ecosystem and overall health of the Mekong River. They also support the economy and employment of communities involved with dolphin-watching ecotourism. The Irrawaddy dolphin is also regarded as a sacred animal by many Khmer and Lao people.

These curious animals don’t like to jump high out of the water like their oceanic counter ones. But they like to swim near the surface so you’ll have excellent opportunities to see them quite close. The guides will take you up the river, and when you spot them, they’ll stop the engine, and your boat will just float slowly closer to the animals. This is absolutely required for not to disturb the dolphins. They look somewhat adorable with their bulging forehead and black eyes.

We were in Kratie in 2012 and spent a great, lazy and hot afternoon viewing the dolphins from the little fisher boat. It took us awhile to spot the creatures, but eventually we spent hours just floating around their area, watching them swim, and even play around their natural habitat. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to enjoy the company of the Irrawaddy dolphins (trey pisaut in Khmer) when you’re in this area!