Where you can see Irrawaddy dolphins frolicking in the Mekong river
Preah Rumkel is a favourite stop of ecotourists in search of the wild Irrawaddy dolphins that are frequently seen at the Anlong Cheuteal dolphin pool. Nested at the northern part of Cambodia on the border, Preah Rumkel sits on the bank of Mekong river. Isolated, but if you make the journey, you’ll discover a tranquil, friendly community immersed in spectacular jungle scenery. The village, with its intriguing mix of Khmer and Laotian cultures, has a charmingly sleepy atmosphere with locals quietly getting on with daily routines that have remained virtually unchanged for many years.
Preah Rumkel Community-based tourism project was established in 2007 with support from an environmental NGO called Mlup Baitong, with the aim to increase opportunities for local people in this remote part of Cambodia. Since then this project has grown to provide a range of tourism experiences and environmental protection initiatives to protect the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins.
From Mr Sok Larng the local guide and WWF ranger in charge of monitoring the Irrawaddy dolphins: ” I am already 69 years old, I have lived here for a very long time. When I was young I did not have the opportunity to go to school, so you know, I can not write very well. I work for WWF to monitor and protect during the night. Every night when most people got to sleep I leave the house to patrol the area around Anlong Cheuteal dolphin pool. I make sure that the dolphins are not being disturbed during the night and that nobody is poaching in this section of the Mekong river. Sometimes, you can hear boats during the night on the river, you never know… During the day I work as a local tour guide, taking a small number of visitors to see the dolphins on the Mekong. I love my job, I see the dolphins every day, and I protected the dolphins by patrolling the river every night.
I hope that in future, we will see more tourists who come to watch the dolphins and help with conservation of the local dolphin population. We also need more young Cambodian people to visit, so they know about them and can get involved in their protection. When tourists come they can also relax on the beach and take many trips. Community-based tourism helped this village, it created more jobs for local villagers. Everyone can see the change!”
The Preah Rumkel is a small village on the border with Laos, that is emerging as a hotspot for ecotourism thanks to its proximity to the Anlong Cheuteal Irrawaddy dolphin pool near the Lao border and well-established homestay scheme. With this stretch of the Mekong River recognised by the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, a rich array of bird life, various rapids and waterfalls cascading down from Laos, this is one of the wildest and most beautiful stretches of the Cambodian section of the Mekong river. Preah Rumkel community based project is located near the Laos border in Stung Treng Province. The village is beside the Mekong river, where you can admire the Irrawaddy Dolphins and explore the many small surrounding islands. This is a good destination for relaxing on the riverside and enjoying bird watching in the forest. This area offers a gateway to the Sopheakmith waterfalls, a very unique place in Cambodia. You can also find out the legend of Preah Rumkel in the Pagoda Wat Damrei Sor or the White House Elephant. It is the perfect destination if you are looking for a relaxed time far off the usual tourist tracks. There are opportunities for trekking, having a picnic while watching the enchanting Irrawaddy dolphins playing in river pools, spending the night in a homestay, as well as the beautiful nature and a welcoming community. These are definitely reasons you should consider a visit to the North of Cambodia.
Even though Preah Rumkel is remote, the village has good amenities and facilities. There is electricity and wifi in most places, several local shops and markets where you can buy all the necessary basic supplies and food, as well as some locally made souvenirs. The village has a mix of Khmer and Laotian families, so there is a variety of food to choose from.
In terms of accommodation there are 2 options:
- Traditional homestay – a private room to rent in a family house: 1-3 private bedrooms in a traditional Khmer wooden house, elevated on stilts and accessible via stairs. Bedrooms are equipped with bed, bedding, pillow, mosquito net and light. All houses have a local style bathroom external to the house that is clean and lockable. Amenities include a squat toilet and bucket shower. The house includes safe charging facilities and free clean drinking water.
- Community-run guesthouse style room: Currently there are 2 families offering private rooms to rent. These rooms are still within the family yard but detached from the main family home, often on the banks of the Mekong river. They offer a greater level of privacy, and mostly suitable for those wanting to spend a longer period in the area. They do not have private bathrooms, and are seen as an extension of the family homestay scheme.
The project has several bicycles for hire and we would recommend that you hire one, if you are planning to explore the local area as hiring tuk-tuks here can be extremely expensive and not very comfortable. The roads are bumpy and mostly unpaved and small city tuk-tuks are not the best ride for this environment.
IRRAWADY DOLPHINS – A boat trip to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins is a must! We recommend that you get up early and try your luck with a morning boat trip to Anlong Cheuteal dolphin pool. Leave around 6/ 6.30am as you have a better chance to see the dolphins in the morning whey they are starting to be active, than in the middle of the day. If you choose the early start option, you will be also awarded with some stunning views with the sun rising around 7pm above the Mekong river. This is one of the best places to visit if you are an ecotourism enthusiast wanting to see Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong river. MEKONG RAPIDS – One of the most favourite excursions out of Preah Rumkel is a hike up to the top of nearby mountain or a boat/hiking trip to view the rampaging Mekong rapids cascading down from Laos. The rapids are an awesome display of nature’s force, especially in the wet season. LOCAL LIFE – Preah Rumkel has stunning natural scenery and biodiversity from the Mekong River. This is one of the best places to visit the beautiful waterfalls of Cambodia. It is also a great place to experience and be immersed in the Cambodian way of life. Take part in local activities such as making and tasting rice wine, enjoy traditional food for lunch. In the afternoon, the local guide will take you to the forest by boat, you can admire the islands and walk through the forest. When you get back, you can enjoy a drink beside the Mekong and a dinner of fresh fish. Stay in homestay accommodation or camp on an island. 1 – 2 DAYS STAY – Wake up early in the morning, and start with early morning sightseeing. You might even catch a glimpse of the Irrawaddy Dolphin from your terrace whilst enjoying breakfast. The local guide can then take you to the impressive waterfall. In the afternoon, you can come back and rest on a sandy beach or ask for another tour on the Mekong to explore more of the islands as there are many to discover.
This site is remote but not impossible to access, however it can be daunting for some, so here are some of the several options available tor each the site. In principle, there are 2 main options to reach the site:
From Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or any other part of Cambodia via Stung Treng:
If you are travelling from any part of Cambodia you will first have to reach Stung Treng by VIP bus or a car. From here there is a local bus going directly to the Preah Rumkel village, so if you can try to align your transport so you can use this option as it is very cheap and amazingly convenient. The only issue is that this local bus goes only once a day. It leaves Preah Rumkel at 7am each morning to Stung Treng and comes back at 2pm from Stung Treng to Preah Rumkel. It costs $5, but expect to be charged a little more as you a tourist. The minibus leaves Stung Treng from the main river-site stretch. There is no way to pre-book this transport, you just need to show up and go. If you are leaving from Prem Rumkel, you can speak to your homestay host and they can organise a pick up from your homestay at 7am.
If you can not take this minibus because your transport does not connect to it, you a few options:
- stay overnight in Stung Treng and travel the next day
- hire a private car or motodop to take you to the village which seems to be an expensive option but totally possible if you are on a tight schedule and have a limited time
- if you are on a tight budget we would recommend to travel to the Lao border and follow the instructions below.
From the Lao Border crossing
There are minibuses leaving from Stung Treng (the main local minivan type of a bus stop) several time during the day. Some of them are going directly to the border crossing while others might be going only stop there and continue further. Once you reach the border you will need to organise a mode of transport to the ferry spot. Normally this would be motodop (expect to pay around $4). The crossing of the Mekong river costs $15 per boat, which can take up to 4 people. The cost is the same if you are one person or 4 people, as you pay for the boat and not per person. Next to the bat stop (on the Lao border crossing side) is a police station, so if you are travelling from Preh Rumkel to the Lao border your transport might be organised by one of the people working there. It is a relatively remote area, so local people often work together to support you in your travel plans… resulting in many local solutions to your travel needs.
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