It is possible to visit Kratie on a day trip from Stung Treng, which is three hours away. However, Kratie’s quiet charm and the warmth of the local people coaxes many people to extend their stay for several days in order to explore fully and enjoy the tranquillity.
Kratie was developed by French colonialists towards the end of the 19th century and as you explore you will discover a number of French colonial buildings nestled alongside traditional wooden Cambodian houses.
Tragically, there are less than a hundred Irrawaddy Dolphins play in the waters of the mighty Mekong. A good time to spot them is at sunset and you can hire a boat and driver to take you out onto the river.
Perhaps the best way to fully explore Kratie is by hiring a bicycle from one of the many guesthouses. Cycle to the pretty pagoda of Sasar Moy Roy with its 100 pillars. According to legend this pagoda holds the ashes of a princess who was killed by a crocodile more than 500 years ago.
Climb the steps to the top of Phnom Sambok for fantastic views of the river and surrounding countryside and visit the traditional Cambodian temple of Wat Roka Kandal. Forget about noisy motos, horse and cart is the main form of transport in Kratie and this is an interesting way to get around and see the sights.
There are a number of pretty islands close to Kratie such as Koh Trong and Kho Pdao. As you explore you will also discover a number of floating villages, where you can watch fish being caught in the traditional way and perhaps buy the catch of the day to be cooked at one of the local restaurants.
The sunsets over Kratie are simply spectacular and many people gather in the evening to watch the dying of the day. Enjoy freshly caught river fish at one of the many riverside restaurants and wash it down with a beer or two for the perfect end to a relaxing day.
Officially named Muang Boran in Thai, the Ancient City covers 320 acres and is arranged in the shape of Thailand. The park was opened to the public on 11th February 1972. In my opinion, the best way to explore the park is by bicycle, which can be hired for just 30 baht by the park entrance.
CITY 1 After paying my admittance fee, I pass through the city wall and gate. Modelled after Thailand's oldest stone fence, which dates back to the 12th century B.E and is situated near the Maha That Temple in Sukhothai, the gate features beautifully decorated rounded pillars.
I cycle through the gates and first come across a reproduction of a city sala, which is a wooden building, constructed by townspeople within the city walls to act as a meeting hall. The one here is modelled on Wat Yai Intharam in Chonburi.
After looking around the sala I cycle past the stupa of Phra Maha That to the old market town. This mini town has been recreated to represent the atmosphere of an ancient Thai self-contained community. There are shops selling goods, theatres, casinos and religious monuments. One of the best features of the Ancient City is the fact that you are free to wander in and around the structures, and I spend some time exploring the traditional-style houses and shops, which are filled with relics and implements. Everything is perfectly placed and it feels as though this is an actual village, the inhabitants having left momentarily to attend a meeting or festival.
As I climb on my bike once more, I am particularly drawn to the bell tower, a red-hued wooden structure elaborately carved and decorated in the ancient style.
Scattered with pagodas, statues and carvings all following the Chinese style, the palace garden of King Rama II is not to be missed. Next to it, the audience hall of Thonburi, with its murals depicting the fall of Ayutthaya provides an interesting insight into Thai history and style.
Situated next to a beautiful pond, the Khun Phaen House shows an Ayutthaya-style house, which would have been owned by a wealthy family. I park my bike for a minute and wander around, gazing enviously at how the other half lived.
Back on my bike, I ride past a large statue depicting a battle atop elephants, past a wooded area and pause briefly at three stone pagodas, replicas of those at Three Pagoda Pass near Kanchanaburi. The originals are a bit difficult to get to unless you are willing to go on a package tour with dozens of other tourists, so I welcome the opportunity to view these at my leisure.
Also not to be missed is the reproduction of the Grand Palace, complete with murals but minus the crowds and the nearby Sanphet Prasat Palace of Ayutthaya, complete with shining silver roof and red brick ruins.
Further into the park, I am taken by the sight of the Phra Kaew Pavilion, an octagonal, red-roofed building set beside a lily pond and ornate bridge.
But for me, the highlight of the park is the footprint of the Lord Buddha, originally located at Saraburi. I have often read about this relic, which legend tells as having been discovered by a hunter named Phran Boon. One day, the hunter shot and wounded a deer. After following the deer to a pond it was drinking from, Phran Boon saw the deer's wounds magically disappear.
Investigating the pond, the hunter realised that it was actually the footprint of Buddha. An impression of the footprint is located in an elaborately decorated shrine atop a flight of steps and for me, visiting the replica is still an auspicious event.
I spend the next two hours cycling around the Ancient City, past the magnificent ruins of Lopburi, Singburi, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.
The outstanding Garden of the Gods provides another resting point, as does the scale version of a traditional floating market, complete with vegetable sellers in boats, bridges and networks of waterways.
At the very north of the park I am filled with awe by the reproduction of the Prasat Phra Wihan, originally of Si Sa Ket. This ancient monument is seated atop a high hill, reached by a long flight of steps. Surrounded on all sides by lush plant life, I am reminded of the monuments of Angkor Wat. Climbing to the top offers spectacular views over the park and of the lush fields and waterways beyond.
Cycling around the Ancient City takes me about four hours and each site offers a new surprise. As I approach the exit I am greeted by yet one more surprise. The enchanting rainbow bridge is a tribute to Thai people's belief that rainbows symbolise Thailand's fertility, happiness and natural beauty.
As I reach the city gate once more I feel reluctant to leave and contemplate going around again. However, the park will be closing soon, so I'll have to wait for another day.
km 33 (old) Sukhumvit Road,
The admission fee is 300 baht for adults, 200 baht for children.
A taxi from Bangkok should cost no more than 400 baht. Alternatively, catch air-con bus 511 from the Southern bus terminal (Ekamai) to the end of the line. Then take minibus no 36, which passes by the entrance.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is currently living in Bangkok where she she is a travel writer.