Cambodians traditionally believe that the Irrawaddy dolphins (psout) that live around the Mekong rapids at KAMPIE are part human and part fish, and consequently do their best to look after them. Despite this, the dolphins’ numbers have declined sharply due to the use of explosives and electric rods for fishing, and in 2004 the Irrawaddy dolphin was added to the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species.
The dolphin-watching site is now run as an ecotourism project by the local community. Having purchased your ticket you’ll be loaded into a boat for the trip (lasting roughly 1hr during the Nov–May dry season; closer to 1hr 30min during the wet season, when the dolphins travel further downriver). Once boats are out on the water in the vicinity of the dolphins the motor is cut and boatmen row their craft to create the minimum of disturbance. The dolphins are most active during the early morning and late afternoon, when they tend to feed, although sightings are pretty much guaranteed at any time. They’re fairly easy to see (albeit almost impossible to photograph) and even easier to hear thanks to the characteristic noise they make (like the sound of someone taking a sudden deep breath through a large tube) when breaking the surface of the water to take in air.
It’s also possible to see the dolphins from dry land. Continue to the stretch of open riverbank about 1km north of the centre, from where sightings are possible.