What could be simpler? Jump on the back of some guys moped, dodging puddles and muddy quagmires, then get on a bus with an old American guy who thought China was behind every illegal activity on the planet, then get in a shared taxi, with seven other people. Yeh that’s right there were nine of us in the five seater car, two people sitting in the driver’s seat! It was difficult to pin point which part of the journey was the most dangerous, needless to say we were pleased when the car pulled into Kampot unharmed, even though it was pouring with rain.
Kampot is the self-proclaimed alternative to the mayhem of Phnom Penh. Laid back, with an alternative vibe, there’s a lot of places to relax and while away several hours. Which is exactly what we did! The town nestles by the river, skirted by the sea and the mountains, with quite a lot of distinctive Chinese shop front architecture to wander through. The town is also home to a dog who diligently followed us every time we walked along the river front, presumably looking for friends or a new owner, until Ryan had to finally scream and waved his arms at her til she got the message. Unfortunately a stray dog just wouldn’t fit in our backpacks…
We didn’t do all that much while we were in the town, but Kampot was a lovely town in which to do nothing! We stayed in Magic Sponge, one of the more unusually named hostels we’ve seen, and it had the right mix of social and relaxed for us. We used our time to explore the many ex-pat run cafes dotted around the city, sampling the best eggs benedict and flat whites this side of Australia and when not having breakfast we were sampling the home-made cakes on offer at various cafes that supported good causes (epic arts was a particular favourite).. it wasn’t the fact that we wanted to eat cake… more that we wanted to help people…
Kampot’s other draw, apart from its laid back atmosphere, are its world famous pepper plantations. With our new friend Henna, we jumped into a tuk-tuk and headed into the country to find out what exactly a pepper bush looked like. As well as learning everything you could ever want to learn about pepper, we also got to taste the four different types red, black, green and white. All had their own distinctive flavours… but really they just tasted like pepper…
We finished our time in Kampot by enjoying some hand pulled, garlicky, home-made noodles, followed by a film in a small cinema above the noodle shop. All of the above may sound mundane to the average reader, but having a few days to kick back, eat some cake and drink some good coffee was a real treat, and there aren’t many better towns in Cambodia (or SE Asia) to relax for a while.
From one laid back town to another, our next stop on our Cambodian adventure (and our favourite place in the country) was the small fishing village of Kep. A lot of people visit Kep on day trips from Kampot, however, we decided to give it a few days by itself, and boy were we glad we did. We stayed in a lovely swiss run guesthouse called Bacoma, in a round stone cottage that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of the Hobbit. What made the guesthouse even better was the free use of bikes to cycle around the area and a movie room with a different screening every night (the owner used to own a cinema). We spent our few days in Kep cycling along the coast, watching locals and monks playing on the beach, hiking through the millipede laden national park and dreamily looking out towards the islands which we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to explore.
No doubt one of the highlights of Kep is its “world famous” crab. A sting of restaurants sits by the market each with their own crab pots cast out 20m from the shore catching fresh crabs for everyone to enjoy. The crab is then stir fried up with some kampot pepper sauce, and served with a nut cracker for the shells and a bowl of water for your hands. It’s not the most elegant meal to eat, but it sure was good. What makes it even better is while you pick your way through the shells you can stare out to sea and watch the ladies bring in the latest catch of crabs, and in our case watch an apocalyptic looking storm roll into shore. Another speciality was durian ice cream… but the less said about that the better.. yuck.
Unfortunately our stay in Kep was not as long as we would have liked as we had to return to Phnom Penh to sort out some visas for a few months down the line… its not all fun and games on the road you know….
Stay tuned for our next instalment from Vietnam 🙂
R & E