Cambodia – Kampot (II) and Kep
Kampot has so much to offer – we stayed there for just four days and felt like we easily could have spent double that time exploring the city and the surrounding area. Our guide book lists the ‘traditional Cambodian music school’ as the one and only sight worth seeing in Kampot (they have live demonstrations on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6pm – bring your own maracas) but once we’d rented the bikes we were free to explore and found loads of places to visit within a short drive.
On our second day, which was beautifully bright and clear and sunny, we took a road trip down to Kep, which is a small coastal town about 45 minutes from Kampot, famous for crab fishing and it’s popular little beach. There is also a beautiful National Park run by the ‘Squirrel Association’ (not sure if this is a group of super organised squirrels or a group of humans acting on their behalf) and Kati and I drove up the steep rocky ‘path’ to the start of the 8km trail. It was so hot and there was very little shade, but it was a gorgeous walk and the squirrels had erected little yellow signposts all over the trail pointing out the different paths and places of interest. I was so disappointed that the waterfall was dry (it’s been a very dry ‘rainy season’ this year) but I climbed it anyway and got an incredible view of Kep and the little islands off the shore.
The ‘summit’, of the rocky trail, despite the squirrels’ enthusiasm, was overgrown with trees so we couldn’t see much but we saw two lizards, three snakes (cue Kati and I clutching at each other and hurrying in the opposite direction) and some monkeys which was pretty exciting 😉
A short drive through town brought us to the coast and we explored the crab market, which is right on the sea and is the hub for all of the crab fishing, cooking, selling and eating which goes on year round in Kep. Teams of women were using wicker basket traps to catch crabs and all manner of fish in the shallow seas which border the market, and the market itself was full of fruits, vegetables and huge grills with whole fish, squid and crab being skewered and barbecued ready to be bought. I’ve been really keen to try some of the more exotic fruits they have out here and after lingering around a fruit stall selling jackfruit (a huge spiny fruit with a weirdly segmented, fleshy yellow middle) a man came along and bought some and gave some to us to try. It tasted delicious, kind of like a mango crossed with a pineapple, but the texture was disconcerting. Further in, live crabs with their claws tied together waited in big buckets, and smokey fires made the whole area hot and close while the crabs, fresh from the ocean, were boiled and sold to nearby restaurants. A bit put off by the process, but keen to try crab for the first (and probably only) time, we ordered a small dish of rice and crab meat and sat overlooking the waves. I feel like such a heathen saying this because I know loads of people would have just about died over that crab dish but … it was nice. It was fine. It tasted like white fish. I’m sorry.
Honestly the best thing about the crab market (apart from the amazing Palm trees growing along the side of the road) is that so many of the stalls are advertising ‘fried crap!’, ‘crap prepared twenty seven different ways!’ or my personal favourite ‘crap however you like!’ That really cracked me up. Kep beach was beautiful and a perfect place to chill out in the sun before driving back to Kampot.
On our last day, we decided to take the bike back to Bokor National Park and try once more to see the abandoned casino, which the weather had prevented us from reaching on our first trip. As we got higher and higher, it started getting colder and more foggy, and by the time we’d reached the hotel around which the strangely deserted resort is built, we were in the clouds, unable to see more than a few metres around us. We didn’t even know we’d reached the hotel at first- we had stopped in a car park to get some snacks and check the map and then suddenly the wind blew and I looked up and almost choked on my cracker because a huge hotel had suddenly appeared just 500 metres away from us! We drove around the deserted complex, and the dense cloud cover made it even more surreal. Huge accommodation blocks, half built, have just been abandoned to the elements – it’s seriously creepy.
The casino itself was so completely hidden by the fog that we were peering at a pile of rocks for a while before a gust of wind cleared the fog enough for us to realise that the casino was actually behind us. It was fun to explore the huge building – which was nothing but a concrete shell – but it would have been much better if we could have seen the panoramic views which are apparently incredible! I don’t have many photos to share of this day, for obvious reasons and also because what with all the wind and rain my hair became tangled inextricably around the straps of my helmet and rather than let a bus load of tourists point and laugh at me while I tried to untangle it, I just wore my helmet all day long and refused to be photographed 😉
On the way home, the heavens opened into the most torrential downpour and heavy drops of rain made the roads wet and driving tricky. I was gripping onto the handlebars until my knuckles were white with sheer concentration, trying not to take my eyes off the road for a second, and ignore the fact that we were absolutely wet to the bone, our clothes heavy with rainwater. When we got back, we wrung a while sink full of water out of our shirts and tops and waited for the rain to stop.
It did, eventually, and that evening we enjoyed a cruise along the river in a tiny creaky little boat before treating ourselves to a dinner at a fancy restaurant (the kind with British adult clientele) to celebrate our last night in Cambodia.
Next stop- Vietnam!
P.s – I got a bit behind with posting blogs so here’s a sneak preview of my joyful reunion with my big sis 😉