Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Cambodia - Kampot

After the adventuring in Siem Reap and the sadness and madness in Phnom Penh, Kampot was exactly the tranquility we needed before heading across to Vietnam.  A tiny river village, its crumbling architecture, statued roundabouts and relaxed feel make it a very quaint place to visit. 

The "old bridge", shut to all traffic but scooters.  Rusting away and covered in holes

After another ridiculous bus journey (we need to get better at booking our transfers) we arrived in the town.  Swallows screech overhead reminding me of the south of France.  The sound sounded weird though, like it was being piped from speakers, but it turns out that they breed swallows in the derelict rooftop buildings which made the sound echo.  The spit that swallows use to build their nests is a popular ingredient for soups and drinks throughout Asia and usually procured via a man climbing up a cliff face to retrieve the nests.  This is a much safer and more efficient way of obtaining their spit.

On our first afternoon Amy went to the local cinema (Ecran, check it out if you're there.  You can hire your own room for $3.50 and watch one of over 1200 films they have available, or you can watch one of their scheduled screenings in the main cinema for the same price).  Not being much of a movie person I chilled out at our guesthouse and finished my book (the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie if you're interested.  Sits somewhere between a better Divergent but a not as good Hunger Games).

The following day we hired bicycles.  At $1 a day this was a bargain and I was very excited as they were the lovely old school bicycles with huge wheels, curved handle bars and a basket.  We soon discovered that the bikes were absolutely rubbish for the road conditions (mud, potholes and puddles) and they had no gears.

Within five minutes of setting off my bum and knees were sore and we had to stop and buy ponchos as it was pouring it down.  We had originally planned on cycling 25km away to Kep but decided against it and did a shorter 8km journey to the river rapids instead. 8km in a rubbish bike meant the journey took a lot longer than anticipated and we thought we had accidentally gone past our intended destination.  We knew the rapids were just past the zoo so we flagged down a kid and asked how much further.  She didn't speak much English but after some miming of the zoo (I pretended to be an elephant and Amy as tiger) she indicated we hadn't yet passed it.

This (rainy) season it's all about pink ponchos

Another ten mins and we arrived at the rapids.  About half a mile from the entrance is a stretch of road with food stalls on one side and parking and wooden shacks on the other.  Each shack has some hammocks hanging in so we sat and read our books for a couple of hours.  The rapids themselves were a bit too rapid to swim in and not very open, I imagined them to be a bit like Aberglaslyn in Beddgelert but they weren't as accessible as that.  Apparently you can do tubing from the rapids to one of the guesthouses further down the river but I would be petrified, it's more of a white water current than a tubing current with trees and rocks.  

A woman tried to sell Amy some meat skewers which she was vaguely interested in until she heard the price so then declined.  Awkwardly the lady just stood there for five minutes before realising her persistence wasn't going to pay off and wandered off to sell to someone else. 

Isaac is going to build me one of these for my garden, aren't you Izzy!!

On the way back Amy got a puncture.  It was well timed as I had just decided I couldn't continue much further as my body was too sore, so we pushed the bikes back to our guesthouse and vowed to only ever rent mountain bikes in the future.

The following day we booked onto a countryside tour with "Captain Chim".  It's a little family run establishment in the centre of town that I highly recommend, he runs a restaurant as well as a little tour outfit.  Our tuktuk driver took us on a glorious little tour of the Cambodian countryside, stopping at the salt fields, a pepper plantation, a cave temple and ending up in Kep.  We were graced with beautifully sunny sky until we headed to Kep, but it stopped raining just in time for us to sit in the beach for an hour before it rained again.   

The secret lake (not sure why it's a secret)

The countryside is so beautiful, incredibly lush and ridiculously green.  We were driving down narrow muddy dirt tracks through little villages and at points I would chuck myself over Amy, convinced our tuktuk trailer was going to slide into the paddy fields next to us. Everywhere you went you'd hear the chorus of little kids going " hello!".  It was very sweet!

The tour finished with a cruise down the river on a little ramshackle boat where we sat on deckchairs.  It was a bit too slow for my liking but I think Amy enjoyed herself.  It also didn't help that the moment I stepped on the boat I decided I needed to pee and had to hold it in for 90 minutes whilst surrounded by water... The moment we docked I jumped off the boat into the nearest cafe where we found two adorable kittens which topped off the day nicely!

Our final day in Kampot was spent on a Bokor National Park tour.  We had booked a trekking tour but the day we were meant to leave, the hotel owner told us the guide was sick and we'd just have to do the standard drive up in a van tour.  Disappointed we agreed anyway and got picked up by this ramshackle minivan.  The drive up Bokor mountain is a long, steep and windy one and the van's clutch was slipping the entire time.  It also transpired that the engine wouldn't restart each time the ignition was switched off, resulting in the the van being jump started each time we stopped...the Koreans on the tour found this amusing but I had visions of the jump start not working and us rolling down and off the hill helplessly and smashing into a million pieces at the bottom...luckily that didn't happen!

The tour was OK - our guide was a cheery chap but unfortunately the rain decided to make an appearance for most of the day (I guess that's what happens when you go travelling in rainy season!) making us reluctant to get out at each stop.  Added to the fact we were on top of a mountain, it was cold and very misty.  The only two stops that appealed to me was the abandoned casino which was quite cool and the waterfall.  This was a large fall which was pretty to look at but the torrential rain saw to us not hanging around for too long.

Amy wants all her handrails and bannisters to be like this

A very rich man who apparently owns Siem Reap (how can you own a town!!) now also owns Bokor National Park (how can you own a national park!!) and has decided to build all over the mountain, covering it in holiday homes, more casinos, hotels, golf courses and a cable car.  I had mixed feelings about this, yes it'll create income through tourism but it'll also destroy the landscape and I doubt if it will benefit the locals that much.  It will probably also mean Kampot won't remain the quiet little town it currently is which is part of its charm.

Unrelated but we found out from our guide that Cambodians are only allowed to leave the country if they have 40k in the bank (I guess this ensures they come back for the money).  I don't know how true this is though.

Our last night in Cambodia was spent with Jeff and Sandra who'd just arrived from Sinoukhville.  Quite fitting really as our first Cambodian dinner was with them too!  I think they're stalking us ;-). The restaurant we went to do a deal on Monday where you get a pint of draufght for each dollar tyou spent on food...we had the potential to drink 19 pints but ended up 2 each as we were being sensible!

I very much enjoyed Cambodia.  The people are fantastic, the countryside beautiful and every bed we have slept in has had a memory foam mattress.  The roads ate terrible and the transport questionable but I'd happily come back.

Places stayed: 
Orchid guesthouse.  $14 a night (3 nights) and $6 a night (our last night had been double booked and we had to change rooms to a crap one).  Expensive room was nice, 2 double beds, decent bathroom, WiFi and nice cafe attached with large and cheap menu.  Helpful owner and good location.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome picture of you in a poncho on a bike - looks like you are having an awesome time :) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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