(Get a big cup of tea and settle in folks- its three cities and an epic post)
When the morning arrived for us to leave Phnom Penh, we would be lying if we said we weren’t pleased to leave. It was such an intense city that we were quite glad to move on to somewhere even remotely quieter.
On settling the bill with the hotel they tried to rip us off by $4 on the bus tickets, I also think the drinks bill was higher than it should have been too but anyway- I was more fastidious with my bookkeeping after this.
So shortly after we were whisked off to the bus and hurtling out of the city as fast as the bus would go. As it happens this turned into one of the longest short bus journeys we have ever been on. The travel time was 4-5 hrs so enough time to get engrossed in a book or have a sleep. Unfortunately we had barely left the high-rise of the city centre when a guy, in his early 60s we reckon and a hippy rocker type, clearly on something or coming down off something was up demanding to be let off. He was going for Kampot- the next stop after Kep. He stood almost the whole way beside Gav’s seat with some Germans trying to calm him down and get him, unsuccessfully, to return to his seat. So for over 4 hours we had him trying to get off the bus. The poor driver had to get him back on the bus on a number of occasions after he forced his way off at some of the local village drop offs en route.
We were quite glad when we got into Kep, again into the army of Tuk Tuk drivers (well 8 of them). Our hotel was a bit out so we needed to get one or walk 2km in the heat with our bags plus it was threatening rain and in the end it rained all evening. We still went out in it and got quite wet.
The hotel was the most basic we had in Cambodia, fan room, no hot water (it was so hot we barely had lukewarm showers by this point) and no TV but it was clean and bug free so we were very happy with it and we had to pay for everything up front so we had no nasty surprises at the end.
Kep is an odd place, mostly because it is so spread out, it was once a fairly popular French colonial town but all that remains of the majority of the once great houses are stripped shells. We were 10 mins walk from the Crab Market (a series of restaurants with a small market beside it), which was 15 mins walk from the beach and then Kep town was about 15-20 mins from that. It’s all spaced out around the National Park which dominates the headland.
Anyway we did very little here, had some food, read some books, found a quiet spot and generally chilled out.
A few notable things that happened during our stay. One night we decided one night to have dinner in our hotel. They had a lovely roofed roof terrace that was open on all sides and after we had ordered dinner we sat there looking at the big geckos running about the inside of the roof hunting beetles. It was all fun and games until they kept missing and we were having stunned beetles being launched in our direction (many squeals there). It was the fastest dinner we have ever eaten, between the potential attack from beetles and the risk of eating gecko poo from above we didn’t want to hang around long!
We had found a really quiet spot- in a row of beach huts which were allegedly owned by the Rock Royal hotel across the road, the huts were next to their pool and leisure centre. It was mostly used for grazing cattle. The ice-cream man still found us though! We found out later that the pool had been closed as 5 people (mainly kids) had died there in 2 years- the last of which was a teenager from a rich family- that closed it in the end. Apparently some French guy was swimming in it and felt like something was pulling him down. A poorly designed pool creating currents you would think? No apparently it is possessed by a demon. (We heard all this from the owners of Kep Coffee- we popped in there for a quick drink one evening- 3 hrs later and a pizza we left to walk the 40 mins in the dark. The owner, an American and his Cambodian/American wife and kids were very chatty.)
On our third day we went for a hike in Kep National Park. We saw some very shy monkeys, got verbally abused by some dogs near the summit and then on our walk to our quiet spot we had stones thrown at us by some other monkeys! That evening we went to the Democrat for dinner. It was a good old day.
I also decided after a week to come off my anti-malarials. I am hoping this was the right decision- I was getting really badly burned, even with factor 50 on and staying in the shade and my skin felt like it was crawling all the time. The only option left, other than to come home which I REALLY didn’t want to do was to stop taking them, be as careful as possible and avoid getting bitten and monitor any symptoms that might indicate malaria.
Also during this time I began to see a pattern emerging with regards to the role of women and men in Cambodia. I knew that it was quite a male dominated society but hadn’t really seen much of it towards me in Phnom Penh. In Kep however Gav was constantly addressed and got served first when our food or drinks came out. It wasn’t everywhere of course but where it was it was quite obvious.
After 5 days in Kep we decided to go all the way along the coast to Koh Kong, this confused lots of people as there is not much there other than the Thai border really. Well there is Koh Kong Island- if you believe the hype it has the nicest beach in SE Asia. We can’t verify this as we didn’t go- I was trying to minimise sun exposure for a week to allow the effects of the doxycycline to leave my system. There is also a big jungle which we did investigate…
Again not much going on here, like all border towns it was a bit of a weird mix. Lots of older westerners discussing their pots of money at great length across the restaurant however we found two decent places to eat with less discussion of the transfer costs of £50K out of Lloyds. Our first full day there we went out on the moped and had a look around- including drive to the Thai border but we got stopped on the way back- luckily Gav had my passport to show (his was with the moped hire place- it’s the only way to get a moped unfortunately). We also went looking for the other points of interest – beaches, the mangroves, Muslim villages and waterfalls, The waterfalls were impossible to find.
Another highlight was a gekco joining us for breakfast one morning, see the video here.
Also we went into the jungle, swam in two waterfall pools, got attacked by leeches, slept in an army hammock in the jungle, tried some local medicinal plants and vegetables and saw the devastation of illegal mahogany poaching. It was good fun but probably the highlight was watching millions of ants move nest along with their heard of white mites. It went on all night. Also we got to hear the hornbill calling and then a swoosh/or something that sounded like a giant exhale and then they glided over the canopy- it was so far up we couldn’t get a photo and we often saw the bright red flash of a squirrel zipping through the trees, they are also very photo shy!
After 5 days in Koh Kong (the last one was pretty much just sleeping), we went right back along the coast to Kampot. The hotel bus we thought was a bit expensive for what it was at $10 (you had your own seat) so went with one that The Wood House had for $8. Naively we assumed this was the same bus as the hotel with less commission it wasn’t. It was a local bus. It wasn’t too bad though for the first 4 hours but the last one was awful. Every available space was packed with fruit/veg including where our feet were and it moved back as we were driving resulting in even less space. There were four of us in the back (a Khmer girl, a very old lady, me and Gav) and two guys in the front seat. The driver had a massive wad of cash and we stopped at random huts on the road out of Koh Kong to hand out small portions to various people. Initially we thought this might have been payment for produce from a previous run but when there were what looked to be Police and customs getting their “commission” we saw what it really was. A wad of giant lollipops to keep everyone happy.
We arrived in Kampot and were pointed in the direction of our hotel. None of our previous hotels in Cambodia came with breakfast so in comparison with Vietnam we were spending an extra $8 a day just on that so for Kampot we scoured around on the various booking sites to find one with good reviews and a breakfast included and found Kampot Manor.
It was run by an Aussie, we paid $20 a night (a steal for the quality), the beds were amazing, it had a huge terrace to sit and admire the view, free tea and coffee, free fruit (one day I had 3 whole mangos- he has 15 mango trees laden with fruit and by the last day we were the only ones staying) and breakfast was ace. It was probably the nicest breakfast we’ve had in the 6 weeks travelling. We had juice (from concentrate but better than nothing), cornflakes, fresh fruit (3 of the following per day: pink dragon fruit, grapes, mango, orange), eggs or omelette (we had scrambled eggs with bacon and tomato). It was 15 mins walk from town so a bit out and we had to climb over some barriers to get onto the Old Bridge to get to the town but was well worth it.
Kampot itself is a sleepy little town, again a former French colonial town, with a huge ex-pat community. About half the restaurants and accommodation seem to be owned by non-Cambodians. Its got a pretty good vibe going on and we wished we had stayed there longer.
The day after we arrived we hired a moped to go up to Bokor Hill Station also known as Thansur Bokor Highland Resort. The main attraction up there is an old French resort consisting of a number of old buildings including a hotel, church and various other residences. The area was abandoned a number of times but for good during the time of the Khmer Rouge, in fact the old hotel was one of their last strongholds in the region. Now there is a new road built by the Chinese which brings you all the way to the top to the new hotel and casino. They have also leased the whole top of the mountain for this crazy plan to build 100,000 homes and all the extra bits like golf courses, lakes etc. Apart from the fact that it is a national park- home to all sorts of wildlife and they are building that in the middle of it, it is also really cold up there and often covered in fog, thick fog at that. It’s lunacy. The old French stuff at Bokor Hill Station such as the hotel and church (which are also earmarked for development/restoration) is interesting but the other sights up there aren’t really worth it. Especially the seasonal waterfall. It is bone dry and covered in stagnant pools with mosquitos at this time of year. The road up, the old hotel and the way down were the best bits- spectacular views over the south coast.
The following day we went climbing with Climbodia! They had a half day taster of climbing, via ferreta, absailing and caving. It was lots of fun, but incredibly dirty and dusty. The three young fellas who worked there were great fun too 17, and two 21 year olds.
We also went to see a pepper farm- we had applied to one on Workaways but never heard anything back and I think we went to see the same one-It was all in random states of being built. Yet another resort. We had to give ourselves a tour of the farm bit and they had an incredibly expensive shop- 2 ice-creams for $4 and a coke $1.50 (normally a dollar or less). It was a bit of a mission to get here down a dusty and bumpy road lined with bomb craters and small villages. We did attempt to go to a temple in a mountain too but there were some teenagers wanting $1 to mind the bike- 1000 rials (25c) was the normal price- we decided not to bother. It was hot and we were dirty and in no mood for teenagers and their nonsense.
After four days in Kampot it was sadly time to move on. So the following day we booked the Giant Ibis (the expensive bus at $24 each), that everyone raves about, to Siem Reap to see one of the Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat!