Gone to pot in Kampot... a pepper pot that is...

Trip Start Oct 01, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After spending ages doing nothing but lying on the beach in Sihanoukville, it was time for a change. So we took a bus the short trip to Kampot. Due to the Chinese New Year celebrations, many guesthouses were full; however after a bit of searching we found a spot. Kampot is a lovely little town on the banks of the Teuk Chhou river. The first thing we noticed was just how quiet the streets were, definitely the quietest streets of anywhere we had been in Asia. The town has many old colonial buildings, and many wide tree-lined avenues (all hallmarks of the French colonists). The greatest legacy of the French in the region is not in the town planning or the buildings, but rather in the black pepper plantations outside the town. Even today, Kampot black pepper is considered among the finest in the world. So there!
We had planned to stay only a few days, so as soon as accommodation was sorted we hired a motorbike and took off to explore the surrounding area. One nearby attraction is Bokor mountain, a forested mountain which is nowadays a national park (there is also an abandoned hotel and casino built by the French in the 1920s). Unfortunately for us, the road up the mountain is currently being reconstructed, and we were refused entry at the bottom. It was a pity, as the old hotel is supposed to be quite eerie and spooky, we had been looking forward to exploring it! We drove on for a good while, getting further out into the Cambodian countryside. It is truly a beautiful country. All around us were flat paddy fields, bounded by mountains in the distance. The dwelling houses are all on stilts and although small and simple, have a very distinctive style. Families can be seen hanging-out (literally in many cases, in hammocks) in the space underneath the house, presumably as it's cooler in the midday sun. The houses are generally surrounded by a grove of trees, and usually also have a pool of water out the front. In these pools, pink lotus (sacred water lilies) grow. These pools, while simple, are extremely lovely. Poverty is apparent, with some of the houses and villages looking almost as deprived as those in the highlands of  Laos. Little bigger than garden sheds, not sealed in anyway and without electricity...life must be  hard.
It is impossible to reconcile the images of this poor but very beautiful country with the horrors and atrocities that took place so recently. It is hard to imagine anything but peace in such pleasant surroundings.
In the afternoon, we took the bike to the beachside town of Kep. Checked out a local crab market. Here, you can buy cooked crab on the strand just a few hundred metres from where the fishermen (mostly fisherwomen really) out on the water haul the pots in. Kep beach was a nice little strand, and it was filled with mainly Khmer tourists. We were reminded of the Indians we saw bathing fully clothed in the sea at Goa, as Khmer modesty means that skimpy bathing costumes are a no-no. We were lucky to get back to Kampot before nightfall, as it turned out that the headlamp on the bike didn't work. We were also very lucky to get back at all, as when we started the next day we got half a mile down the road when we ran out of petrol. Again, luck was on our side...we ran out opposite a petrol station!
We spent just 3 days in Kampot, mainly having fun with motorbikes by day and sitting in cafes looking at the river in the evening. Our final evening we took a boat ride up the river as the sun set. In spite of having seen tons of gorgeous sunsets on this trip, this one still managed to be pretty breath-taking, check out the pix!
Then it was onwards to Siem Reap, to look at the famous temples of Angkor Wat!
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