Published: May 1st 2012April 15th 2012
The next leg of the trip is to cross the border into Cambodia and make our way onto the first large town of Kampot. Ellen and Alex have their hearts set on getting to the beachside party town of Sihanoukville, or plain old Snooky to everyone down here. After assessing the various ways of making the trip we settle with what looks a legitimate minibus company that passes through this route on a daily basis. When buying the tickets, the tour agent tells us we can only get to Kampot and onward travel to Sihanoukville will mean another bus. Tickets purchased we are resigned to waiting around until midday for the bus pick up. As usual this gets delayed, after the bus driver makes a few detours with some German hitchhikers so he can make a quick $2.
Its closer to 2pm when we start the 8 kms up to the Cambodian border crossing. As we approach we can tell straight away we are nearing the border – red dusty roads with a small shanty settlement pushing right up to the border on the Cambodian side. And like the border crossing at Moc Bai-Bavet that services the traffic moving Saigon
and Phnom Penh, a string seedy casinos sprouts up from the shanty town, the most prominent being the Ha Tien Vegas. The casinos provide a gambling outlet for Vietnamese where gambling is illegal, and a source of revenue for Cambodia, although questionable who actually profits from this venture.
It takes about 30 minutes to negotiate the border formalities, stamp out of Vietnam, purchase a visa for Cambodia and make a health declaration. The total cost is $26 - $25 for the visa and $1 for the health guy, to cover him for the cost of zapping us with some sort of infrared thermometer I suppose.
Moving on from the border, we pass through that flat country that evokes much of Cambodia at this time of the year, dry paddy field dotted with the occasional languid bent date palm. In no time we make the small coastal resort town of Kep. It looks to be a sea of deserted hammocks stretching along the beach for a fair way off in the distance. About 30 minutes later we reach the outskirts of Kampot. After a short meander through some backstreets, the minibus is almost leaving town when the driver has
suddenly realised that some passengers (namely us) are supposed to be getting off in Kampot. It also quickly transpires that despite what the agent in Ha Tien told us, this bus is definitely going on to Snooky. When we eventually double back to the Kampot bus stop, we have about 5 seconds to decide what we will do. We opt for our original intentions, me staying for a look around Kampot for a day and Ellen and Alex continuing onto Snooky. So I say goodbye to the kids, quickly thrust some dollars into Ellen’s hand and they continue on their way down the dusty track to Snooky.
Kampot turns out to be a disappointment. The sleepy little town is set on a large river a small distance inland from the coast doesn’t look anything I can grasp in terms of a grander colonial past. After settling into my lodgings I take a walk around the small grid of streets that purport to make up the centre of town. They are dusty, potholed and largely deserted except for a few roaming dogs. The small clutch of bars and restaurants along the riverside are largely uninviting, the only things that provide any sort of appeal are the riverside promenade itself and the rustic old bridge built by the French crossing the river. Not much else to say except I had that sinking feeling that I should have stayed on the bus. Even my lodgings were a downer – the very pleasant looking garden restaurant turns out to be a mosquito farm and the food they serve is surprisingly bland. Later that night my sleep is accompanied by the howling of every dog in Kampot. That was my one enduring memory of the town, and before I can be tempted by any further delights of this town, I decide to check out the next morning for the quick bus ride up to Snooky. I might get pilloried for my views on Kampot because I met folks who do like the town, and to be fair you need to stay in a place for at least 3 days or so to get to really feel it. But sorry, we move on.