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Published: December 10th 2018
The hostel staff tried to talk us out of it, saying the bus was much cheaper, but we wouldn’t hear any of it. We were going to hire a car. They said it might be difficult to arrange due to Chinese New Year, but after yesterday there was no way I was going to be stuck on a bus for a second straight day. Besides Stacey never minds a bit of luxury. So, a private car it was.
A short time later a black car pulled up in front of the hostel. And out popped our driver sporting slicked back hair and wearing wrap around sunglasses and a “Thug Life” t-shirt. Stacey and I gamely piled into the backseat and we were on way to Kampot. There was a ton of holiday traffic, but I didn’t mind. The car was comfortable and I had Stacey to talk to. The driver had lived in Thailand before and was playing upbeat Isaan music. Once again, the Cambodian countryside bounced on by.
The driver wasn’t all that familiar with Kampot, but after a few wrong turns and requests for directions we made it to our destination, the highly recommended Rikitikitavi guesthouse. Just
stepping out on to the street of Kampot felt different. The street was next to a river and mercifully shaded by trees. The cooling stiff breeze was not like the Cambodia I had become accustomed with. It was quite a relief. Our weekend retreat had begun.
We were checked in by a Cambodian guy with a thick Australian accent. My room still wasn’t ready, but Stacey’s was. So, we dropped both our bags in her room and headed upstairs to the open air/bar restaurant. It was gorgeous up there. It did actually feel a little like a resort. We christened the place with a couple of tall green alcoholic drinks and ordered a few snacks.
We were just discussing what to do next when Denise, the friendly Belgian owner, came over and plopped herself down next to us like we were old friends. After inquiring about our plans for the weekend, she sprung into action, making all sorts of calls on her cellphone. Before we knew it, we had our next two days all sorted out with activities. On our first full day we would be going to Kep by tuk tuk with a lot of sites thrown
in along the way and then take a boat called the “Crab Shuttle” back to Kampot around sunset. The next day we make for Bokor Mountain National Park on something referred to as a “Mega Tuk Tuk”. Sounded intriguing.
With nothing specific planned the rest of the day Stacey and I explored Kampot on foot. We came to a massive manmade lotus pond. It really spoke to the faded elegance of the city. Kampot had been the resort town of the rich before the Khmer Rouge came to power putting an end to Western influenced decadence. The city even had been the site of a major 1974 battle during the civil war. There was something wistful about seeing this palatial landmark, now sitting around underappreciated in a what had become a sleepy town.
My main mission at this point was to find a bank where I could pick up some cash via Western Union. After dragging Stacey all over the hot streets I finally managed to locate the Acela Bank where I was told I might be able get some cash. For those in similar dire straits, it is near the Durian roundabout. Yes, in Kampot they actually
have a roundabout with a statue of a huge smelly Durian fruit.
Stacey and I walked in and I took a number. We sat for what felt like forever. There were only a couple windows doling out Western Union goodness, but it was a good way to get a look at local life. There was one Cambodian woman who went to the window and was handed stacks upon stacks of cash, which this being Cambodia was all in US greenbacks. I estimate it was anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000. Just before I was called a western guy walked up and asked for exactly $301--all in one-dollar bills. Lord only knows what that was all about. Finally, it was my turn. The staff took my details and routing numbers. They made me sweat it out for a while, literally, but they eventually handed over a much-needed cash infusion. I was back in the game. Now let’s go out and spend it!
The immediate area where we were staying was very European with a high number of foreign owned businesses and visitors. Appropriately then, that evening Stacey and I wound up at a Spanish tapas bar surrounded by foreigners. We
capped the night off with indulgent deserts back at the Rikitikitavi restaurant. When it was finally time for sleep, I crashed out and slept soundly in my giant fluffy four poster bed.
* * *
After a beautiful breakfast at Rikitikitavi, our driver arrived in his tuk tuk and we were off. We were shown salt fields, which were about exciting as they sound. However, it was interesting to learn that during the time of the Khmer Rouge, people from the city were forced to work out in the fields collecting salt in the name of Angkor.
More interesting was the old Hindu temple of Phnom Chhnork. What was so amazing about it was that it was built in the 7th
century, 500 years before Angkor Wat. And yet no one else was here visiting it. Kids buzzed all around looking to act as guides, but we had our own guide. He did a good job point how all these rock formations remarkably resembled giant animals. The temple itself was located down in a dark cave that we had to access via some rather steep steps. It felt tucked in and sacred.
Kampot is famous for
its pepper. We were told we had to visit one of the many pepper plantations. For some reason the Khmer Rouge banned the production of pepper during their reign, forcing the local farmers to produce other crops instead. Only recently have the old pepper experts come back and gotten the plantations up and running again.
At the planation we were given a demonstration and were made to taste all the different kinds of pepper: black, white, red, you name it. I was very taken with the young Khmer girl giving the presentation. She was wearing all black like they wore during the Khmer Rouge era and a simple throwback ponytail. She had an endearing snaggle tooth, nice lips, and talked in a soft voice. I liked the way she kept calling everybody “brother” or “sister”. She seemed to come from out of another time.
After the presentation Stacey and I spent some time wandering among the giant green pepper plants and even happened on some water buffaloes just wallowing in the mud on the side of the road. Because what else is a water buffalo going to do with the day? All this touring and pepper tasting had
gotten me hungry. It was time for lunch and lunch was in Kep.
If Kep is famous for one thing, besides it’s beachside location, it is crabs. Especially a dish called Kampot Pepper Crab. We asked the driver to drop us of at a recommended sea food restaurant. The large restaurant was crowded so we knew it was bound to be good. We then proceeded to order so much food that they struggled even to fit it all on our decent sized table. Multiple crab dishes, soups, extra noodle dishes all washed down with huge beers and large espresso frappes. It probably was enough for two Cambodian families. And I guess we were the stereotypical western gluttons, but I didn’t care. Everything was so good! I made such a mess in the process of breaking up and eating the crabs. I have never been so messy in a restaurant before. Both my hands ended up 100% slippery and slimy from wrist to fingertip.
After lunch and wash up, our driver dropped us of at the Kep town docks where we were to meet Neil of the Crab Shuttle for our boat ride back to Kampot. Neil was a
great guy who ran the whole operation with some help from Mr. No, a silent old Cambodian river captain. We were on time, but the three others who had also booked passage on the boat were not. We waited a long time and when they did show up, they proceeded to sit down and had a picnic, making us wait further. It was unbelievable. It was close to an hour after departure time when we finally set off.
I quickly scampered to front of the boat and perched on the stern like I was some sort of riverboat trailblazer. It was amazing to see Kep glide on buy and watch how the seaside began to morph into mangrove forests. A relaxation began to descend over us.
The three other people were an odd assortment. Stacey and I were struggling to figure out their relationship to one another. Later we discovered that they were an expat from Pittsburgh, his Chinese girlfriend and her mother. Midway through the trip the guy from Pittsburgh got interested in us and came over to strike up a conversation. He seemed to enjoy the chance to speak with some fellow westerners. He had tales
from a round the world trip that spanned 2 ½ years. Not bad if you ask me. Now however, he had settled down in China.
By this time my gaze had turned to the sun which was now setting. Fishing boats were headed out into the sea in formation. There would be five or six boats all tethered together side by side. Neil said this was because on the journey out the crews of the boats liked to all get together to drink and gamble. Looking out over the water to the sunset was magnificent. I got to thinking about how if we hadn’t been made to wait by the group, we would have missed this. A lesson in patience was given, whether it was learned is still to be determined.
Later that night Stacey and I would go to the Boathouse restaurant, located on the river near our guesthouse. The waiter seemed to seat us reluctantly. He tried to get rid of us by saying it would take an hour to serve us any food. Sensing a battle of wills, I said sure why not. We’ll wait and just order drinks. He seemed completely shocked and then
went back to the kitchen to talk to the chef. After much yelling, he came back and said that it was fine. We proceeded to get completely bombed on pina coladas while waiting for the food. The food did arrive though. I have no idea why, but one of the things I ordered was a spicy fruit and yogurt salad. Yeah. I am sure I won’t regret that later...
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