In the land of salt and pepper… and ghosts…


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Asia » Cambodia » South » Kampot
September 12th 2013
Published: March 30th 2014
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When we were arranging our transport to Kampot, the idea of being picked up as the first ones seemed like a good one at the time, we would have a chance to pick our seats at least… It certainly wasn’t an advantage in this case though… Our supposed 2-hour journey to Kampot turned out to be twice as long because of that... we still needed to pick up the rest of the backpackers and some of them didn’t even bother to turn up on time… To be honest it probably wouldn’t have bothered me normally, but the seats were tiny and very uncomfortable with no leg space whatsoever… I thought I would just keep myself occupied with some blogging then… Well… That’s where I really started getting grumpy… My netbook was playing tricks on me again! It wasn’t the power button again as it was still working after the repair in Siem Reap, it looked like this time it might have been the hardrive… or worse… Since Kampot was even smaller town than Sihanoukville I seriously doubted whether I would be able to repair my netbook there… Ah well… We would just have to see…



We arrived in Kampot in the early afternoon. When the bus driver was taking out my backpack I heard a big reap… It was stuck on something so the driver just started pulling it… until it finally did get loose… reaping the back of it… Aaaaah… Not my day it would seem… Thankfully my hero was by my side again… Grant comforted me with his words and offered… to sew my backpack as well! So sweet! 😊 We followed one of the guys offering rooms at his guesthouse. We ended up taking one with aircon. Why not? After all, these were our last days in Cambodia, and in Asia for that matter as well, so we might have as well spent a few more bucks for a little bit of luxury – literally a few, as it cost us additional $3 per night. On top of that we had access to a nice terrace overlooking the river. Not bad at all.



I was ready to give this day a chance again so with a new attitude we decided to check out the town… and see whether they had any computer repair shops around as well. Thankfully I still had my camera, right? Well… Not exactly… Did I forget to charge the battery? Hmmm… I wouldn’t think so… I ran back up to our room to get another battery as that one was charged for sure… Still nothing though… Camera dead as well… Seriously??? Come on! Was this some kind of a test or what? As disappointed as I was, there wasn’t much I could do about it though… To be honest, it was kind of a surprise that my camera lasted so long… All the weather and climate changes, cold, hot, humid, dry, wet… Protecting my camera from the harsh weather wasn’t always the case unfortunately… And probably the day on the boat in Sihanoukville was a bit too much – I did put the camera in a waterproof bag (or rather semi-waterproof I should say…), still with the heavy rain our things did get soaked that day, so no surprise at all… Still it would have been nice if the camera lasted a few days longer, right? Anyway… My day was ruined… Almost… If it wasn’t for Grant again… Seriously, I’ve never met someone with such a common sense and so much patience… Simply incredible! My rock! 😊



It turned out that there was a computer shop right in front of our guesthouse! Who would’ve thought? The guy there said that it was probably the hardrive, meaning I would lose all my data… well… didn’t matter… I did have a backup anyway – for most of the things at least, so no worries… No camera repairs in Kampot though we’ve been told… Guess my camera would have to wait until Phnom Penh then… Besides Grant had a small compact camera with him… We left the netbook and went exploring the town a bit… Really just a bit though as after walking around for a while we started looking for a place to eat and have a drink… What can I say? I was still digesting the events of this day – yep! pretty hard-headed I am… working on it… slowly… 😉



In the late afternoon we went back to pick up my netbook. Unfortunately the guy wasn’t able to repair it though... After unsuccessfully trying to reinstall Windows and replacing a couple of parts, it still wouldn’t start. So he put my netbook back together, apologized a couple of times and simply gave it back to me. No charge at all! Seriously??? Wow! I never came across anything like that… He worked on it for a couple of hours and since wasn’t able to repair it, he just wouldn’t take the money… In Europe that would never happen… They would charge you for everything there for sure! Cambodians truly amaze me… Think they might be the kindest people we’ve met so far… and always smiling… I certainly learned a lot from them… Well… I’m still in the process of learning… But I’ll get there… someday…



We signed up for a trip to Bokor National Park the following day. I have to say that we ran out of luck with the weather somewhere in Sihanoukville as it has been raining on and off ever since the boat trip… That day was very overcast as well, so we knew that rain would come sooner or later. Raincoats packed then and ready for the trip! The road up the hill was in a surprisingly good shape, even our guide said that it was actually the best road in the country! Fixing the road was a part of a 1$billion project. Sokimex Group which got the government’s approval for this project, plans to redevelop the site by building hotels, restaurants, entertainment parks, golf clubs as well as exclusive villas. Thansur Bokor Highland Resort hotel opened in late 2011 as a part of this project. I found it really strange that the government gave permission for this development in the protected area though??? I thought that the idea of a national park was to keep these kinds of projects at bay, preventing the destruction of fauna and flora. Apparently the rainforests of Bokor were once inhabited by many animal species, even including tigers. Nowhere to be seen now…



We would have a chance to see the development plans later on, but first on the list was the ‘ghost city’, remains from the French era, the old Hill Station. We started with the ruins of the Black Palace. Once it served as the king’s summer residence, now on the outside covered with lichen and inside with graffiti… Apparently there is a cliff and a beautiful view right behind the residence but since we were basically sitting in the clouds, we missed it as we couldn’t see further than 10 metres to be honest… Next we went to see an old Catholic church. It was so foggy that we could barely make out its shape from the road. Just like the residence the church was basically taken over by red lichen. It was definitely more impressive on the outside rather than inside as besides the bare walls now covered with graffiti and a statue of Virgin Mary in the middle, there wasn’t much to see there really. Even though it was very foggy and constantly drizzling that day, this kind of weather seemed to be just perfect for visiting places like this one. It certainly was creating a very eerie atmosphere, if not slightly spooky to say the least… Next we headed to Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino. It was built in 1920s to offer an escape from humid and dusty Phnom Penh. Now empty skeleton of a building, it looks like a perfect location for a horror movie. So no surprise that some movies were shot here – ‘City of Ghosts’ as well as Korean ‘R-Point’. Apparently many people died while the hotel was being constructed and it is said that their ghosts are still hunting the place. With the mist hanging in the air and making its way through the windows, walking through the empty corridors and stairways certainly made me feel uneasy… Not sure whether Grant didn’t see me stopping at one of the halls for a moment or whether he simply left me there on purpose!!! 😉 but at one point I found myself all alone in this creepy place… Every little sound and each breeze of cold air was giving me shivers… The mist wasn’t helping either… Soon after I found a few people from my group and Grant as well, but I knew one thing for sure, I’ve had enough of this creepy hotel…



Next we went to the display centre to see what exactly Sokimex Group had in mind when deciding on taking on this $1billion project. There was a massive model of a village at the centre. Luxurious properties, parks and all that… With average prices of villas ranging from $120,000 to over $200,000, one thing was going through my mind – who on earth was going to buy all these houses? Ok, we did see quite a lot of wealthy people driving around Phnom Penh, the most Lexus cars I’ve seen in my life actually, still it is a small percentage of the Cambodian population… Most people live on few dollars a day, many on much less than that… So even though the project like this would seem like a normal idea, nothing out of the ordinary in any of the developed countries, here it just seemed very, very optimistic… if not slightly ridiculous to be honest… I am really curious which way it will go in the future. It is meant to be a 15-year project, so I guess I’ll just have to come back here in a few years time and see how it’s progressing…



On the way back to Kampot we stopped at a nice waterfall – being here in monsoon season certainly has its advantages sometimes… The last item on our itinerary was a sunset cruise on the river. Well, we certainly wouldn’t be seeing any sunset that day as even though it stopped raining the sky was overcast still, but then a cruise on the river sounded like a good idea, so we hopped on the boat and peacefully made our way along the river. We were cruising for a good hour and a half, passing by quite a few fishing boats and admiring the scenery around. As we were approaching Kampot the younger member of our boat crew – a young boy (most likely the son of our captain) started humming under his nose and then encouraged by a few smiles, including mine, started singing. His face was simply emanating with happiness! It was really heart-warming to watch. Really nice finish to the trip… Despite the pretty bad weather we really enjoyed it – having a great guide helped for sure! We finished our day with a lovely amok at Captain Chim’s – very decent prices so it wouldn’t be the last time we ate there for sure...



We were planning to do a trip to a pepper farm and Kep before we left Kampot, but the weather forecast for the next few days wasn’t too promising… in the end bad weather or not, we would do the trip anyway… First a day of chillaxing though… walking around Kampot… and watching rugby. 😊 We decided to treat ourselves and try the ‘famous ribs’ at Rusty Keyhole that day as well… They have three portion sizes there with the last one being pretty challenging for sure – if you eat the whole one, you pay nothing for your meal and your picture lands on the restaurant’s wall… Well… Food challenges definitely not my kind of thing… Stuffing myself for the sake of saving a few bucks… naaah… Where is the pleasure in eating then? We decided to share the medium portion between us instead. If that was the medium portion, I’m afraid to think what the challenging one looked like as we couldn’t even finish this one between the two of us. It sure was very tasty but it just didn’t look anything like ribs for me – basically a big lump of meat attached to a piece of bone… Way too much meat for me… Really nice restaurant though with very friendly owners! We saw them again that day at the rugby game… at Rusty Keyhole 2! I was surprised to see quite a big group of expats at the game as well… Who would’ve thought that so many westerns would choose Kampot as the place to settle down?



The weather didn’t get any better the following day, still if we wanted to see the pepper farm and Kep it was our last chance to do so. Even though originally we weren’t planning to stay longer than a day in Phnom Penh, only to buy a couple of things before we left Cambodia, now with my camera and netbook dead, repairing them in Australia equalled to hundreds of dollars spent, so Phnom Penh was the only chance to repair my stuff, or upgrade and look for new equipment perhaps? It was the only day left for a trip though… We were picked up by a tuk-tuk in the morning and headed to the pepper farm first. The roads were really muddy and seeing the clouds hanging heavily in the sky, it looked like it would definitely get worse by the time the day finished… We drove by the salt flats and once turned off the ‘main road’ we continued on through beautiful countryside with lush green rice paddies all around until we reached the pepper farm. At some parts the road was so muddy and uneven that I thought we were going to get stuck… I saw myself and Grant already pushing the tuk-tuk covered head to toe all in mud… Haha! Thankfully nothing of a sort happened and we reached the farm nice and clean – which couldn’t unfortunately be said about the bike, tuk-tuk or its driver... Covered in mud up to his knees… Still very skilful driver for these kinds of roads for sure! It certainly was very interesting to see the plantation and the process of pepper production. After all it is one of the products that every household uses on a daily basis. And since Kampot pepper is known to be the best in the world we were really lucky to be able to see where it actually came from. We also had a chance to taste all its varieties – white, black, red and green pepper, the last one straight from the vine! From the plantation we made our way through beautiful countryside once again to Phnom Sorsia caves. There is a colourful temple on the top of the hill from where you can see a beautiful panorama of the nearby fields as far away as Kep. There are two caves worth seeing here – White Elephant Cave with a stalagmite in a shape of an elephant head and a Bat Cave inhabited by a colony of bats. Next we headed to Kep. We strolled on the path along the beach – or more like a beach-to-be as for now it looked like a construction site only and then we simply looked for a place to eat. We found a nice spot with a good view and treated ourselves to some tasty curry and amok – what can I say? I’m addicted! Later on we drove around the empty colonial villas, crab market and slowly made our way back to Kampot. Very slowly actually as some parts of the road were simply impassable… The road there seemed to have turned into a big swamp… It created a bit of a chaos as well, as some heavy loaded trucks and cars were simply stuck in the road, so other cars and tuk-tuks were trying to pass them by blocking the road for the oncoming traffic… A few rollers appeared here and there to help out the drivers and make the road even again, still it looked like some of the people would be stuck there for a good while for sure… Thankfully our skilled driver managed to zig-zag in between the cars and soon after we were moving again and arrived at Kampot just before a heavy rainfall.

We would gladly stay a few more days in Kampot as we really liked this charming laid-back town. Still with only a few days before we left Cambodia, I had to at least try to repair my camera and netbook… So even though 5 days in the capital would seem before like way too much time, now it felt like just enough time to deal with the dead equipment situation. It was time to leave then and head back to our last Cambodian destination. Back to Phnom Penh!


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