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Published: January 17th 2010
Four hours after leaving Phnom Penh we arrived in the tiny seaside town of Kep. The drive had been very pretty - many postcard scenes of rice paddies, palm leave houses, bullock carts and limestone hills. We (Ruth from NZ) had prebooked accommodation at a guest house with a swimming pool - the owner met us and took us back to our home for the next few days. The guest house (Malibu) was set off the main road at the base of a small hill - very pretty and the swimming pool was gorgeous! The owners (French) were really casual and we didn't even have to sign a register or give our details - the first time in the whole trip we haven't had to show our passports when we checked into a room. We spent a lot of time enjoying the pool over the next few days! We didn't leave the hotel for the rest of the the day - not even to explore the surrounds which is unusual for us.
Next morning though we walked a couple of kilometres into the 'town' which really didn't exist. Kep was spread out along the shore - the busiest area was
the crab market and adjoining seaside restaurants. The whole area was very busy - many women were selling tiny crabs from wicker baskets, others were boiling them up in big pots over open fires. The crabs were being taken live from the baskets which were then put back into the sea with the remaining crabs - it kept them alive and therefore fresh! The baskets were being pulled in and out as people bought the crabs. There were a lot of family groups from Phnom Penh buying the crabs to take home - they were boiled in big pots after purchase and then tipped hot into large foam eskys, taped shut and put into cars for the five hour trip back to the city. I could only imaging the tummy bugs that were brewing in each of the eskys on their trips home. Cambodian stomachs are obviously stronger then ours!
We walked further around the shore line to another area where there were dozens of little covered picnic shelters which were rented by the day. They each came with bamboo matting and hammocks and appeared to be very popular as they were filling up fast with family groups from Phnom
Penh. The beach was pretty but very tiny by our standards. All along the shoreline were burnt out ruins of buildings built by the French. This area had been heavily targeted by the Khmer Rouge. Today the ruins still sit there blackened and empty, used only by squatters. However most have been sold now and are waiting redevelopment as tourist guest houses or cafes. This area is set to explode over the next few years as tourism really takes hold here.
Next day we left the pool side for a day and hired a tuk tuk to take us on a tour of the area. He was a great driver, with a sense of humor and infectious laugh. He took us first to a pepper plantation - I had no idea how pepper grew so found this quite fascinating. He showed us the bushes it grew on and the process of drying pepper into it's various forms. The pepper is lovely, strong with a distinct flavour. From there we went down a very rough dirt road to visit Phnom Chhnork, a 7th century brick temple inside a cave in one of the limestone hills which dotted the region. We were
accompanied by a group of children acting as guides - they lived nearby and earn a bit for their families by taking tourists to the caves. It also helps their English and French language skills (there are many French tourists in Cambodia) improve. They're around all the sites and are always fun to talk to. After bouncing back along the dirt track we headed off to Kampot, 25 klms from Kep. I didn't like Kampot - we had lunch there in a tiny cafe before wandering around the streets. We did find a small supermarket that sold vegemite - so there must be quite a few Aussie expats in the area. It's the first time we've seen vegemite in Asia for sale. Again the town was full of old colonial buildings, not in ruins as in Kep, but most in a sorry state of disrepair. Our last stop was at a salt farm. Many people were scooping up the salt with wicker scoops and tipping it into baskets which other people were carrying to a shed where it was piled onto an ever increasing pile of salt crystals. All this work was being done with bare feet! Another great day
out - through some of the prettiest country we've seen so far in Cambodia. All day long we were greeted with happy smiles and waves as we drove past - such happy people living very simple lives.
For the next three days, other then a walk into the crab markets restaurants to eat and watch the glorious sunsets each evening, we did absolutely nothing! We enjoyed the swimming pool, drank some wine and watched the lights sparkle in the pool each evening, and caught up on some reading. It was a really relaxing few days. Christmas eve saw us return to Phnom Penh - we wanted to spend Christmas in the city - mainly so we could ring family. Boxing day, after a quite Christmas day, we caught another bus north to Kratie, another Mekong town, where we hoped to see the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins.
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