Thursday, March 24, 2016

Weekend in Kampot

After feeling down and impatient in post-amoebic Phnom Penh, I decided to take a weekend holiday in go the south of Cambodia, in the riverside of Kampot.

Kampot is a place the French established as a favorite holiday spot when they controlled Cambodia for a little while. It’s also where a lot of the famous pepper called “Kampot Pepper” is grown.
I got off the 4-hour bus and found myself in a smaller city that was quiet, clean, and peaceful – a much different atmosphere than the dusty, bustling, and loud feeling of Phnom Penh. The town is lined with a Riverwalk that made me feel like I was strolling down a familiar town near home, with a broad boulevard that was spotted with trees and pink-flowered bushes. The river also provided a cooler wind and temperature buffer, making it a few degrees cooler than the capital. I really enjoyed it there.

Kampot is a bit quirky, too. For one, there were a wide range of tourists around me, including backpacking-hippie types and older pot-bellied bald guys (or frayed, greying wavy locks) walking alone with local women. Not completely foreign to tourist spots, though it was surprising for me at the time. Another quirk specific to Kampot was one specific roundabout/rotary in the town – the center of the roundabout held a large statue of a durian standing amongst smaller pineapples and coconuts. Durian is grown in the area, I understand that; but if you’ve encountered durian in the way I have and feel the same way I do about the stench/taste, you may be as equally surprised/concerned as I was upon seeing it revered in the middle of a main thoroughfare.

As soon as I checked into my simple hotel room, I took a tuktuk an hour out to the nearby beach town of Kep. Kep is known for glorious beaches and wonderful seafood. I have previously explained my dislike for sand and being on hot sunny beaches for too long, so I did not tarry in Kep for very long. I was in Kep, specifically, to eat seafood – not just any seafood, either! Kampot pepper crab, which is a fantastically delicious thing. I cannot fully describe the amazing tastes I experienced when eating the peppered crab (with a drizzle of curry on it) in Kep, but it was worth the moments of silence I gave it. It was amusing, though, because the crab shack I went to on the beach did not have crackers for opening the crabs, and I had to use my teeth and hands to tear apart for the meaty goodness. Behind me were a bunch of American girls who looked disgustedly at their whole crabs, pushing them around on the plate seemingly confused about how to eat them or refusing to get dirty. I was an absolute mess when eating the crabs, but they were worth it. Waste not!

If you need a tuktuk driver in Kampot...
Back in Kampot, I went to a spa and read while getting apedicure for which my feet thanked me. I took my dazzling nails and me afterwards to a Portuguese restaurant a bit further out and ate some of the finest gourmet food I have had in months.

The next day my trusty tuktuk driver took me around the countryside of Kampot to a number of interesting places.
  • Salt fields: During the dry season (now), they drain sea water into flat fields and coax the salt out of the water so they can sell it as sea salt in Cambodia and abroad. It was a really interesting set-up to look at; there are rows and rows of shallow water with glittery white chunks floating to the edges of the fields that are raked out, dried, and stored in long buildings that have salt coming out of the corners and doors.
  • Pepper fields: We essentially walked through someone’s property to these tall vines of pepper being grown in a small chunk of land. The peppers grow as green, and are then dried or pounded a certain way to become black or white.
  • Caves & Lakes: My tuktuk driver led me through a scorched field next to a hill, over a bridge, and through someone’s backyard again. At first I got nervous about why we were walking through backyards and in the middle of some of the quietest scenery I’ve been in for a while. He then led me to a clearing where there was a grand staircase guarded by monkeys. After shooing away the monkeys politely, we hiked up the stairs and I found myself in a beautiful cave in the hillside. The cave had smooth yet dramatic curves. Walking into the cave, I saw a small, ancient temple propped on one of the walls. The tuktuk driver mentioned it was older than Angkor Wat, and was originally a Hindu temple. He also took me to a very quiet area with a lake for a cold drink before getting back to the town. It was nice. It was a quiet, small lake.
In the evening, I took a boat ride that slowly rode up and down the river during sunset. Aside from the occasional obnoxiously-shouting tourists on the boat, the ride was a lovely exploration of the river. As we floated through the lush riverbanks, the sun set right behind the Bokor Mountain, giving the sky spectacular warm golds and yellows. We also went into one of the more swampy areas of the river at the end of the ride so that we could watch some fireflies for a few minutes.

On the last day in Kampot, it became extremely hot. I decided to preserve my energy in the heat by reading more while sitting in some of the town’s cafes, and I took a leisurely stroll up and down the Riverwalk, admiring the flowers and panorama views.


Optimistic Existentialist said...

Sounds like quite an interesting place to visit. I shall add it to my bucket list :)

A Traveler said...

I would recommend it for a couple days definitely! I don't know where you are at the moment, but apparently it's an easy bus ride from Vietnam Thailand and maybe Laos