A few days into my stay in Phnom Penh, I took a friend’s advice and headed south to Kampot. Because of the recent rains, the rice fields down by Kampot were a vibrant green, contrasting with the red of the dirt roads. It was absolutely beautiful!
It’s a little far to Kampot to make a day trip from Phnom Penh, so I planned on staying one night at an eco resort nearby. Stepping off the bus, I was swarmed by the most aggressive tuk tuk drivers I have met yet in Cambodia, who physically surrounded me. That made me uncomfortable, so I walked away and picked a single driver who followed quietly. One of the aggressive ones chose to dispute this, saying he had told me “I wait for you”, a pretty standard tactic. I ignored this and left with the non-hassling driver, but it wasn’t the most auspicious start!
The roads in the area are full of potholes, making the tuk tuk a fairly uncomfortable mode of transport. But all the potholes mean driving at a slow pace, which enabled me to wave back to the various schoolchildren on their bikes shouting “hello” and “how are you?” throughout the day. The kids were so friendly! It’s one of my favorite memories of Cambodia.
To get to the hotel, you have to go through a tiny Cham (a Muslim ethnic group) village, barely avoiding driving through someone’s sheltered “patio” under their second story house because the houses are so close together. Chickens, of course, abound.
I hired my tuk tuk driver to take me to Kep, on the ocean, and to a temple built around a stalactite in a cave. I had also wanted to see a pepper plantation, since Kampot pepper is a specialty. Back in the French colonial days, it was exported as a delicacy, and it is enjoying a resurgence now that the civil war is over. My hotel said the plantations should be on the way, but my tuk tuk driver had a set “tour” which included salt flats, Kep crab market, the temple, and a fishing village and he wasn’t too interested in being flexible. Oh well, I have seen a lot of fields on this trip anyway!
First stop were the salt flats, not too active yet since it was still rainy season and all the salt would keep getting diluted and washed away if they were to try to dry salt!
Next was Kep crab market, where I gently refused to eat at the restaurant my driver suggested and went to the one that had been recommended to me instead. Lunch was, of course, crab – steamed and with fresh Kampot pepper. Just sitting and looking out at the sea was really lovely.
Then back in the tuk tuk past the fishing village (looking over a group of men with boats getting their nets ready for the night’s catch, nothing too exciting) and on to the temple. What I didn’t know was that in wet season, tuk tuks can’t get to the foot of the hill the cave is in and you have to walk through some rice paddies and across a downed tree set as a bridge. Despite all my good intentions, I had to accept the help of a couple of local children as guides. (I was really reluctant to since it can encourage the families to send the kids to act as guides to earn tip money instead of to school.)
Through the fields, over the tree, up the hill, then down into the (mosquito-filled) cave. A bit of a trek! The temple was tiny, more a shrine, but really interesting for all that. It was a simple brick structure built around the cave formation.
Then back to the tuk tuk, where the driver made me clean off at least some of the mud caked onto my shoes from the trek over the dirt path. One of the kids had giggled that my shoes now weighed a kilo each due to mud, and she wasn’t far wrong!
An early night was in order, as I was just starting to get that horrible head cold. My eco resort had a choice of room types. I chose the tribal hut, a bamboo hut on stilts at the back of the property overlooking rice fields. I left my shoes at the bottom of the ladder up to my hut, as asked to make cleaning the elevated bamboo platform easier. I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a wet season downpour, and debated going out to rescue my shoes. But they would have been soaked already, so I decided to stay snug and dry. In the morning, I shook them out and was a little bemused to see a toad plop out of one!
The hot tropical sun dried my shoes over the course of the morning, which worked perfectly since I had decided to nurse my cold by reading my book at the hotel. Why else stay at an eco resort, after all, if it’s not also a good place to hang out?!
And then back to Phnom Penh!