Kampot

18 Oct

After a rainy morning in Phnom Penh, we took a small bus to Kampot, arriving just after sunset. Arcadia, the hostel we booked for two nights, is located about 7 km out of town on the river bank, requiring us to take a tuk tuk. The ride was actually calming and enjoyable as we rolled along through the sleepy town and into the outskirts, with the mountains appearing like painted shadows against the dimly lit sky. When we got to Arcadia, we threw our bags into the private room we had booked and got to drinking. I called it an early night however, so that I would not be hungover for the following days activities.

Arcadia, as I said before, is located right on the river and attracts a lot of backpackers as a fun waterpark type destination. Here, we met back up with our Irish friends, Dominique, Amy and Nikki, as well as Jess, and were surprised to find Calum, who we had met in Dalat, there as well. You certainly don’t go here to have any personal or cultural revelations, just to have some fun. A dock in the middle of the river, where we spent our morning lounging around, has hammocks and a big ladder to jump from. Back on shore, the main attractions include the “blob” and a water slide. The blob looks like a big square balloon in the middle of the water. One person jumps on and crawls to the end of it and two others jump from the ledge of the main building that looks over the water, landing on the blob and launching the person on the end into the air, landing in the water. The water slide has a lip on the end of it that shoots people up into the air. Some people go down on their stomach, some on their back, head first or feet first. The super skilled individuals were able to do back flips and front flips into dives, while I, on my one and only try, flailed my legs in the air and had a painful land that resulted in many bruises. However, the rope swing was what really messed me up. Both Amy and I tried the rope swing and gripped it with our legs which is the most amateur mistake apparently. We both have matching massive inner thigh bruises with rope burn. While it sounds like it was a massive painful shit show, which it was, it was an excellent day of activities with good people and a blurry number of strawberry and passionfruit daiquiris. 

The following morning we headed into the town of Kampot, along with Jess and Ilana, where we had booked into the Mad Monkey hostel for the night so we could get the chance to see the town. We made moves early so that we could spend the day riding motor bikes through Bokor National Park. While my track record with bikes is not exceptional, I was willing to give these ones a go as they were scooters and much easier to drive than the semi-automatics we were entrusted with in Vietnam. I instantly felt more comfortable on these bikes as we set out on the ride to the national park, which is basically a straight shot on a newly paved road. While we had a minor slip-up of passing the entrance to the park by 7km, we made it without any issues. The day started with a sunny drive up the winding roads of the park, but quickly turned into drizzles and eventually into pouring rain and fog and back to sun. Some parts of the mountainous drive were completely dry and others totally soaked. While you could barely see in front of you in the rain, we championed through and saw all there was to see, including a big female Buddha statue at the top of the mountain, the abandoned church and casino and the waterfall. For the drive back down the mountain we encountered a bit of rain, but ended back on the sunny road. It is actually crazy to me how weather can work like that. Down on the main road they didn’t see a speck of rain all day, yet we had been through monsoons on the drive up the mountain. 


That night we decided to go to an Italian restaurant in town, Ciao, where an Italian man living in Kampot served up massive portions of pesto gnocchi with sausage, ravioli, meatballs and pasta. While the meal was extremely salty, we were happy to have some fresh, handmade pasta. We had drove our bikes to dinner, and by the time we were returning a massive concert festival had started, making the road back to our hostel completely unnavigable. We were stuck in massive amounts of bike and human traffic and barely could move. I saw people driving over the curb to go around the masses and followed suit, letting my impatience get the best of me. Since I am not a pro motorbike driver I revved the bike far too much and went flying over the curb, hitting a local’s parked bike and skidding out just before hitting the concrete wall in front of me. Luckily, the adrenaline had me feeling unscathed, and I was able to get up and lift my bike, which also was unharmed. However, I had completely clipped off the back light piece on the local’s bike. By the time I was turning to address the issue, a hoard of Cambodian men had been standing around the bike, which they had to pick up, examining every inch of it. I was in such a panic that they would try to extort me, asking for an obscene amount of money, but the situation actually played out very nicely. I asked whose bike it was and how much they thought the damage was. I think the guy said $25 and I handed him $20 which he agreed to, thanking me. It went so smoothly that it led me to think the bike did not actually belong to any of them. But I certainly was not going to ask any questions and we headed back into the traffic to slowly make our way back to the hostel. It wasn’t until I was in bed later and the adrenaline had worn off that I realized I earned many more bruises for my mistakes and pulled a few muscles in my arm and chest. I certainly paid for my stupidity. 

The following day, I got back on my bike (crazy? Maybe.) and we ventured off to Kep, a beach location about 20 km away that is known for its crab market. Prior to hitting the road, we ate breakfast at Epic Arts Cafe, an eatery that employs deaf and disabled locals, giving them the ability to work and make a living. The food was actually very good and the table’s spread included homemade granola, a chicken pesto panini, spinach and feta tart and “breakfast bruschetta”. The drive to Kep was a simple one down a single road with one turn that led us straight to the crab market. The crab market was pretty awesome, with cages of crab being pulled out of the water and opened up as people walk by, allowing them to choose their fresh crabs straight from the day’s catch. A covered portion of the market serves up grilled fare, including full fishes, squid, crab, seafood stir fry and more. Afterwards we biked down past the beach and then attempted to enter the national park, failing completely as the roads were muddy, bumpy and hilly and the thought of having to get back down them in the inevitable rain was daunting. 

That afternoon we got back to the hostel and booked a bus to Sihanoukville, a beach city that many people describe as gross and the worst place they’ve been too. Enticing, I know. However, we (Angela, Jess, Ilana, Calum and myself) booked a single night here in order to get the earliest ferry to the islands the following morning (all ferries to the islands depart from here). The bus was a speedy two hour bus that dropped us right at the front door of our hostel, Monkey Republic. After a free beer and a quick swim, we headed to a separate hostel for dinner, where I got my favorite Cambodian dish, beef lok lak, a sautéed beef and onion dish served up with a fried egg atop and rice alongside. Here we had another early night and, with a mostly empty dorm room, I had the best sleep I can remember having in Asia.

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