07/28/2014 - 08/02/2014
The southern coast of Cambodia is host to several idyllic islands dotted with beautiful beaches, but the monsoon season isn't really the ideal time for a visit. Besides we've had enough beach time in southern Thailand to last us a little while, so instead we targeted the laid back river town of Kampot, and its neighbor, Kep.
In Kampot, one rainy day flowed into another as we learned the true meaning of a monsoon. We watched the storms roll in from our balcony, and were woken up each morning just before dawn by the power of the rain. We didn't mind, though - we have a soft spot for lazy stormy days. Delicious local food and much missed Western specialties (mmm, bacon and pulled pork, iced lattes and big sandwiches and salads (and CHEESE)), cheap draft beers (50 cents), and a handmade noodles and dumplings place make Kampot a small dream come true. There's plenty to do in town, including a choose-your-own-movie theater, kayak trips through flooded mangrove forests, $4/hr blind massage parlors, and countryside tuk-tuk tours. But one of the best things to do is to not do what you had planned.
Love these windblown trees everywhere
We did take the countryside tour, which was excellent and gave us a great peek into the daily lives of the friendly villagers who always smiled and waved to us as we passed. The iconic beauty of country life out here is breathtaking - the stilted houses amongst bright green rice fields, muddy water buffalo, brick red dirt roads and windblown palm trees stretching across the flat Cambodian landscape. We visited salt fields, a fishing village, a cave, and a pagoda, where many locals were bringing alms to the monks. We also paid a visit to a farm growing the famed Kampot pepper, which was without question highlighted in every self respecting restaurant in Paris during the French colonial period.
Our lunch spot
This is how pepper grows!?
We also rented a motorbike and drove over to Kep, the drab neighbor that very obviously used to be a grand upper-class resort town that has deteriorated into abandoned mansions and deserted lots. The town's allure, however is its specialty dish - fresh crab in a Kampot pepper sauce found at one of many seaside restaurants next to the crab market. We ate a delicious lunch of squid and pepper crab, then killed time driving down random back roads and chasing the pagoda in the distance until we could justify going back for our second crab meal within 4 hours. Mike is a happy man.
Our $7.50 plate of fresh crab
The road to Kep
Baskets for catching crab
Kampot also loves its durian (remember that smelly fruit?), and its main circle intersection proudly holds a large durian statue. When it comes to durian, the sooner it's eaten after coming off the tree the better, and the area around Kampot has several durian farms. We got it a couple times, and oh man! Seriously some of the best we've had anywhere.
It's easy to get swept along by the slow pace of life in southern Cambodia. Maybe it's the rhythmic frequency of the monsoon rains, or the timeless flow of the river, or the many women who spend the whole day in their matching pajama sets. Or it could just be the cheap beer and the expats whose only ambition is to drink it. Whatever the reason, our planned short visit easily turned into six happy days.