Coasting on the Coast of Cambodia

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Where I stayed
Botanica Guest House Kep
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, August 12, 2013

A relatively short 4hr journey by van had me arriving in Sihanoukville, Cambodia's premier seaside resort town for both local and tourists and is described as having beautiful white sand beaches.  The tourists also come here as it is the easiest and fastest place to secure a visa for Vietnam as the Consulate is located here.  After checking into the Ochheuteal Guesthouse, and being a bit disappointed that my perception of the reviews did not match reality, I head out on a mission to get my Vietnam visa. Walking a little ways up the street I found a moto to take me to the consulate as it’s quite a ways out of town.  I’d forgotten, like most places here, they close for lunch and so when we arrived at 12:30pm it was closed until 2pm.  I decide just to stay and found a guesthouse across the street to have some lunch and pass the time.  True to everyone’s word I was in and out of the Consulate in 15 minutes with a visa in my passport.  Grabbing a moto back into town, I next headed to a travel agent to buy a bus ticket to my next destination of Kep the day after next.  With all that done my thought was I would be able to enjoy the rest of my time here at the beach or so I thought.  I headed down to the beach (the most popular of the three in the area) to check it out and it was not at all what I had pictured in my mind.  The high tide didn’t help as there was not much beach to be had and most of the scene was a cement boardwalk parallel to the beach lined with bars and restaurants.  It was mostly locals in the water fully clothed and playing on the beach, the tourists were all sitting in bars and restaurants where it was covered from the slight rain.  I walked as far as I could before I came to stream flowing out to the ocean that would be a difficult to pass and there was not much beyond anyways, so turned around and headed back along the beach before heading back to my room to grab my laptop and return to one of the bars.  As I was walking back down this little alley to get to the beach a woman asked if I wanted a pedicure and I gave the usual response "Not now maybe later".  So of course she just followed me and patiently waited until I got settled in a seat before asking again to which I replied “maybe tomorrow”.  The next thing I know she’s plopped her little stool down beside me to further negotiate, happens to put her hand on my leg and noticed that I hadn’t shaved in a while and pulls out her string used for threading and suggests this to me.  I said “no way it hurts” and she replied with “no I will show you for free, small spot” , and she did of course on the most least likely place that would hurt because after I negotiated a price for two legs she proceed to areas on my legs that was pure pain.  Then a boy came up trying to sell his bracelets and was chatting with him whilst saying no to buy his bracelets and in the process he made me a friendship bracelet for free, which in the end really wasn’t for free as I ended up negotiation with him to make three name bracelets for “my friends back home”.  At this point one of the ladies’ friend also doing spa treatments came to help her and started on my other leg and I was starting to feel a bit surrounded and overwhelmed because then one of the boy’s friend came over as well.  While he wasn’t really trying to sell anything he was trying really hard to be my friend and in the process decided to make me an ankle bracelet.  And so my beauty regiment turned into from just getting my legs threaded to my eyebrows and face being threaded by the second young boy nonetheless, and a manicure and pedicure and of course the mandatory massage.  I was careful to always ask the price of each before giving the go ahead, calculating the total price in my head.  When all said and done and firmly saying no to not having my underarms threaded, the ladies started packing up their things while I asked the total price.  When they said “A hundred dollars”, I promptly said “no way” and started adding things up for them based on the prices they told me, as I was thinking it was $50.00.  In the end we settled on $65.00 as apparently the rough skin on my feet was so bad they had to charge me $15.00.  Definitely worth it as the price I paid wouldn’t even start to pay for the services back home, I just didn’t necessarily like the way they went about it.  As I didn’t have enough money on me to pay both the ladies and the boys, the boys came with me to my hotel to give them their money.  The whole time the second boy was very sweet but the first boy kept haggling for a tip to which I kept saying no.  So when give him his money with no tip, he put on this face as if I’d completely crushed him.  I said “Listen you worked less than an hour and most of that time you were joking with your friends.  Most people in Canada don’t make what I gave you in an hour.  You know you just made some good money, don’t be greed and ask for a tip”.  The whole time he as trying to keep his pitiful face intact, but he cracked a grin once or twice and just said “See you later”.  It was an interesting way to pass “Happy Hour” and kept my limit of beer down to one, but I’ve given this place a new nickname;  Hustleville.  Since I had seen a bit of the main beach and not to enamoured with it I decided the next day I would take a moto over to the next beach, Otres, which is more secluded and supposedly the most beautiful of the beaches here.  Unfortunately the rains, thunder and lightning woke me up the next morning and had to hold out in my room until almost noon when the rains let up just enough to make a move which was to a nearby café where I spent the afternoon working on my blog.  The weather did clear towards late afternoon and into the evening so I ventured over to the main road and choose a place for some dinner and ended up staying much longer then intended unfortunately not due to the fun I was I having but because the rains were back in full force and had to wait for it to let up to a light rain before making my way home.

Today I was heading to the town of Kep, also on the coast about another 4 hours away from Sihanoukville.  As most of the travels from place to place in Cambodia, there are lots of stops and or transfers of vehicles to actually reach your destination.  And this trip was no different in that from Sihanoukville to Kampot we were in a VIP van, but after dropping most of the people in the van off in Kampot, we took off again only to be dropped off a few blocks away were we had to transfer to the local bus.  There were no live chickens on this bus but there were definitely bags and boxes of food that didn’t really have a pleasant aroma as you made your way by them.  The trip from Kampot to Kep was only half an hour but it was on probably some of the worst roads I’ve experienced so far in Cambodia.  They were in the process of re-building a new road so I think this was the make shift dirt road with some significant pot holes some, of which we could not avoid.   Had I been paying better attention I could have had the bus stop in front of my hotel, but didn’t realize this until we were seconds from being dropped off at the bus station.  All good though because there happened to be a travel agent right there so was able to go ahead and buy my bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  Kep is a very sleepy little town and it took me a couple minutes (highly unusual) to find a tuk tuk drive to take me back to the hotel.  There were lots of tuk tuks sitting around but no drivers; I suspect they were down at the beach taking a nap on the hammocks.  Finally I scored with my accommodation and am staying at a really nice, comfortable place called Botanica ( ).  So nice that for the rest of day and the next I just chilled out in the complex, either in my room or balcony, the pool area and the dining area. I had booked a trip to Rabbit Island when I bought my bus ticket for the next day and was casually getting ready in the morning as pick up was to 9am according to the ticket.  Instead I had a knock on my door at 8:30am that the moto was here to pick me up so grabbing the essentials, towel, sunscreen, camera and rain poncho (I don’t leave home without it now) I was off for my days adventure.  Once at the pier there was about a 20 minute wait before we walked down to the end of the pier and boarded the typical long boat so common in SE Asia and after some maneuvering by the 2 crew to get the boat turned around, the engines were started and we were off.  It took about 30 minutes to get to the island and was a pretty smooth ride except for the few times that we went through some swells making the boat rock side to side so much so that I thought we were going to let water in.  There was no pier on the island so disembarking for us was hopping over the edge into the water about up to your knees and then walking ashore.  The boat next to us had a step stool to help passengers off and we were waiting for the same thing but turns out our boat wasn’t equipped with such luxuries.  Once onshore there was a small store and a path leading away from the water, so asked one of the ladies “which way to the beach?”  She understood but her English wasn’t that good to respond but gestured up the path and to the right. So off I went in search of the beach, walking along a decent enough path  for the first 30m or so and came up behind some other folks trying to navigate the series of mud patches that were present all the rest of the way to the beach.  Navigating the same, my thought was I should just take off my flip flops and walk through the mud.  But before I had time to actually stop and do that, my next step landed my foot in some mud that sucked my flip flop in and when I lifted my foot up my flip flop broke; not surprised as they cost me $2 in Thailand.  So the rest of my journey was done barefoot, tossing my flip flops in the nearby bin at the beach.  In the process I also managed to get my shorts covered in mud and so just walked into the water and cleaned myself and my shorts off.  The beach was very rustic and charming and I decided to walk to the end before finding a lounge chair to settle down in.  There are beach shacks just far enough from the water were you can spend the night and a couple restaurants and massage shacks as well.   Still not even 10:00am I settled in for some beach time, pulling a lounger into the sun and applying copious amounts of sun screen as the sun was shining though there were some white clouds breaking up the intensity of the sun; coupled with the breeze made it not so hot.  I was kicking myself for not thinking to bring something to read and was wondering how bored I would get as I was on the island until 4pm, and with no shoes could not really go behind the beach area.  Clearly I was not too stressed about it as I feel asleep and woke up about 45 minutes later to a completely different weather system; dark clouds and really strong wind.  You could see rain clouds off in the distance but for the moment seemed to be going around the island.  I started chatting with a couple nearby about the weather, the island,and where were from and they invited me to join them for lunch a bit later, after they had gone for a massage, which I gladly accepted.  In the meantime I continued to watch the weather change around me, along with the tide that was coming in up and past my lounge chair.  Very soon there would be very little beach to walk on.  I was actually getting quite chilled with the wind and with the rain about to come on the island, I decided to pack up and seek shelter until Rem and friend (never caught her name) where finished with their massages.  Getting to the restaurant just in time before the rains really came down we spent the majority of the afternoon in there as did pretty much everyone else on the island.  About 3pm we decide to head back over to the pier, thinking that if the boat was there we could leave early as there was no point in staying.  After another muddy trek back and a few minutes wait, I was able to hop on the boat that Rem had come over on and head back to town.  I had some time to kill before my moto driver was to come pick me up, so joined Rem for a drink and tried to have a cup of hot coffee but was undrinkable as it tasted like strong coffee syrup, while he was waiting for his friend to use the internet.  It was not exactly a day on an island beach that I had in mind but still an interesting one, leaving me with better memories had it been just a sunny day at the beach.

My last day in Kep was beautiful and while I spent most of the morning and early afternoon on my balcony finally getting caught up on my blog, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon going for a bike ride.  Borrowing a bike form Botanica I headed into town which is probably only about 3kms and stopped off at the post office to mail some post cards and then toured around town for a bit.  Kep was originally founded by the French in the early nineteen hundreds and there is still plenty evidence of that as I rode around past large plots of land fenced in by grand (at one time) cement fences and iron gates.  Some of the houses in these compounds still exist but they are in bad shape with missing doors, windows, pretty much everything gone but the structure.  This is because after the civil war which did some damage to the city it was then pillaged during the famine in 1979-80.  Despite this there are still families living on the main floor of these houses making the best of what is available.  A few years ago Kep was re-founded by the Phnomh Penh’s SUV class and since then the town is beginning to thrive with much choice in accommodation and restaurants.  You can tell there is a plan as they have a fantastic dual carriage road going through town and a lot of effort has been put into the waterfront with many nice day beach huts with hammocks all along the water front.  They are currently  building a very large swimming pool on the waterfront that I’m sure will be a big attraction as the ocean is a bit rough.  After finding a place to buy a new rain poncho as my other one got destroyed from my Rabbit Island adventure I decide to bike back a different route along the waterfront with the intentions of hitting the “Crab” market.   Arriving to a typical street market I didn’t see much in the way of crab or seafood but as I headed down to the water I found the real crab market.  There are women selling crabs by weight straight from a bamboo cage.  Periodically a woman who’s been standing in the water hold a rope attached to another cage will drag it out and up onto the boardwalk and they will switch cages putting the other one back into the water.  I guess this is how they guarantee fresh crab.  Next I back tracked the way I came and picked one of the dozen restaurants lining the waterfront that all tout as being the “best” at serving crab.  I picked one based on having people inside and it was a name I recognized from the guide book.  The thing to have was grilled crab with Kampot black pepper but I was intrigued by the fried crab with lime and chili.  Having seen the crabs at the market I knew they were small and wouldn’t give much meat so I got both.  I got the lime and chili one first and it was messy and deliciously tangy.  The one with pepper was drier, as it was grilled but still messy and the sauce they served with it was a lime black pepper sauce that I could have licked up until there was none left.   Having my fill of crabs and twilight approaching I hopped back on my bike and headed back facing a pretty wicked headwind and with a one gear bike made for a good workout but not want I really wanted after a belly full of crab.   Kep is definitely a place I would visit again and tell others to visit.  I’ll be curious in its development over the next 5-10 years.  Tomorrow it’s goodbye to Cambodia and hello to Vietnam, a 9hr journey (if all goes well) awaits me.  And as I finish this up, my gecko roommate for the last three nights as decide to let me know he is around by making his call, which literally sounds like he is say “gec-ko”.   Thoughout the night he makes himself known but I have yet to actually see him, I don’t think I ever will but will miss his company anyway.
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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Uncle Don on

Wow Molly! After one solid year on this trip, you are still knocking out a fantastic blog. Most people would have run out of steam by now. I am still printing them out and sending them to your grandmom. It is over 500 pages now using 12 pt type (for my old fogie eyesite) Peace and Love, Don and Lisa.

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