Kampot, Kep and Kompong Trach

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Most of the cheaper transport options out of Sihanoukville were heading to Phnom Penh, but we hoped to work our way to Kampot, further along the coastline, but inland. We opted for a share taxi, the only option it seemed and our guesthouse organised one to pick us up before trying to find other passengers to get to Kampot. We had left it later in the morning to leave, and consequently when we arrived at the share taxi stand in Sihanoukville, there were not a lot of people queuing up to fill a taxi. We opted to get a few supplies in the nearby shops before waiting - worried that we would be here for the better part of the day.

After noticing some other westerners waiting in a taxi, we asked if we could all go together as they needed two more people to fill their car (their family consisting of 4 kids and 2 adults was not enough according to Cambodian taxi practices). But no, they had also been picked up from their hotel, and as they were different taxi drivers we couldn't all jump into the one car. While getting ready to sit the day out, our driver suddenly said "go" in his limited English, we were off, wondering if he wanted us to cover the price of the whole taxi! The driver had slowed down a few times to see if anyone was going to Kampot, but to our surprise we made it all the way to Kampot with just the two of us in the taxi, for the share price!

We spent the evening walking around town. It was a nice change - a very quiet and small town, with French colonial heritage. We walked around without any motorbike riders chanting "moto, you want moto" (motorcycle taxi) - a nice relaxing place.

The next day we decided to hire a motorbike to see Kep (an old French beach side town), and some countryside as Kampot itself was quite small. After getting some hand-drawn maps from the hire place, we began the ride towards Phnom Chhnork, a small cave system with an ancient temple inside the cavern. The first obstacle however was that the bridge across the river had collapsed due to an overloaded truck (about 3 weeks before), so we had to cross on a floating bridge - built a number of wooden platforms tied together and floating with empty petrol drums. We had to ride over this!!! It was great! :)

Continuing out towards the caves was amazing, passing picturesque houses surrounded by fields, smiling faces from the locals and a sea of kids running from their homes to say "hello" and wave as we putted past. It was really quite uplifting from the warm welcome we were receiving.

We eventually found the monastery where the caves were near with a little help from the locals (really fun trying to pronounce the name of the caves "Chhnork"!!!). We walked over to where three monks were sitting on a bamboo shade hut and tried to communicate. We had read in our guidebooks that the monks protect the caves and we tried to establish which direction we needed to go to get to the entrance. Two of the monks then proceeded to show us the way! (I later read in the guidebook that for guides - the local kids could show the way - oops!). So we wandered up to the caves, where one of them rested and the other took us to the ancient temple inside. The monk then proceeded to light some incense and motioned Christie to put it in the incense holders.

By this stage some other foreigners had ventured down (with the local kids!) and they were going to go further into the cave system. The monk motioned us to follow them and that we would see him back near the bike, so off we went - caving! Both Christie and I had our head lamps, prepared for the dark, but not prepared to have the only light out of the group of people as we clambered over rocks towards the exit. It was only a small cave system, and not very spectacular, but quite a challenge in shorts and thongs (flip-flops for any non-Aussies). One of the little local girls took a particular shining to Christie and insisted on holding her hand all the way through the cave, wanting to make sure she got through okay, she wouldn't have been anymore than 5 or 6 years old - very cute!

Making it back to the bike, our monk friend wanted us to stay a while and he showed us all around the monastery, happily posing for photos. He was really quite a character and was laughing all the time (at us???). Every time we would go to leave he would say "stop"! and want to show us something else. We finally bid him farewell, and then brushed off the cave dirt and headed to the old beach town of Kep, famous now for its seafood. We polished off a nice seafood lunch and then had a quick explore around the coastline of Kep. Although its main beach was not all that pretty, Kep was quite serene and had a very relaxed feel about it.

We continued the "back way" towards Kampong Trach, about 40 km away and getting close to the Vietnam border. The scenery of the ride was meant to be the memorable part, although it did not compare with the trip out to the caves. We did pass many kids yelling out 'hello' and decided to stop when we saw a whole lot swimming in a pond near some fields. Glenn took a photo, but being so far away decided to go up to the kids to get a better shot. A lady was with the kids, minding them and washing clothes at the same time (in the muddy water). When Glenn approached, the kids all ran to the other side of the pond - they were all naked and perhaps embarrassed, perhaps unsure about big western Glenn.

Glenn stayed a while and the kids eventually got confidence and came closer. After getting a few photos, we returned to the bike. The kids, now confident, were at the pond edge calling out, so Glenn suddenly ran towards them, hands up, and they screamed and ran to the other side. A few more games followed, and the lady minding them was in hysterics from the kids reactions.

We continued on to Kampong Trach - not much to see in the town, and had a quick ride out towards the caves there. But getting late, we decided to head back for the long ride back to Kampot.

The following day, we decided to join a tour to Bokor, an old French hill station, long abandoned. The road up was supposed to be pretty bad, and although Glenn tried to convince Christie that we could go on a trail bike (some nice 250cc bikes available), she wasn't persuaded. So we joined the guesthouse trip up there in a pick-up truck (like a ute), with two bench seats in the tray. The first part of the road was fun, 4 wheel driving up the steep mountains, but as the forest growth began enclosing the road and we had to duck to avoid tree and palm branches, the hour or two up to the top was a little less fun.

Up the top, the buildings remaining are a bit of a ghost town, and the whole area was covered in fog to make it a little eerie. After our guide took us on a small walk through the forest and showed us the insect eating tube plants which he insisted the locals called "dick plants", because of, well, what they looked like, he then proceeded to keep us "entertained" on the way down by telling really poor jokes. Still, the trip up to Bokor was not too bad, and afterwards we went to Tek Chhouu where the locals enjoy swimming in some of the cleanest rivers around. We joined in and had a swim, before finishing the trip with a sunset cruise back to Kampot. Although the sun was behind the clouds :) We had fun, but are glad that we are doing our trip independently - we have now well and truely had our tour fix for a while.

After the bouncy ride in the pick up, and riding all day the previous day, we were a little sore, but we still decided to get a bike the following day and head back to Kep. We decided to do as the locals do, and rent out a bamboo shade hut, complete with hammocks overlooking the beach and eat our seafood lunch there after whiling the time away in the hammocks of the beach hut. A nice spot to let the afternoon pass.

We finished the day by going back on the road towards the caves, to see the amazing countryside once more. The people are just so amazingly friendly, we will never forget them or the sights we saw here. From the many hellos, to the lady came who up to us to show us her catch of fish for the day - she was so proud, and the tiny little kids riding adults bikes that were way to big for them but they managed just by standing on the pedals, a very cute sight. Kampot and its surrounds has really been a highlight in Cambodia!
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