Adventures in and around Kampot - part 2

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
Trip End May 05, 2011

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

So we got up nice and early for the Bokor Mountain trek, all kitted out for a mountain climb and a long day.  Five minutes before we're supposed to leave the tour agent arrives and tells us it's been cancelled because they're demolishing the road.  Only in Cambodia.  Now Elizabeth the New Yorker is the kind of person who says what she thinks, especially when she's not happy.  Even I was scared of her.  Between us we managed to negotiate a discount on one of their other tours, which I was planning on doing the following day anyway.

The Countryside Tour took in a massive range of local sights, starting with some salt fields.  If you're anything like me you've never really thought about where the salt on your table comes from, apart from having a vague idea that it probably comes from the sea.  The tour was really interesting, as Kampot and Kep provinces have produced all the salt for Cambodia since Chinese immigrants had brought the technique to the country.  The area is perfect for salt production as the landscape is flat and the soil is clay.  A canal brings sea water to huge flat fields, where it sits in shallow pools for about nine days evaporating under the sun.  The clay soil means the water doesn't sink into the ground.  The stage we saw it at was a few days in, and there was a thin crust of salt on top, easily breakable with a finger so more delicate than ice although that's what it resembled.  When all the water has gone, the salt is collected with a sort of rake, and kept in storehouses then bagged up and sent to another place where iodine is added to make it safe to eat.

Having learned about salt production we moved on to a pepper plantation which was also interesting.  I'd already seen pepper growing in India, on a vine like miniature bunches of grapes.  Kampot pepper is supposed to be the best in the world, and was especially so under French rule.  Unfortunately production stopped under the civil war and Khmer rouge, but has recently restarted and the region produces enough for home consumption and in a good year they also export.  Local dishes (mostly seafood) include a lot of pepper.  Green, red and black peppercorns are picked at different stages of growth and taste different, while white pepper is collected from the ground after birds have de-husked the corn.  (that's why it's more expensive).

Lunch was at nearby Kep, which was a famous seaside resort under the French: Kep-sur-mer.  It's a fascinating place as the formerly luxurious colonial holiday villas have been abandoned for decades and now stand as eerie relics dotted around the small town.  Kep is famous for its seafood, and we stopped at the crab market where boats stopped by the side and offloaded their catch which you could then buy then take to one of the several barbecue stalls who would cook it for you.  It was a really interesting place and I wasn't too squeamish about it!  Getting into the spirit of things, I even bought a very small fish (these are all totally whole, with eyes etc) although I didn't like it as it tasted too meatlike, like tuna.  The tour agency provided rice and vegetables too so that was ok!

After lunch we took a short boat ride to Rabbit Island, complete with a shell beach, palm trees and one restaurant bar.  Aside from a handful of beach shack bungalows, that was it.  No sarong and fake dvd vendors, no manicure-pedicure ladies, and most importantly no 'lookie lookie' groups of men.  We were only there for an hour or two but it was really peaceful and I swam a bit.  It had been a long day but relaxing as well so when I got back to the guesthouse after dinner I still had some energy to get online.  Thanks to skype I had a late night and was pretty tired for the next day's trek!...
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