Kamping in Kampot

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

3/24  Sihanoukville to Kampot;  102 kilometers
8am to10am

Magic Sponge GH: Fan room $8 bathroom down the hall. 

It is a short drive down the coast from Sihanoukville to Kampot, a town of 40000 or so. Kampot is not exactly on the ocean but it fronts an estuary that ebbs and flows with the tides. It looks like a river and everyone calls it the riverfront promenade…..

At midmorning, we checked into the friendly Magic Sponge Guesthouse. It's a popular place located centrally along a short block with a four other similar tourist hotels. The aircon double rooms were full so we decided to try a fan cooled room for the first time since China. We have talked to so many people who shun air-con that we thought 'hey, maybe we should try harder to get accustomed to the heat".

After dropping our bags, we took off exploring Kampot on foot. The heat sapped our energy. We were drenched in sweat. I asked for a fan at a riverfront restaurant owned by Paul, an Australian expat. He laughed and told me that it was nice and cool compared to a few days ago. I noticed he was drenched in perspiration too. Here in Cambodia most homes and businesses are open by design and most have a fan or two.

The Footprint Cambodia Handbook calls Kampot "charming riverside town…” Frankly, “charming” is a bazar choice of attributes. Dusty, hot and dull came to our minds on arrival. The town leaders may be striving to be charming, with the in-process projects on the riverfront, riverfront market, and sidewalks, but they still have a very long way to go. And still people come from afar to visit and a fair number of expats have chosen to live here.

They have the river, the high and cool Elephant Mountains of Bokor National Park a short drive away, and a cave somewhere near.

We budgeted four and a half days for Kampot which immediately felt like plenty, leaving us plenty of time to just hang…. We are not opposed to that!

In early evening, the threatening black clouds finally let loose a torrential downpour and an impressive and at times scary lightning show. The air got sticky and failed to freshen.

3/25 Kampot Day Two

We survived the "fan room" and even managed to sleep soundly. We had our own private bathroom but down the hall. Today we moved to ensuite room with an air-con option. While it is far from comfortable, we are okay with the fan on full blast. We will take it day to day.

I found a nice airy spot to read and write on the top floor on balcony outside the 6 bed open dorm.

For dinner we found wonderful little "Lazy Fish" restaurant down the street from our hotel. It is a new place with friendly staff and great Khmer food. They take a reasonable stab at western dishes too but they do a much better job with Khmer dishes.

3/26 Kampot Day Three

We walked over to the Lazy Fish and spent a good part of the day reading there.

3/27 Kampot-to-Kep-to-Kampot by Motor Bike on Day Four

After late breakfast at, by now, our regular little restaurant "the Lazy Fish" down the street, we rented a motorcycle through them for $5 per day including 2 helmets. We decided to check out Kep, a small resort town 20 km down the road. The ride took us along potholed two-way road past small dusty villages, rice paddies, mostly being readied for planting, sugar cane and corn fields. The landscape is mostly flat in Cambodia.

A few kilometers west of Kampot, we pulled over at small floating village with its houses on stilts in the river. We noticed peanuts spread out in the sun in front of several homes as we made our way to the river. Using sign language, we asked if we could buy some peanuts and were directed to the house next door. A woman sat on low wooden platform pealing garlic with the family surrounding her. A young girl was summoned spoke a little English. We purchased 4 scoops. The peanuts were still hot from roasting. They were delicious. We continued on the motorbike toward Kep. About 6 km before Kep, we could see the ocean off to our right.

We checked out several guest houses and hotels on the way. Botanica, a French run GH had been recommended to us. We had smoothies in their open restaurant / bar and looked at the rooms. Charming palm thatch roofed cabins are scattered through beautiful tropical garden. It is very nice but lacked the ocean breeze and was too far from town.

We checked out several other places but not until we walked in the brand new Reaksmey Krong Kep Guest House did we feel compelled to leave a deposit and book an ocean view room for the 29th. It is a stone’s throw away from the crab market, a bustling place where fishing boats unload their catch. It is the place to buy fresh crab and fish. We stopped for fantastic BBQ fish lunch at one of the many little restaurants lining the sea.

3/28 Kampot to Bokor Mountain - Day Five 

We planned a drive up the mountains expecting to find the ruins of an abandoned resort, a waterfall and an old church. And really, we were going to enjoy the scenery along the way.

We headed across the river and we followed the road west toward Sihanoukville for 7 km. We turned right at a huge new intersection toward Bokor plateau. Starting at the foot of the mountain, the road makes a relentless assent climbing the thousand meters in less than 20km. Easy enough on the motorbike but it would be a challenge for a strong cyclist. The way back down would be a hoot on a bicycle!

At about 20km, the never-ending climb ended and we declined slightly for a few kilometers. We were on top of the enormous plateau. We came to a big building and stopped to ask for directions. The climb had eaten more of our petrol than we anticipated. Inside we found an architectural model of a multimillion dollar development of the mountain top. They have plans for casinos, hotels and housing. We found out today was opening day for the hotel and casino!

We found someone to sell us a quart of petrol at a construction site. The guys hanging around laughed like idiots as we poured the fuel in the tank. Either they were laughing at us for paying 3 times the going price for petrol or they were laughing at making two bucks by giving some of boss’s gasoline to us. They were happy and we were happy.

We were given directions to the waterfall. We drove over road construction along the way and never did find the water fall. But we found a Buddhist Stupa with million dollar view over the edge of the plateau. The weather limited our visibility but it was still great. The air at this altitude was cool too. A light jacket would not have been too much while riding in the breeze on the mountain.

We found the new Casino/Hotel and went in to investigate. Staff there was anxious to show us around. They showed off the buffet…. They didn’t know the price. It wasn’t announced. We looked in the casino room and that was reasonably busy. Then a young Czech Food and Beverage Services Director invited us to the bar for a drink. We were way underdressed but still had fun checking everything out.

We spotted the silhouette of the old Church in the distance. Inside was empty with a few piles of rubble. The church was just a shell.

We zoomed back down the mountain in the cool air as the sun began to disappear.

Back at the Magic Sponge, the cyclists   we had met in Bangkok, Fabian and Tanya, had arrived. It seems like such a small world at times.
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