Orchids, Pepper, and Crumbling Houses

Trip Start Sep 12, 1995
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Trip End Jul 30, 2020


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Where I stayed
Orchid Guesthouse

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, December 26, 2008

We arrived in Kampot from Phnom Penh on what could have been the slowest bus in all of SEA. Although the LP guide suggested the 148Km ride would take only 2 hours, it in fact takes 5 (but that is counting a lengthy meal stop). The road is not that bad, but for some reason (both ways) it takes 5 hours.
We checked into the Orchid Guesthouse, and wrangled a bungalow for a decent price (US $12/night) by promising to stay for 5 days and to not use the aircon. The orchid is an okay place, very picturesque with a pond, and it has a wonderful little garden restaurant/bar with good food/portions/price. There is a slight flaw with some of the accommodations. Although the beds are good, the walls tastefully decorated etc...there is a smell! The source is easily diagnosed as plumbing that is not properly vented, resulting in smelly gas issuing from the lavatory. No amount of incense burning could purge the stench. On the plus side, it gave us incentive to spend most of our time out and about, instead of laying about the room.
It was overcast for most of our time in Kampot, and for once, sweating wasn't a constant factor in my life. Not that it was cold, but just not as hot or humid as other parts of the country. Kampot is located on a wide brackish river close to the sea, but has the essence of a riverside town. Boats of all kinds ply the waters, and one of the most distinguished landmarks is the old (and patchwork) steel bridge that pre-dates the Khmer Rouge era. Having been blown up several times, this bridge is not used by cars or trucks, but instead carries a constant stream of motos, bicycles, and pedestrians between the historic town centre and the sprawling residential area on the eastern shore. We spent our first full day in Kampot just wandering around town, checking out the crumbling French Colonial architecture, and investigating what the expat/restaurant scene had to offer the weary traveler over Christmas-time. Although Kampot is technically growing, all new developments are built out on the highway in the new area of town. the historic centre, including the old market building, are left in a state of decline and disrepair. Some of these old French era building are occupied by expat businesses such as bars and restaurants, and the shabby chic dwellings do have a distinct appeal.
It should be mentioned, for posterity, that Kampot has slightly higher prices for restaurant/bars/hotels than most of the country, largely due to the number of foreign owned/run businesses. This is in some part compensated by the number of places that have evening happy hours. There are few hassles about life in Kampot. There is the daily dodge of the moto tour guides, but even these guys aren't much of a hassle, and they seem to understand that people want to walk around town and soak up the slower pace of life.  Moto/tuk-tuk tours also seem a bit pricier than elsewhere in the country, although this could have more to do with are poor resolve in bargaining prices down.
We spent Christmas Day in nearby Kep, although I will dedicate a separate post for Kep, as it is a destination unto itself. Kep aside, We took two other interesting trips into the bucolic countryside during our stay in Kampot. The fist, and definitely a highlight of Cambodia not to be missed, is the cave temple at Phnom Chhnork. This little side trip out into the country side was the first time both Kira and I had attempted to ride on the back of a moto together. A little freaky at first, but Cambodians are born to ride motos, so it was just a matter of trying to get comfortable on the seat while bouncing over the ruts that define the "road" to the temple. The road ends at a modern wat, where a small fee is collected, and a hoard of small children latches on. These kids come in handy later, as you explore the darker/deeper reaches of the cave. Just inside the entrance to the cave (a short walk through a rice field from the monastery) there are several natural rock formations that resemble animals. One of your gaggle of guides will explain these to you in surprisingly good English. Within the large cavern, is a 7th Century brick Hindu  temple dedicated to Shiva. The linga located inside is a natural stalactite. From here you have the option of retreating back to Kampot, or following the children further into the cave. Some of the passages are tight, and some of the scrambling results in fear and dirty clothes, but the children will show you where to put your feet and hands. You emerge, a short time later, at a lookout that has excellent views of the surrounding fields.
The other side trip we took, this time in a tuk-tuk (much more comfortable for the long hauls), was to a pepper plantation. Kampot is famous for its pepper, so we decided to hit the source. Although it is possible to procure Kampot pepper in the market in town (which we also did), going to the source is both informative and fun. For instance, the process of turning green pepper into black, red, or white pepper is explained. White pepper is the premium stuff, as it is dried and soaked, and has the skins removed from the seeds. It's a much purer and subtler flavor. Raw green pepper is also good, although be careful how many corns you down well wandering around the plantation, as it will catch up with you.

My one regret about my visit to Kampot was that Bokor was closed to all tours during the time I was there. I hear it's being developed, but I would have loved to have seen it.
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