Cambodia has no shortage of competitors among its immediate neighbours who attract crowds. It is precisely because it is less frequented that Cambodia has managed to preserve its authentic charm and a very special atmosphere. However, Cambodia has nothing to envy to other destinations in the region in terms of cultural, natural and human treasures. As Cambodia’s emblematic image, the Angkor temples are far from being the only attraction of a country that will surprise travellers with its striking contrasts, its varied and luxuriant landscapes and its charming smiling population. It is strongly recommended to plan a trip to Cambodia for a minimum of ten nights on site.
KAMPOT AND ITS SCOOTER LOOP
The city of Kampot is very pleasant. There are not many people, not many traffic, it’s quiet and relaxing. The city is really not big, we quickly went around it. We thought the architecture was nice, as it’s not big buildings, it looks less oppressive. In the north, the large market is impressive in its size and organization. Indeed in its center there are all the craftsmen who work with gold and all around by district we find meat, clothes, vegetables, hardware etc. Guaranteed colours and smells!
Next to the roundabout called the “big durian” since it represents a huge durian, there is a small night market with funfair atmosphere with rides for children and lots of music. The atmosphere is very local and the food is cheap. In the city centre there is a park all along with benches everywhere and in the evening around 6pm there is a line dance class. Maybe we can join them, but it seems to me that participation is not free. Between the park and the dike are all the restaurants. There are many Westerners who have settled in Kampot so you can find everything to eat (Savoyard fondue, raclette, Canadian poutine, kebab…)! In the evening you can admire the pretty sunset over the mountains opposite from the dike.
Planting of pepper and salt shaker
Today we decided to explore the area starting with the pepper plantations. To get there, we take a dirt road as we like through the villages. This is an opportunity to discover the Cambodian countryside in a way that has not been seen before.
An hour later we arrived at “La Plantation” created by a French couple in 2013. It is Sunday so the machines are not running but we were able to visit the plantations and taste the famous world famous Kampot pepper. We learn interesting things about pepper such as the fact that black, red, and white pepper comes from the same branch, it’s just the process that differentiates the color.
On the way, we made a little detour to the salt shakers. Hundreds of salt “fields” stretched as far as the eye could see. We saw people working, picking up salt with a shovel, filling the buckets and carrying them in the shed. It must be a really tiring job and all this barefoot !
In the afternoon, we leave this time to walk north and start with the Kampot Zoo. We don’t know much about this zoo except that today it seems completely abandoned. Animal advocates would scream scandalously : the pens and cages are very old and damaged, the animals have nothing, no space to let off steam (the leopard is locked in 5m² directly in the concrete in a cage that is barely one metre high), no niche or shelters, for fun and some are even surrounded by waste. The zoo even guarantees you thrills ! Yes, you are, when you face a leopard who is one meter from you in his small cage in poor condition and who looks at you with his mouth open, you don’t get smart ! We were even able to feed two bears directly through the cage, it was great and they were so cute. Nevertheless, we went out a little bit with our hearts tight, animals in these conditions are really not human.
Then, we go to refresh ourselves at the river which is 2 km away a little further. We are asked for an entrance fee of one dollar per person, we are a little surprised but we see the locals paying this amount too so we do the same and we will understand a few days later why. The place is peaceful, there are many locals who bathe and very few tourists. The water is good and refreshes us from our sunny day. There are even buoys and hammocks available, we will stay there for a good two hours to relax.
BOAT TRIP TO SEE THE FIREFLIES
The next day, we find two pairs of travellers: Camille & Joris from the Envie d’ailleurs blog and Chloé & Romain from the Playing the World blog also left for a trip around the world. We wanted to take a boat trip to see the fireflies and without hesitation they agreed to come with us. That same evening, we board a small boat just every 6 hours and off we go for a two-hour walk on the water.
The ride is very pleasant and calm, the boat progresses slowly and the sun offers us pretty colors above the mountains. We get to know our fellow travellers even better, which makes the trip even more enjoyable. As night falls, the boat approaches the shore and shuts down its engine. We are in the complete darkness and we start to see little lights that shine, the fireflies are there! We see more and more of them in the trees and some of them are of different colors, we have the impression to see a tree with Christmas lights, it’s magical. A few minutes later we leave for the city while admiring the stars.
The next day we had to leave Kampot to join Kep but finding the city of Kampot pleasant and in good company, we decided to stay one more day to do the Bokor park with the troop.
So 6 of us go by scooter to Mount Bokor, where there is an old abandoned seaside resort. About thirty kilometers later we arrive on the spot, the road is nice, it goes up and it is a little cooler. We will stop at a waterfall for a picnic but being in the dry season it will be without water.
We move a little further into the park and arrive in front of the new casino which is very large, surrounded by a huge hotel residence. Frankly, we wonder what’s the point of installing this here when there’s no one here and the new complex is really not so good! Finally, we arrive at the old abandoned casino. Apart from the view of the valley from the roof of the casino, there is really nothing exceptional here. There’s no trace of life left, everything’s just concrete inside. However, we take advantage of the place to take a “Chinese photo” of the group.
To finish the day, we decide to take everyone to the river where we landed two days earlier. This time we are on weekdays and admission is free. Indeed, during the week the water flow is reduced by a dam upstream and the buoys and hammocks are no longer free but rented for one dollar! There is still enough water to soak in.
The day will end around an ice cream well deserved or not… but we couldn’t resist! All good things come to an end, we have to leave our traveling friends to join Kep the next day. We will have shared some good times together.
To get to Kep we hitchhiked, the distance being short there are no particular difficulties except that it is hot and there are not many cars. We come across a Chinese man (once again) who explains that he took us because he had seen in an American film that it was okay to take people for free in a car… He was a little bit in his world and didn’t stop talking, to the point of no longer paying too much attention to the road and just avoiding two accidents. Half an hour later, he drops us off at the crab market, where we will find our prettiest guesthouse we’ve had since we left.
Kep is known for its blue crab. Every day, there is the crab market where hundreds of crabs are sold, but also other crustaceans and fish. Around 6am there is a crowd at the market to pick the best crabs. Right next to the market, you can enjoy Kep crab with a Kampot pepper sauce, you can’t do more local.
There is not only the market in Kep, there is also its national park where you can either do the 8 km trail around the mountain or climb to the top of the summit to get a view of the sea. With the heat we didn’t have the courage to go up, we preferred the beach. Don’t expect a great beach like Koh Rong, this time it’s just a sandbar.