Hammocks and $5 Seafood -- What Could Be More Heavenly?
The riverfront town of Kampot and the beach-side town of Kep -- both described in the travel books as "sleepy" -- might not have much in the way of exciting tourist activities, but they offered me the perfect opportunity this weekend to get away from city life and enjoy what is beautiful about Cambodia.
I boarded the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport, a dilapidated chartered coach, at approximately 1 p.m. to travel less than 150 km (but more than 5 hours) to Kampot. The bus wasn't so bad, if you could get over the mosquitoes, barely present air-con and bumpy, unpaved roads. No, I'd say for $15 round trip, it wasn't so bad -- and quite an experience for an unseasoned traveler.
I think the driver yelled at me for having my elbow sticking out the window. I don't know for sure because I don't understand Khmer, but when he started yelling, everyone turned around and stared at me. I was hardly embarrassed because the heat numbed me of most emotion. Go figure, though. Take a country that packs people into cars at illegal limits and lets them ride on top of vans and cargo trucks, and I get yelled at because of my elbow. That would happen.
Change of Plans
Well I arrived to Kampot and a friend of Bo, the president's driver, picked me up and found me a guest house. Srey Noch (her name) then showed me around the town, but informed me that Bokor Mountain was closed for road repairs. No tigers and elephants for me. So I switched my plans and she agreed to drive me to Kep the following morning. (See View from a Moto.)
Kep might be as close to heaven as you can get in Cambodia. The seaside hammocks (overlooking the Gulf of Thailand) offer the perfect excuse to curl up with a book, and I did just that. Taking in good ol' Nick Sparks and a setting sun as the breeze rocked my hammock, ended the day perfectly.
The day itself, consisted of driving about town -- a distance spanning maybe 10km, if even that -- taking pictures of statues and palm trees, and eating some fantastic food.
I'm a sucker for all things seafood, so with freshly caught crab spiced with Kampot's famous green pepper corns and at $5 a plate, I stood drooling -- fork and spoon in hand. I must mention, we don't use tiny crab forks and shell cracking devices here in Cambodia. You get a fork and a spoon, just like with every other meal. I gave up with that quickly and resorted to my fingers. (Oh, the horror of my table manners upon my return to the U.S. ...)
The seafood market, where all the good food is, allows you to watch your dinner being caught. They must be a quirky bunch, those people who get up morning after morning to plunge into the water fully clothed, crab traps in tow -- but from what I've seen of Cambodian job opportunities, I think they got the better end of the deal. Although, the guy who has to climb the trees for the coconuts must have drawn the short straw.
While lunch by the sea could have satisfied my soul, dinner by a rice paddy made the whole trip worthwhile. I told Srey Noch that I was hungry for Khmer food so she took me to a restaurant up the road.
Without the sign at the end of the drive, there's no way anyone could tell this was a restaurant (unless the Khmer know something I don't, which is highly possible). When we arrived, our waiter rolled out a straw mat on this platform hut like thing (see the picture because I'm not sure how to describe it) and we ordered bahrn cheav -- a crepe like dish, filled with meat and bean sprouts and served with a plate of vegetables. The food was good, but the experience was delicious. Lounging on a hut by a rice paddy. Eating with our hands. Trying my new favorite drink -- soursop juice. And Srey Noch was impressed I could eat Khmer. (Little does she know...)
Well, Srey Noch headed back to Kampot around 5 p.m., and like I said, I read until the sun set, then retreated back to my room to fully take advantage of the hot shower and A/C I paid $10 extra for. By 9 p.m. I was passed out.
Now is that a vacation or what?