My return to Kampot from Bokor hill station did not mark the end of my stay there. Whilst I thought it was largely unremarkable, the accommodation was cheap and it provided a great base for getting out and exploring the local area. For the next three days I’d do just that.
I rented a bicycle for three days for a dollar each day. I didn’t have the cheek to ask for a long use discount! It was a right old rickety number, single speed, what was fondly known in my youth as a granny bike. Shaking and screeching I peddled it the thirty kilometers to Kep. Cambodia is not renowned for its road safety so it was a little discomforting getting used to the buses, lorries and far more dangerous, motorbikes carrying mattresses and other stupidly shaped objects passing me by. Fortunately there was a dirt track that ran alongside providing an escape lane when necessary. It was a lovely ride, with the road lined with paddy fields and local life.
Kep is tiny. People had told me how small it was but I hadn’t quite realised until I arrived. That said however it is rather spread out so I was relieved to be able to peddle about on my bike rather than have to walk it. Being a sea side resort it does have a beach. It’s not particularly nice, however being there on the weekend it was a joy seeing local families enjoying their day out. There aren’t many tourists in Kep which makes for a very natural feel to the place.
Kep could not have started much better when on arrival at my accommodation, I witnessed a meter (and then some!) in length snake travel under my hammock and away into the bushes. I guess it was some sort of python. It was huge and quite wonderful! In the evening I joined Bjon for what Kep is principally famous for, crab. I’ve never had any interest in taking photos of food but here I did rue not having my camera with me. For six dollars I had around six crabs, rice, a beer and a bottle of water. It was cooked in the local pepper and tasted delicious. The only issue was getting the meat out of the shell as those who have been unfortunate enough to witness me interacting with crustaceans will testify that that is not my strongest attribute! The following day I left for Kompang Trach, another thirty or so kilometers away.
Kompang Trach could be India. It’s dirty, noisy and a little chaotic. I checked into a fairly big and only guesthouse to which I was the only guest. I then walked to the cave which is the only reason to come to this town. There I was joined by a seventeen year old, future Angkor wat guide hopeful, who wanted to join me to practice his English and make a little bit of money on the side! The setting for the cave is quite spectacular being that it is built into limestone cliffs. However the actual cave is a bit of a disappointment. The inner tunnels are not very accessible and much of the interest is built around rocks that apparently a monk has decided looks like various animals. Unfortunately this meant that I spent the vast majority of my time being careful to not let my skepticism and sarcastic responses become offensive. If there was one epiphany that the monk got right it was the two random rocks he discovered. One sounded exactly like a drum, the other a gong! I couldn’t quite believe my ears. A very practical finding to help the monk with his meditation!
Throughout my cave tour the boy kept saying about how he liked to rock climb but unfortunately it was too wet today. On coming out of one of the tunnels he then turned to me and said “do you want to rock climb?” How could I say no and with that he took me scrambling up the side of one of the limestone cliffs. It certainly didn’t feel as dangerous as the one done in the Lake District but this one had the added concern of every rock being insanely sharp. Remembering the three points of contact we free climbed up various parts, my favourite being the tree that had become partially attached to the cliff. Eventually we made it to the top and admired superb views of the surrounding peeks and countryside. After the initial disappointment of the caves, the climb had made everything worth it!
On returning to Kompang Trach I watched an incredible storm in the distance with lightning bolts shooting out. Cambodian storms really are spectacular. The following day I cycled over seventy kilometers back to Kampot. That included a major detour on a terrible road which I thought led to the so called secret beach. The lesson was learnt though, a secret beach is secret. I felt the journey back more than the other two days but was helped along by the wonderful sugar cane drinks that numerous ladies were selling on the roadside. It was good in India, but in Cambodia it is that much bigger and hence better!
All in all, a great few days, getting off the beaten track.