Cambodia, Kampot and Kep

I’d met up with some old friends based in Phnom Penh and since we were all heading in the same direction it made sense to hire a minivan for $70 to take us to Kampot for a break from the mayhem and nightlife. Once out of the gridlocked city we started motoring on roads that were far better than I’d expected, I was already looking forward to getting on to two wheels.

The journey took around 3 hours and we checked into a quaint family run guesthouse down by the river for the princely sum of $8 per night. Kampot feels like an old western town in another time, empty wide boulevards, crumbling old colonial buildings, and a lazy river front to while away the day; all that’s missing are the cowboys and horses.

It is primarily a chill-out backpacker spot where copious quantities of green is consumed (openly and without fear), and days are spent in one of the many small eateries or bars. A big durian roundabout marks the center of the small nondescript town, life here happens at a much slower pace, it feels a little like Kanchanaburi 15 years ago.

It was time to explore the surrounding countryside so I hired a dirt bike for a few bucks and hit the road. My destination was the sleepy beach town of Kep near the Vietnamese border around 40 kilometers away.

Over the past couple of years a lot of money has gone into improving the roads in Cambodia to a state that they are now as good (or as bad) as many of those in neighbouring Thailand. The road to Kep is now fully sealed and pothole free so it makes for an enjoyable ride through rice paddies and small rural villages.

Kep itself is a local beach town overlooking the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. The beach itself is imported sand and nothing special but the area has a pleasant laid back holiday ambiance to it, the foreigners flock to Sihanoukville for beach parties and banana pancakes and the locals go to Kep. Trucks and minivans turn up unloading crowds of people that have squeezed into them for a day out on the beach; I counted 28 getting out of one van!

A small market specializes in crab fresh from the ocean for $5 a kilo, there are the usual souvenir stalls including a couple with half a coral reef for sale. I only hope that the huge conch shells and coral wasn’t harvested alive.

After a lazy beach afternoon I ride back towards Kampot and cross the river on a bridge that looks like it is about to collapse. Locals then tell me that it did last year! I follow the river west and into the Preah Monivong National Park, pay my dollar entrance fee, and find a quiet spot on the rocky bank of the Kam Chay River to enjoy a cold tinny as the sun drops over the looming Bokor hills.