Our final stop in Cambodia was a small town called Kampot, close to the border with Vietnam, that was highly recommended by a friend of Katie’s as a good place to relax for a few days, so off we went to do just that.
A few days earlier we’d seen a girl in Koh Rong Samloen sporting a Mad Monkey Hostel Kampot t-shirt, so we checked ourselves in there – probably the rowdiest hostel we could have picked but oh well, cheap and cheerful!
But first to Kampot, a really cute small town on a big river, with bridges and a lit up riverfront walkway. Perfect for a few days of just walking around and catching up on life admin.
It started on a high with our first meal – upon leaving Phnom Penh, the only meal Katie was left wanting was a Khmer BBQ. We’d seen these all over Cambodia, basically you have a tiny hot plate put in front of you and you cook your own meal. And we found one! A very happy Katie.
There were a few sights we wanted to see, such as the pepper farms. Kampot region is world famous for its pepper, so we rented two scooters from our hostel (my first time actually in control of a scooter…) and drove out to a farm called Sothy’s which we’d read had free tours.
Despite my initial fear, riding a scooter in a country with seemingly little to no road rules was actually quite fun and we arrived to the farm ready for the tour and lunch. Good thing that, as the tour lasted approximately 7 minutes, so we could enjoy our lunch surrounded by the pepperfarm. We tried the local speciality of Loc Lak, a pork stir fry with an amazing pepper and lemon sauce.
Some fun facts from our brief tour:
– Black peppercorns are dried green ones, although green peppercorns are actually not yet ripe
– Red are ripe ones, and red without the skin are white peppercorns, and the most spicy as the skin gives a slight sweetness.
– Kampot is a great area to grow because of the quartz in the soil
– The harvest happens when 20% of the corns on a tree are red (usually March/April) and for the rest of the year, they sort the corns out, all by hand.
– They plant lemongrass around plantation as it helps keep bugs away as they don’t like the smell
– One plant can be used for 17 years
On our way home we stopped in Kep, Kampot’s neighbouring, slightly bigger sister. We’d heard about their beach and crab market so went to explore, a little disappointed to find no crabs in their market and too cold for the beach, but still a cute town nonetheless.
That evening we made some friends and had some drinks around the hostel pool – quite fun but one evening was quite enough for us. The rest of the hostel-stayers partied hard the entire time we were there from 10am until god knows when. Guess we’re showing our age.
Our hostel was otherwise good – they even managed to get us visas for Vietnam with just a few days to spare before getting there. We’d started researching and decided our 15day visa exemption period was simply not long enough, and happily the hostel could sort it out in 48 hours. Win!
Our other day of sightseeing took us to the slightly bizarre Bokor Hill Station. We hopped on our trusty scooters for the 1.5 hour drive up the hill, as it was recommended by the hostel, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect.
In short, it was a luxury resort built in the 1920s for colonial residents wishing to escape the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh (it was very cold up there!). Probably something of an omen, in the 9 months it took to build, 900 lives were lost.
In its hay day, it comprised of a massive hotel, Catholic church, a post office and villas, but it was abandoned in the 1940s thanks to the first Indochina war. In the 1960s redevelopment started, only to be abandoned again due to the Khmer Rouge taking hold of the area (in fact Bokor was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, into the early 1990s).
Nowadays, it’s largely abandoned, although some redevelopment is going on. They’ve added a huge hotel which looks like it’s used for conferences, and there are hundreds of half built structures, but it rather looked at a stand still.
We drove around the various ‘sights’ for a good few hours, each weirder than the last (despite the dilapidated buildings, the roads are in amazing shape). Our highlight was lunch however – we drove to the nearby waterfall which we’d seen great pictures of, only to realise it was dry season so it was pretty much all dried up. So we stopped at the waterfall’s cafe – a massive empty warehouse type building with tables and chairs and a lonely cafeteria, where we enjoyed soup whilst listening to Christmas music blaring on the stereo.
Safe to say an all-round bizarre day.
A quiet evening followed getting ready for our early bus to Vietnam – we’d heard horror stories about the Kampot-Ho Chi Minh bus route so were in for a long day.
And it didn’t disappoint – what should have been a 9 hour journey turned into a 12. We changed buses about 4 times, one of them broke down so we all had to get out and push it (backwards!), the border crossing took far longer than it should, even though we paid a lady $2 to sort it out for us, and finally, our last bus which we were on for a good 9 hours, didn’t stop to let us wee or eat until 1 our outside Ho Chi Minh. Although, it was a sleeper bus so all the seats were beds, so that was quite fun. Needless to say, when we did stop, we had our first Vietnamese pho (local speciality of broth, noodles, herbs and meat) and it was incredible. Very excited for what’s to come here!
Bye for now x