It’s time for another guest post by my boyfriend Ian, who visited Kampot during our sabbatical. Unfortunately I couldn’t join him so I asked him to share what he thought of this Cambodian city.
Over to you, Ian!
With my first encounter of the south of Cambodia a bit of a bust (I’m looking at you Sihanoukville), I knew it was time to move on. My options were to either head to the islands of Koh Rong or remain inland and move towards Kampot. Both destinations appealed for different reasons, but as I was on my own I felt a romantic island paradise would be kind of lost on me, so Kampot it was.
Travelling from Sihanoukville to Kampot looked like a relatively pain-free experience; a 3-hour journey departing at 10.30am with the Champa Mekong Bus company. I booked online through camboticket ($7), and the next morning braved the Sihanoukville roads to find the bus. By 10.15am there was still no sign of a driver, so myself and the few tourists that had also shown up began to get a bit fidgety. It turned out the departure point was actually about 50m down the road.
The bus still hadn’t arrived so we took our seats in the waiting area after showing our tickets to the surly lady behind the desk. Another hour went by and the bus finally showed up. By now, the number of passengers had increased from the 4 of us to probably around 20. We soon realized that the bus was far too small to fit us all in. I managed to get my bag in the luggage compartment and took one of the few seats remaining. With only one more available and about 5 people queuing outside, I was intrigued as to what would happen. Would they get another bus? Would they make them sit on the floor? Nope, they instead made up that some websites take fake bookings that the company cannot honour. In reality, I’m pretty certain the company just overbooked without paying attention. Needless to say, there were a fair few angry faces by the time we finally left the station.
After a fairly straight-forward journey, we arrived. Even before disembarking the bus we were swarmed with Tuk Tuk drivers tapping on the windows, trying to grab anyone they could. With a bit of makeup and prosthetics, it would not look out of place in the Walking Dead. Unfortunately for the walkers, I had been sitting on my arse for a few hours so decided to go to my hostel on foot.
Reverting back to my 20-year old self, I decided to stay at a more lively hostel. It was getting towards Christmas and whilst I don’t overly care about the holiday, it seemed right to be around people. After my 20-minute walk in the sun, large backpack on the back, smaller pack on the front, looking like some kind of sweaty turtle, I arrived at the Karma Traders Hostel just outside of town. Dropping my luggage in the shabby dorm room, I went outside, sat by the poolside bar and began taking advantage of Happy Hour ($0.75 a beer). After chatting to the Aussie barman, I found out it was the pub quiz night and the questions would be Christmas themed. On my team was a lively (albeit hammered) Canadian chap, a young French woman and a Swiss man. Unfortunately for them, the questions were very much aimed at native English speakers. However, with my apparent Christmas expertise we managed to finish 3rd. Not bad for a one-man team, eh?
Kampot is popular with backpackers due to its laid-back atmosphere and the activities you can do there. Situated on the Praek Tuek Chhu River, the town offers beautiful views and the opportunity to kayak through the winding waterways. However, after the sh*t show that was Sihanoukville, all I wanted to do was nothing. Absolutely Goddamn nothing. I had started to feel a bit of travel fatigue after 2+ months, going from Vietnam to Taiwan to Japan, back to Vietnam and then Cambodia. I felt I deserved a bit of down-time. Kampot seemed just the place to do that, so the following two days I took it easy. Venturing into town, I explored the centre, enjoying the old French colonial architecture and cafe culture. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the town, but that didn’t matter.
The Kampot region is renowned for its pepper. Used throughout the world by top chefs, Kampot pepper is regarded as one of, if not, the best pepper around. It is so revered that in 2016, it received the coveted Protected Geographical Indication designation. Foods in and around the region often come with whole peppercorn bunches, adding a deliciously aromatic, spicy and fruity flavor to dishes.
Plodding around town, there was plenty of restaurants, but due to the slightly surprising number of elderly expats, they often pandered to the less adventurous. For every restaurant serving Khmer cuisine, there was one selling spaghetti Bolognese and fish and chips. I stumbled across a dumpling place called Ecran Noodle which, whilst not Khmer, did grab my attention due to the sight of the chef hand-making noodles. I ended up getting pork dumpling soup which, for a couple of dollars, was incredibly tasty.
After realizing I had spent way more in Cambodia than I expected, I decided to have the rest of my dinners at the local night market near my hostel. The Boker Night Market had lots of options but the stand-out was a chicken Khmer curry, which was way better than I expected. Whilst similar in flavor to neighboring Thailand, these curries were slightly milder but still packed with flavor. In addition to food, the market offered clothes, drinks and surprisingly a cinema. What was more surprising was that despite Frozen being the film on show, it was mostly middle aged men watching it. Anna is pretty hot though, so I can kind of understand (sorry Elsa). Sadly I wasn’t around long enough to hear the Cambodian version of “Let it go” but I imagine it’s less annoying than the original.
One thing that was slightly off-putting about the town (and to be honest, Cambodia as a whole) was the rather large number of older men with women probably 40 years their junior. Now I’m usually an “each to their own” kind of person, but I do feel a bit uncomfortable with these situations. Isie and I had numerous discussions about it, such as whether there was anything wrong with such extreme age differences, whether the couples really love each other and whether the woman is actually happy. But one thing we did agree on is that the woman is completely indebted to the man. She will most likely have to do everything she can to stop this ‘business transaction’ coming to an end. On the one hand, it’s good that she and her family benefit financially, but one could argue that these men are taking advantage of someone’s struggles.
But who knows? Maybe in 40 years’ time (should the world not have ended), I’ll be chilling out eating fish and chips with my 30 year old Cambodian wife, getting judged by passerbys!
Kampot was a very pleasant town to stay in for a few days for a bit of down-time. There is lots to do if you are feeling more energetic than I was, such as kayaking, visiting salt flats, heading to Bokor Mountain or doing a tour of a Kampot pepper farm. However, if you want to laze around, doing very little, it’s a great place to do just that!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow