I have been fortunate enough to visit a lot of places during my short time in Cambodia and one of my favourites was Kampot. I loved it enough the first time I went, during a staff retreat for KYA, that I went back with a couple friends last weekend.
When I went the first time, our schedule was pretty jam-packed with seminars, meetings, group activities and “solidarity lunches” and “solidarity dinners” (as they were referred to on the itinerary, which meant everyone going to the same restaurant). We were worried that we’d never have time to explore on our own or eat food that wasn’t vegetables drowning in oil with all the solidarity activities but, we did escape for a little while!
Before we left, we really had no idea what to bring or what to expect on this retreat so I came prepared with everything I could possibly need: running shoes, rain coat, travel pants, mosquito net…yet forgot my doxycycline at home. As it turned out, we were put up in one of the better hotels in town for the four days we were there. The best part wasn’t the A/C, which was nice, but that there was HOT WATER! This is a special treat for two reasons: the showers here are usually lukewarm, at very best and I’ve become acclimatized to Cambodia’s “tropical rainy climate”, especially since I arrived just as the wet season was ending. When I arrived, it was very still very humid with daily temperatures climbing to over 40 degrees Celcius. It was hot but nothing I couldn’t handle. Now, though, the humidity is non-existent and temperatures rarely reach 30 degrees Celsius. I know, I know “But 30 degrees is so warm!”. Well, that’s cold here and now cool showers are less refreshing.
Like I said, we only had a little bit of time by ourselves and the rest of it was spent with all the other staff. We did have fun with them, though. We were dragged up Mount Bokor at 5:30AM to take a bunch of pictures and we spent a day on Rabbit Island lounging around.
Let’s start with Mount Bokor, which I probably would have enjoyed had it not been 5:30AM, only around 10 degrees and we hadn’t spent seven hours on it, most of the time being spent on a photo contest. It’s mostly because of this photo contest that I hate this mountain.
We continued up the mountain to this weird, scary Buddha thing.
For some reason we stopped at Sohka Real Estate (I have a real estate business!), which was a glass building in the middle of nowhere that only housed a giant model of a massive suburb they plan to develop on this mountain.
I didn’t really understand why we were there and I really didn’t care so I didn’t take any pictures of it but I wish I had because it later reminded me of this:
The fun isn’t over yet! In fact, it’s just beginning! The next stop was this building that looked like it used to be a thing and then all the exterior fell off. From it outside, it looks like an abandoned building but it’s actually going to be a replica of some casino that used to stand on the site.
It was here that we spent two full hours, looking around, taking pictures of the view, attempting to take four pictures as part of the photo challenge and then spending way too much time taking pictures of everyone making the letters K, Y and A out of our bodies. It was at this stupid “building” that I found out how inefficient the staff members of KYA are. I look upon our time at this bloody place with such contempt that I don’t even want to talk about it!
On the way back down the mountain, we saw some temple and a waterfall.
Eventually, we left the mountain and headed for civilization again where we had another solidarity lunch. We then were subjected to an awful seminar about anti-corruption and human resource protocols all afternoon. Thankfully, we were set free for dinner and my pal B and I headed to the top rated restaurant in town: Rikitikitavi.
Although owned by Australians, they make a mean Khmer curry. True to the Aussie way, their happy hour is excellent–two for one, making them only $2 each–and, oh my Gaga, they are potent. We indulged in a Hurricane each before dinner and we had to slow down after a few sips because we were both feeling tipsy already. At first, I assumed it was just the fact that I hardly ever drink and wasn’t used to alcohol. Nope, even my Aussie pal–and we all know that the stereotypes about Aussies are true–was feeling it.
We turned in early after dinner and some dairy-free street ice cream (!!!!!) we found, since we were kind of drunk and had gotten up at 5:00AM.
The next day, we and the whole KYA gang headed to Kep, where we only spent about 10 minutes, before boarding a boat to Rabbit Island.
There isn’t much to write about the day on the island. We spent a lot of time sitting around, chatting, laying in hammocks and drinking coconuts. They also cooked shrimp and squid all morning on a little make-shift barbeque and, despite constantly munching on seafood all morning, they still smashed the crap out of the crab served for lunch.
Once back in Kampot, B and I were informed that everyone else would be going mountain biking in the evening. We weren’t up for it and, honestly, we wanted to get more cocktails and take full advantage of happy hour at Rikitikitavi. Our waitress from the night was there again and remembered us and, it seemed, she had a thing for me specifically. Naturally, we ordered a couple Hurricanes but, this time, we followed it up with a couple Singapore Slings.
After this, we got more street ice cream, wandered around and debated for a long time how much trouble we’d get in if we tried to Wrecking Ball the giant durian statue in the middle of town.
We figured we could probably pay off the cops if they tried to fine us. The bigger issue would be the spikes and trying to climb down. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the guts to try it and we left in the afternoon the next day, after a satisfying breakfast and lunch. I vowed to return, though, just for the cocktails.
And return I did, just last weekend. As you know, I’m leaving Cambodia tomorrow (as of writing–by the time this post is published I’ll probably be in Vietnam) and so is my good friend TM so we figured it would be fun to have a last hurrah before we left, sipping strong cocktails, eating street ice cream and chilling in a sleepy little town.
We bussed and we stopped by the same little bus stop as I had before, where we enjoyed basking in the sun because the A/C was cranked so unbelievably high.
We got there, secured a guesthouse to sleep in and drifted to Epic Arts Cafe for lunch–yummy food and a place that employs people with physical disabilities, who often have a difficult time finding work.
After that, we did a lot of wandering and hanging out in cafes. We took pictures and dared each other to Wrecking Ball the giant durian.
After the wandering, the chatting and the street ice cream, it was time for happy hour at my favourite restaurant/bar in town, Rikitikitavi (also owned by Aussie’s). While I’d rather support businesses owned by locals, this place has earned it’s place at #1 on TripAdvisor. Two for one cocktails that are incredibly strong and really tasty food–what could be better? Watching the sunset from the roof, that’s what. It also helped that the waitress we had the last time I was there, with totally different people, still remembered me…and what I ordered.
Once the alcohol had kicked in, we managed to stumble down the stairs in search of souvenirs and the night market. As we were finding souvenirs, we found a dog instead and, you know what I say: Always risk rabies for cute dogs!
We left and headed to the night market, which was disappointing because the carousel that we wanted to ride was closing–who cares if it was meant for kids!
All too soon, our time in Kampot was over and we headed back home–luckily, the bus didn’t break down this time.
Now, after visiting twice and doing some research on the internet, most things in Kampot seem to be owned by middle-aged Aussies. I’m pretty sure that every place we ate and/or drank was owned by an Aussie. Why such a heavy Australian expat presence in Kampot?
I have no idea but, as we were wandering around, TM and I talked about it and we think it must be people who worked mind-numbing and soul-killing jobs for awhile, until they couldn’t take it anymore so they decided “Hey, Kampot is a pretty mellow place–I’ll go there and run a cafe for a few years!” TM reckons most of these people probably have enough money to go wherever they want because I brought up the fact that they must not save a lot of money in Cambodia, especially in comparison to working in Western countries.
Whatever the case, there’s a weird duality in the town that’s kind of hard to explain. In some ways, it makes it feel a lot less like Cambodia but there’s always something that reminds you that “Don’t worry, you’re still here”.
XOXO from Mui Net, my Internets,