Kampot, Kep and Koh Kong

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Before leaving Phnom Penh, we were sat in the bar of our guesthouse. An american voice emerged “wanna take a shot?” And it wasn’t Katie’s. It turns out a great way to travel is after 4 shots of Stollis vodka. That stuff is smooth and 4hrs on a bus flew past. I even managed to make my way through a Hannah Montana movie the bus was playing and quite contently I might add.

We arrived in Kampot, a small fishing town on the South West coast of Cambodia, famous for its pepper production. On a travel day we usually have a walk around to get our bearings and grab a bite to eat, which turns out what we did.

Kampot, is a cool laid back kinda town. It has a mix of worn French colonial architecture and the usual shanty looking store-fronts, all with the backdrop of the river and dominating mountainous hills.

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Day one I learnt that back at home, the sale of my flat went through! This was great news and certainly a reason to celebrate. With jugs of Cambodia’s finest beer for $2 the celebrations were in full flow. $10 later we don’t really have many stories, but we are sure we had a good time.

Day 2 was time to see a bit more of Kampot. We hired a moped of the standard $5 per day. This moped was a little different from the rest, the speedometer and fuel gauge weren’t working and the brakes were a little relaxed. Perhaps in harmony with the towns vibe?

We set off for the Kampot rapids which were about 2km. Turns out the rapids weren’t that rapid, but we did see a big statue and plenty of wooden huts where the locals were all picnicking and lazing about. We stopped for a drink and a mosey.

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We then set off to the national park. We found the right road, it was uphill and spiralled and twisted all the way around to the top of a mountain. The road was straight out of a movie and would be ideal for a bond chase.

We stopped off half way to take in the views, which were very scenic. About an hour later we reached the top and the warm sun had turned into a cold blustery wind. We headed to the deserted old church. When we arrived there was a wedding photoshoot going on. I don’t think they were a happy couple but more models on set, not surprisingly really, I could see the magazine cover already. We on the other hand had our waterproofs on and our helmets had squished our hair flat. Maybe our shoot was more realistic of marriage after nearly 2 years.

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From the church we headed to an old abandoned hotel. The hotel you could tell was high end in its time, with a grand entrance and dinning room. This was nothing in comparison to the garden view of the surrounding lower areas.

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The area wasn’t all abandoned buildings. There is a hotel resort just round the corner with a casino, slots and bar. We had a coffee and hit the road. After about 5 minutes in, the moped started losing power and konked out … No gas! Least we were on top of a mountain, so we rolled down the winding road. It was nice because it was quiet without the engine, the road was empty and we could talk and laugh about the situation. There was only a couple of times where the hill plateaued and I had to run-straddle to build up the momentum. When we got to the bottom we had an 800m walk of shame to the gas station, passing the smiling locals. I am sure they were saying ‘yep another one’ but it could have been worse.

The next day we walked around Kampot, visited a few shops and the market. We booked our bus ticket to Koh Kong which was leaving 1pm the next day. We turned up for the bus and I noticed it said Phnom Penh on the front. The girl who booked the ticket for us was saying it was our bus. When I pointed to Koh Kong on the map, it was apparent we had a massive communication error.

She had booked us to Kep instead, a beach town next door to Kampot. We jumped on the bus as there was no bus to Koh Kong until the next day and the beauty of being backpacker you can bob’n’weave with the blows. 40mins later we arrived in Kep and found a guesthouse “KepmanDou” it was OK, on the surface the room was cool, it had a balcony with 2  sofa chairs. In reality it was a little bit like sleeping in a poorly made treehouse, with a bird nest in the roof.

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The next day we rented bicycles and headed towards the famous Crab Market. We bought some stodge and moved on. Here’s a little story to show you how nice Cambodians are. Katie’s bicycle chain had fallen off, the only problem was the chain protected by some casing and we needed a screw driver. Enter 2  guys who tried to help with make-shift tools: tiles, meat cleavers, random wires. Finally one of their sisters or girlfriends shows up on her moped with a screwdriver. They fixed her bike and went on their way.

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We found a spot by the sea, had a picnic and a beer as the sunset. As we set off it was apparent I had a flat tire. I knew this would happen because when taking the bike, I alerted the guy there was a psssting noise coming from the back tire. He spat on his finger and rubbed it on the tire, “its OK now”. Ha.

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We left Kep to finally go to Koh Kong as originally planned and hoped that this time it would be a complication free journey. We got picked up from our guesthouse an hour late, which sucked as we were meant to get picked up at 7.20am and that means no laying in (its a hard life at times). We were the only 2 on the mini bus which was heading to Kampot. We had to transfer at Kampot, as we sat there waiting for our bus, already having pumped ourselves up for a nice but extremely long journey, a small yellow bus came round the corner. This bus was brimming full of Cambodians and luggage seeping out of every opening already, it seemed to be slowing down and crossing lanes to come to us.

Katie and I looked at each other thinking this is not our bus. We can’t fit on there. Well it turns out we could and we did. We squeezed in to the bus, which seemed like it was going for some sort of Guinness world record for ‘number of people on a mini bus’. We shared one seat between us. Both still in shock, and adjusting to the pressure my left bum cheek was taking to keep the right one afloat we stopped. We can’t be taking anyone else!?!

Two guys holding 5 cages of chickens were walking up to the bus, then another man holding four loose and still alive chickens were definitely coming with us. Luckily only one of the guys got into the bus, but all the chickens and who knows what else got strapped to the luggage at the back. OK now we are off, but after 10 mins and the lost feeling of my left bum cheek I was wondering how I would survive this 6 hour journey. These thoughts soon left me as we turned around and started to head back.

So you forgot something? That’s too bad, lets go get it. Oh yea, we had one more guy to pick up! He must have been the judge for the Guinness World Records. He climbed through the back window and crouched in the corner and the other passengers shuffled up. We then finally hit the road and I started counting the number of people on board. As I turned around I saw we had one passenger who was hanging on the back with all the luggage. All you could see was his forehead bobbing up and down, which I think was his job. He’s the ‘keep the luggage on the bus’ guy.

So, in total, we had 27 people, approx 12 chickens, numerous bags of rice and everyone’s luggage in an 11 seater mini bus.  Up hills were a struggle but the poor luggage guy on the back must have been holding on for dear life because the driver was not holding back on the downhills and corners. 6 miserable hours later we arrived in Koh Kong, both walking like John Wayne to our guesthouse.

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Later that day we walked along the river and ended up in a cool bar called the Sunset Inn, where we joked about our bus journey. In essence the bus journey was similar to our trip in India, very uncomfortable at times but an experience we wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

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That was about it for Koh Kong, with time running out in Cambodia and we still had the whole of the east to checkout. We booked our bus to Seim Reap, which can’t take you directly there due to the conditions of the roads. It has to go back through Phnom Penh and then up to the final destination, a 15hr journey. Hopefully we get a seat each for this one.

All in all, I don’t think you have to visit all 3 of these towns, essentially they are very similar with their relaxed vibe, but vary in size with Kep the smallest to Koh Kong the largest. We preferred Kampot, it had a good selection of quirky bars, cafe’s and the ride to the top of the national park was a great experience.

Some more photos

Stephen and Katie x

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