17 to 23 December 2009
Contrary to popular believe, we are not permanently on holiday….. well, Mark may be but I’m not. However as of 17th December I am on holiday until 4th January. Hurrah! So here we are in Cambodia, a country that we have both visited before – Mark first way back in 1991 when he was lucky enough to be just one of a handful of visitors at Angkor and once since and me twice on work trips. As we both love the region it seemed a great opportunity to see a bit more than Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and slow the pace down somewhat. We started in Phnom Penh which contrary to what you would think if you read the guidebooks is not a dangerous, seedy underworld. No doubt those parts are probably there as they are in most major cities but the heart of the city is the waterfront which is lined with colonial style, mostly French influenced restaurants, bars and cafes.
Phnom Penh River Front
From Phnom Penh we took a bus south to the coast to Sihanoukville the plan being to relax for a few days on Cambodia’s unspoilt, deserted, tropical beaches. Not quite deserted though….. I have been to Sihanoukville before on a work trip, a couple of year ago but that of course was experiencing how the other half live with their luxury accommodation and huge stretch of sandy beach. On first glance this time, it appeared a bit more like a cross between a post tsunami clean-up and the Costa del Sol! Maybe that’s a bit harsh but it did bring home the fact that there are so few undiscovered spots in the world these days and also lessons that don’t seem to get learned with regards to developing a place in an aesthetically pleasing way without too much impact on what attracted people there in the first place. The beach is actually very nice, with lovely soft sand and the water is clear and warm. It is lined with beach shacks which put out sun loungers during the day and replace them with comfy chairs as the sun sets. All serve fruit shakes and beer for 50 cents – well beer is 50 cents and fruits juices are a dollar so it doesn’t give you much incentive to abstain! And in the evenings they all have BBQ’s with fresh seafood, salad and rice for $3. I expect by now you are wondering what there is to complain about and on reflection…… not much!
Cheers! Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville
We did move hotels after a couple of nights as we were close to the only all night party with pumping music until 6am every morning after deciding that are too long in the tooth to apply the “if you can’t beat them, join them” theory EVERY single night! On balance, Sihanoukville did the trick and we spent a few days relaxing and getting too much sun whilst re-charging our batteries.
From Sihanoukville, we came to Kampot which is where we are now. Kampot is a small, sleepy town on the river with a few faded colonial buildings and a handful of cafes and restaurants. With none of the hassle of Sihanoukville or even Phnom Penh, here in Kampot I feel like we are starting to explore the real Cambodia. It’s one of those places that there isn’t really a huge amount to see or do but it’s fun just wandering around looking at the old buildings and having lunch overlooking the river front.
Fresh fish in Kep
Yesterday we took a boat out along the river towards the mouth of the South China Sea, passing stilted houses and fishing communities. At the mouth of the sea there are shallow sand banks which we could walk on to and as the sun set, fleets of fishing boats passed us on their way out in the sea for a nights fishing. Today we went to nearby Kep, formally known as Kep-sur-Mer in its heyday. These days it’s mostly a crab fishing port and after a wander around we had lunch at one of the stilted restaurants overlooking the sea and had a delicious lunch of grilled fish and squid for less than $5 for both of us.
Salt Plains near Kampot
Kampot is famous as a peppercorn growing region and interestingly they also produce a lot of salt here (we visited the “salt fields” on the way to Kep) and with those two simple ingredients plus lime juice and a touch of chilli they make this amazing but very simple dipping sauce which must be so easy to replicate. I’ll try to one day! So with that, and as the sun sets across the river in front of us signalling it’s time for an Angkor beer, I will sign off and upload this entry.