Friday, 16 May 2014

Kampot - The Garden of Cambodia: Part 1

Whenever you do any sort of longterm travelling, there are inevitably going to be periods when you don't really feel the magic anymore, when the sightseeing gets monotonous, when the stress, sweat and exhaustion just don't seem worth it, and when you'd rather be back home with your friends and family instead of constantly moving from one city to the next. Angela and I were both feeling this way by the time we got to Phnom Penh. Cambodia seemed an interesting enough country, but with all the tours we'd done in Thailand, and the constant bussing around from one place to another, our journey was beginning to feel somewhat repetitive and uninspiring.

Then we got to Kampot, and our feelings changed completely. Neither of us had previously even heard of this small, quiet town near the southern coast of Cambodia, until some friends we knew from Korea recommended it to us. There are several reasons why we fell in love with it pretty quickly.

Firstly, it's a breezy, riverside town surrounded by beautiful hills and pepper farms, giving it a much more relaxed feel than other settlements we'd been to recently. There are some other foreigners there, mostly the hippy stoner types (you'll smell weed in many cafes and restaurants you go to), but for the most part it feels quite off-the-beaten-path.

Secondly, we stayed in an eco-resort called Ganesha (also recommended to us by our friends), and it was easily the best accommodation we've found on our travels so far. Situated a few miles out of town, amidst dense jungle and farmland, it felt completely isolated from civilisation, with its traditional yurts and huts overlooking mangroves and tributaries of the Kampot River. It had very basic facilities, almost no light at night (we had to wear headlights to find our way around), and lots and lots of bugs. Not the most comfortable living, but the staff were so friendly, and the setting so idyllic, that we couldn't help but embrace the rural euphoria of it all. If you're interested in staying there yourself, here's its page on hostel world.

Thirdly, on our second day there we rented a motorbike and rode around the nearby countryside. I'd never tried riding a motorbike before - I don't even have a driving license - so it was a little worrisome at first, getting used to the balance and the throttle, etc. But it didn't take long to get a good feel for it, and soon enough we were cruising along the southern coastline, then through pepper farms and verdant hills, and along bumpy, remote dust paths in the middle of nowhere. We got lost for a while, which scared Angela a little, as we were low on fuel and nightfall was approaching, but with the help of some friendly rural folk we found our way back to the main road and returned to Kampot in time for dinner. I've always been a huge lover of cycling, but now I've come to realise I'm also a huge lover of motorbiking. It just felt so liberating to explore at our own leisure, instead of being confined to public transportation or a tour group.

All in all, a fantastic adventure that really helped the two of us overcome our travel fatigue and get our heads back into the journey. Since Kampot, we've been in such good spirits about everything, and have decided to continue regularly renting motorbikes, since it's such a fun, easy way to explore local areas without the hassle of tours.

Without further ado, here are the photos from our favourite place in Cambodia.

Our route by bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot.
Arriving in Kampot, which provided a quiet respite from the hustle-bustle we experienced in the capital.
The Kampot River.
We paid a tuk-tuk driver to take us to Ganesha Riverside Eco-Resort, which is located a few miles outside the town.

Our tuk-tuk driver was brave enough to drive us through the dense jungle surrounding the resort!
Ah, Ganesha! The best place we've stayed at so far.
In the lounge and dining area.
Our room was inside a yurt sitting over a small river.
Inside our yurt. As you can see, it was not well insulated, so we had all kinds of bugs, geckos and rodents scurrying around us at night. Good job we had a mosquito net to cover the bed, otherwise I don't think Angela would have slept a wink! 
Relaxing by the river.

We arranged to have a boat tour along the Kampot River at sunset, and soon enough our driver arrived right outside our yurt to pick us up.

From the tributary we entered the mighty Kampot River.

We passed dozens of children waving at us from the banks of the river.

The sun began to set, creating some stunning views of the nearby scenery.

After an hour or so, we reached this bend in the river and turned back.
Heading back to Ganesha in the dark.

That evening, we played pool in the lounge, though not before shooing away the bugs and geckos.
At the bar, our host St├ęphanie admires an even bigger gecko. She told us that these reptiles help keep the bar and restaurant free of bugs and flies.
For dinner I had Kongka Dar long Kuong Soon, which literally means "Shrimps Walking in the Garden." It consists of deep-fried shrimp, pork, mushrooms and veggies on a bed of french fries. Very tasty, indeed.

Click here to see Part 2, where we take a motorbiking adventure around the Kampot countryside!

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