Time for some serious catch up. Since the last “5 photos of the week” entry I have made two border runs, Ashley and I both had family visit us in Bangkok, and we took a trip to Khao Yai National Park. Ashley helped me by posting about most of these events using the photos I had set aside, so today’s posts will include the last of February’s missing photos in addition to some from last week.
For those unfamiliar with my situation I am in Thailand on a tourist visa. Every time I enter the country I am given either a fifteen or thirty days depending on how I arrive (fly into Thailand you get thirty days, walk in and you get fifteen), which means at least once a month I need to make a border run. My first border run was to Cambodia. My whole trip went like this: exit Thailand, wait in line for a Cambodian visa, wait in line for immigration into Cambodia, walk across a street and get in a new line for immigration out of Cambodia, wait in line for immigration into Thailand. I literally spent more time waiting to reenter Thailand than standing on Cambodian soil.
Fifteen days later I needed to make another border run but unlike the first I decided to make the most out of it and see something new. This time I decided to travel along Cambodia’s south visiting the increasingly popular beach towns which have been receiving an increasing amount of attention with tourists, travel blogs and in news papers.
My first stop in Cambodia was Koh Kong. The guide book reads that the city was once a flourishing timber town but little of which remains. The edge of town is marked by a small and slowly moving river. Tied to piers were several fishing boats loaded high with crab pots along side beached ships in something resembling a dry dock. The barnacles on the boats and rust on the anchors was fitting because the city didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry.
The next morning I woke early and arranged transportation further along the southern border. At the bus station there were plenty of coach buses, fully equipped with air conditioning and reclining chairs, but only for travelers heading to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. If your destination was Kampot like mine you were left with one option – a mini bus. After asking around I finally found a fifteen passenger van headed to Kampot. After waiting another hour and finding another seventeen people with their accompanying luggage, in addition a random stack of split bamboo our driver tied onto the back of the truck, we finally headed out. I thought about raising an objection but realized it would be fruitless so I sat back and just went along with it.
Seven hours and after getting well acquainted with my fellow travelers I arrived at Kampot. Located four hours outside of Phnom Penh, Kampot and the neighboring city Kep are the two main cities benefiting form the previously mentioned media attention. And yet neither are recent discoveries. As early as the 1920’s and as late as 1973, both these coastal cities were chic summer and weekend retreats for the French and Phnom Penh elite trying to escape the summer swelter. Echos from these better times remain scattered throughout the countryside, dilapidated remains of former colonial buildings.
The decay in Kep and Kampot city started in 1973 and finally ended in 1995 coinciding with the Khmer Rouge plague. For twenty years Cambodians were forced to live in fear of the inhumanly violet Khmer Rouge and their wanton ideology. During Pol Pot’s brief official reign, the following Vietnamese invasion and civil war most people were more preoccupied with just living then preserving the cities. With the violence and fighting Cambodia was either closed off entirely to travelers or just considered too dangerous. Today Cambodia has put this period behind itself and is becoming an attractive alternative to tourists and investment alike.
Most of Kampot’s remaining colonial building are in a cluster by the river. Several entrepreneurial individuals have restored buildings and converted them into hotels or restaurants. The city is once again catering to Phnom Penh’s weekend crowds in addition to an increasing number of backpackers. Realizing the potential the government has approved building a casino in the Bokor Mountains that stand above the city. Sitting on a bamboo terrace overlooking the river I contemplated how the city will change once the casinos are up and running.
The last leg of my trip was suppose to be a simple hour long from Kampot to Kep. I decided to take a tuk tuk hoping to take photographs of daily life in the Cambodian country side. My plans began to unwind quickly as the road disintegrated from concrete into dirt. Instead of a taking photos I spent my time clinging on the roof hoping to keep myself from being bounced out. As if that wasn’t enough I had to shield my eyes and mouth from the blanket of dust kicked up by each passing car and truck. Despite the difficulties I enjoyed myself, somehow it reminded me that I was in Cambodia and that developing countries don’t always work they way you expect them to. Next time, however, I will opt for the bus.
Kep is small town with little to do in and nothing in particular to see. Sitting on gravely beaches and without anything cultural to see it might seem an odd place to visit. Fortunately Kep’s reputation with foreigners and Cambodians alike is based on one thing: crab. More specifically Kampot pepper crab. I asked around but no one was able to explain why Kep would lay claim to having the best Kampot pepper crab when the city whose name defines the dish is only a hour down the road. In truth I stopped giving it any thought after taking my first bite. I know it is impossible to qualify, and that what I am about to write would be considered heresy by many, but I am willing to go out on a limb and say that the Kampot pepper crab I had that day was better than all the other pepper crab I have had in Southeast Asia. Perhaps my next border run should revolve around testing my theory.