We’ve just come to the end of a very important public holiday here in Cambodia – Pchum Benh, a time to pay respect to your ancestors with your family and a 3-4 day break from work. For Cambodians this involves going back to spend time with their families and for me it meant a chance to travel.
I chose to visit a lovely river town called Kampot with fellow Brit Vicky and will be writing more about the whole experience tomorrow. But, for today I want to focus solely on the Sunday of our trip and our choice to visit the seaside town of Kep.
After breakfast we found ourselves a lovely tuktuk driver who didn’t speak a word of English, looked like a right cheeky character and more importantly, offered a very reasonable price for the trip without too much haggling.
And we were off. The journey from Kampot to Kep is approximately 24km on pretty good roads by Cambodian standards and, miracle of miracles, we had managed to engage the services of one of the few tuktuk drivers in the nation who uses his wing mirrors correctly and does not drive like he owns the whole road. Thanks to this the journey was fairly easy going and uneventful, the highlights being a stop for 65 cents worth of petrol (about 40 pence), an impromptu stop at a lotus pond to fill up the bike’s water tank before reaching our destination (our driver explaining via gesticulations (including licking his fingers with his tongue) that the water in Kep was too salty for this purpose, and riding for what seemed like a storm of thick red dust thanks to our tuktuk drivers afore mentioned courtesy on the road leading to him staying off the single track of concrete through a section of highway under construction.
We arrived at the first roundabout in Kep to a stream of cars backed up as they queued to buy a ticket (presumably to enter the town or park – we never actually found out) along with cars parked all over the verges at the side of the road. Thankfully we sped past this chaos feeling slightly smug as we continued to speed along the highway.
Our smugness was short lived as we turned right towards the seafront and were greeted by total traffic chaos. There were cars, tuktuks and people absolutely everywhere. Our driver dropped us off indicating that he was going to head away to a place to sleep and leaving us with his number to call him when we were ready to return home.
And then it was just us and what seemed like half of Cambodia on a narrow strip of road by the beach. For the Brits reading this, think sunny bank holiday Monday in Blackpool and then multiply it by 15 and you’re somewhere near the chaos we were amidst.
The noise was immense, a combination of nose to tail traffic in both directions, families picnicing by the beach and seemingly 100s of screaming swimmers in the sea. Add to this a raft of street sellers plying their wares and a shouting match between a man who had let his child poo in someone’s garden and said garden’s owner throughout which the poor child stood with her pants round her ankles looking bereft whilst the garden owner accused the father of behaving like a barrang (foreigner) and it added up to absolute carnage.
Vicky and I endure the madness for a while, heading down a short pier to sit and look out to sea and pretend the circus wasn’t happening behind us.
When it all became too much we headed towards a lovely hotel called the Beach House, but not before looked on aghast and then we snapped pictures of a guy making the most of the traffic jam by sitting in the back of a pick up in a full sized armchair playing a keyboard (you don’t see that on Blackpool seafront do you!!!)
Once on the raised terrace of the Beach House we chose a comfy sofa from which to observe the mayhem from a safe distance whilst sipping refreshing lemon and mint Granitas #heaven.
After a while we decided to go for a walk in the National Park and what a great decision this turned out to be. Within minutes we were away from the cacophony of noise and traffic and immersed in the cool dark of the almost deserted forest. We meandered slowly up to the first viewing point along a well signed path with various information points telling us about the process of the park’s development seeing only the occasional tourist on foot or motorbike (and one crazy foreigner pelting up the hill on a bike). It was the total antithesis of the chaos below on the beach. And as for the views – they were spectacular and accompanied by an ever present and very welcome breeze.
On the way back down we were lucky enough to encounter a troup of monkeys despite the signage in the park indicating that, whilst wildlife was abundant it was unlikely we’d see it due to the plethora of foods available to them deep in the forest. The monkeys were extremely wary of us, watching us guardedly as we approached and scampering higher up the trees as soon as we stepped what they deemed to be too close.
Back at the bottom of the park we decided to stop for a drink and rest at a cafe called the Led Zepp (yes there were lots of references to the band within but despite this it was lovely place to sit and be). This cafe is a hub of activity for the park’s development group where you can pick up a map, learn more about the development taking place and perhaps more importantly in my case, get the most amazing banana, coconut and chocolate pancake as a reward for my hard work climbing the hilly path to the viewpoint.
Optimistically, we shared our hope that the traffic chaos may have abated after our retreat to the forest but within yards of the entrance gate this myth was shattered. Traffic still thronged the streets and, despite the onset of rain, families continued to picnic all over the place and wander about in various states of undress post swim.
Our tuktuk driver was so happy to see us. Again he gesticulated wildly to show his relief as a fellow driver explained in pigeon English that he had lost my number and thought we’d gone home and left him there.
As we set off the heavens opened (true Bank Holiday weather!) leading to a very soggy first part of the journey, although we thanked our lucky stars that no matter how wet we were getting as the water splashed up from passing cars, the poor groups piled into the back of open trucks of riding pillion on motorbikes were having a far worse time of it.
There’s a little video of the rainiest portion of our journey here
As the rain died down the journey continued uneventfully with everyone we passed in very good spirits thanks to a ‘bank holiday’ trip to the seaside and before we knew it we were back to the tranquility of Kampot just in time to watch the sun setting over the river.
Despite the madness, I thoroughly enjoyed Kep, getting the feeling that outside of holiday time it’s actually a sleepy little place that is ideal to kick back in. And so I will be back, though next time rest assured it won’t be on a sunny bank holiday!