I’ve been avoiding Sihanoukville because: a) I’m from Hawaii, therefore a beach snob (okay, I have high standards), b) it’s either a 12-14 hour bus ride (no, thank you) or an expensive plane ticket, and c) I’ve heard that it’s a seedy beach town that caters to male travellers (yeahhh).
But I have been wanting to go to Kampot and Kep which I’ve heard great things about. Everyone gushed that I’d love it. My friend Sarah said she accidently stumbled upon it and ended up staying there for 5 days.
Kampot also hosts a literary festival that I attempted to go to last year, but due to work and trying to figure out travel arrangements, I couldn’t go. I was trying to catch a cheap flight from Phnom Penh and then take a taxi or bus to Kampot, and needless to say, it’s a 4 hour drive from the capital city.
However, it’s only a 1-1/2 hour drive from Sihanoukville. And when Sarah mentioned $40 roundtrip plane tickets (!!!) to Sihanouk/Sin-ville, I was thrilled.
Day one: Siem Reap to Sihanoukville
Our flight was an hour long and we landed on what felt like the longest airstrip in the middle of nowhere. Our taxi ride to our hotel, The Secret Garden located at Otres Beach, was an informative one. Our driver told us how it was rumored that Jack Ma, the richest man in Asia, had bought all this land (he pointed to it) and was going to build “Chinatown”.
The drive was also a strange one filled with poverty, roadside construction and bumpy roads and even more construction surrounding our guesthouse which made me nervous. Luckily, we weren’t that close to it, but the surroundings were a bleak reminder of how quickly Cambodia is being bought up and developed.
Apparently, Otres Beach is the expensive beach. I deliberately booked it because I had heard it was quiet, away from the backpacker party scene and away from people trying to sell you a massage or sunglasses or food. And while we were harassed by locals while on the beach, it was quite minor, and everything else was true.
From what I could tell The Secret Garden was the most popular place for travellers to eat. The restaurant was right on the beach and we received a complimentary welcome drink and free breakfast the next day. Our bungalow was surrounded by lush greenery. It was, overall, a lovely stay and I could see why they were always booked.
I only booked it for one night because I felt like Kampot was what we really wanted to see, and it was much less expensive than staying at a fancy hotel on the beach. The ride into town was supposedly far and there is also some price gouging going on, so, for us, I was just interested in being on the beach. From the looks of it (thanks, YouTube), town didn’t seem like anything I’d want to go to anyway.
The water was nice and the beach relatively clean, but we were surprised to see a few dead fish on our walk along the shore. I also got stung by a jellyfish when I was swimming. But as it turns out, lime is a great way to takeaway the sting. I still have marks on my leg and I hope they go away. It still burns ocassionally and feels itchy, but I read that this is normal. But I also read that I should be dead (thanks, Internet!)
Day two: arriving at Kampot
After breakfast and a walk on the beach, we hopped into our taxi and relaxed while we watched the countryside roll by. I would have prefered to have taken a mini-van or bus, but apparently, there is only one company and they are known for being horrible, so private taxi it was.
I booked us at the Rainbow Bridge guesthouse. It’s an unassuming place with only a few rooms that boasted a Japanese restaurant. Unfortunately, because it is low season, they went back home, so no Japanese food for us! But the riverfront was great, as well as the location and price.
We decided to explore the city by foot. Popped in for some Thai food at the Old Market, the BF got a haircut and I got my nails done. Then we ended up taking the evening riverboat cruise to see the fireflights. By nightfall, there were hillariously only a handful in the trees, but the trip itself was so charming that it didn’t matter.
Day three: Kampot
The next day was trying to figure out how to get more money from my bank ANZ. I had been paying more in cash than I anticipated and running low. My bank, despite being based in Australia, gave me the wrong information as to how to get money out from non-ANZ banks. So, “Asia”, they’d rather give you any answer rather than say “I don’t know.” Needless to say, we figured it out. Crisis averted.
After that, we could relax, get a massage, and do more exploring. Kampot is not a big town, but it’s very walk-friendly. Traffic’s light, civilized, and the riverside has a wide promenade.
Since we are not partiers, we knew that we had to entertain ourselves in the evenings. We brought USB sticks with movies. We actually discovered this trick when we thought about what we were going to do for my birthday’s staycation. We watched Nice Guys and 10 Cloverfield Lane and read our books (great movies, good books!). So don’t ask me where everyone goes drinking or dancing, have no idea.
Day four: Kampot to Kep
The thing about Kampot is even though it is a pleasant town, there isn’t a whole lot to do, but there are plenty of day trips to take from there. Kep is a coastal town best known for it’s crab. Oh, and I should mention that Kampot is known for it’s salt fields and pepper farms and when I say peppers, I mean, black peppers, not chili peppers, and this combo makes for delightful dishes and flavorful food.
Kep is about an hour away. It was nice to sit after walking so much. Our tuk-tuk driver’s name was Saavid. He was laidback, but not our first driver, interestingly enough. Originally, we had chosen a kindly-looking older man, and he said he’d take us, only to stop in the middle of town to meet up with another driver and then declare he was otherwise obligated and would we go with his brother instead?
Typical. We changed tuk-tuks and then we were finally off driving down a pretty good road until we reached Kep where they were re-doing the roads. Our first stop was the crab market. This is where you can buy fresh seafood and even watch folks bring the fresh catches out of the sea.
Saavid next took us into this lovely cove where Kep’s beach is located. The thing about that day was there seemed to be a school fieldtrip for disabled children as I kept seeing prosthetic legs and arms, and even a group of students in wheelchairs nearby, but not at the water. It was nice, actually, to see them out playing in the ocean.
What was not so nice was getting stung by a jellyfish – again. This sting was much more minor, thankfully, but cut my time in the water short. As I was dousing my leg with lime juice again, I started to wonder why this kept happening. The BF made jokes about how the male jellyfishes were attracted to me, but I knew that wasn’t the case. There were hotter females on the beach (isn’t there always?).
I wondered then if my shorts that I wore over my bikini bottoms and had a tendency to balloon out was the problem? Maybe I looked like a jellyfish underwater. Drat.
On our way back we headed to the caves at Phnom Sia. Normally, I enjoy caves, but I was not adequately dressed in slippers/flip flops and shorts. It required a lot more following our guide and his flashlight than I expected. And it was scarier and harder than I wanted it to be!
We ended our journey visiting the salt fields and learning how salt is harvested. Since it’s the raining season, we didn’t see any of the work being done, but watched a short video on it before heading back to Kampot. Dinner was at Pepe and the Viking. Highly recommend this place. My salad was hearty and sooo good.
Day five: to the Pepper Farm and Secret Lake
We slept in and had breakfast at a new guesthouse called Good Morning Kampot. Their seats face the river served with a big cup of coffee and tasty cheap eats. Funnily, our tuk-tuk driver Saavid found us again and then we were off to La Plantation and the Secret Lake. The drives through the countryside were probably my favorite thing we did. Although it bares mentioning that the road to the farm and lake are not paved, bumpy and slow going.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing things like a chicken standing on top of a cookpot (better watch out bird!), dogs lazying about in the sun, cows grazing, rice being harvested, children waving, and of course, seeing the water buffaloes caked with mud.
La Plantation is a relatively new pepper farm to the region. The grounds are well-kept, the tour is free and the restaurant smelled divine. We learned more about peppers and their different types and tastes than we probably ever knew. On the way back we saved our appetite for the restaurants across from the Secret Lake.
Day six: to Bokor Mountain
We rose early to have breakfast before our tour. The van held 10 of us and our driver seemed to be fighting off some sort of lung infection so we got to enjoy hearing him hack up smurfs and lung cookies. But nevermind, he was a safe driver (no small thing in Cambodia) and he got us down the mountain when we were socked in by clouds and rain.
Our drive up the mountain was equally slow because we weren’t in the newest vehicle on the road, so we watched everyone pass us, but we were on holiday, and sat back and listened to what could have possibly been the worst American music playlist. (Please don’t ask me what songs they were. I’m still in therapy…)
Everyone in the van slept on our descent, but I, because I was nervous for the driver and our lives in little visibility. But once we made it back safely, we scurried out in the rain and went to our g.h for a much needed shower, nap and meal. It was overall, a great price for the tour. I didn’t care for the lunch they provided us though, so I’d recommend packing food and snacks.
Day seven: drive back to Sihanoukville
We had made arrangements to have our original driver take us back to Sihanoukville since he knew where we were dropped off. But a different driver showed up (see the pattern?). He was safer though and traffic was agreeable (it’s a two lane road between the towns and so passing can be a bit harrowing at times). So, in an hour and a half we were back at Sihanoukville Airport.
There’s not much to this little place, so bring food! I ate overpriced soup. Gotta love airports, eh?
Have you been to these places? What was your experience? And are you taking a summer vacation?