It’s funny, the very day I posted my first “Perfect Travel Day” post about Mostar, Herzegovina, was the exact day I am about to describe to you. Perhaps there’s some kind of mojo attached to it? Anyway, I won’t get too meta here – I’ll instead tell you about our most magical day in Kampot and Kep, Southern Cambodia.
We woke early in the morning, having slept like champs after the Khmer karaoke party upriver stopped at about 1am. We knew that the tourist buses started ferrying folks on a loop of the Kep National Park starting at about 9 or 10am, so we set out early, at around 7am, on rented motorbikes from our lovely accommodations: The Kampot Cabana. Shoutout here to Marianna, who was the caretaker of the property while we were there, and also the only person from the Seychelles I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She has agreed to let us stay with her family whenever we’re able to make it to that side of paradise, and I plan on holding her to it.
We rode through Kampot without much note, stopping at a lovely women-owned, Organic restaurant called Om for a Khmer breakfast. After picking up a few gifts for our crunchier friends (say yes to coconut oil), we continued on the road – only taking one wrong turn before getting set off in the right direction.
We had originally planned to head to the Bokor Hill Station, but after some hemming and hawing about it (and watching the most recent Anthony Bourdain Cambodia episode of “No Reservations”), chose to head to Kep instead, home to a set of old mansions being quickly reclaimed by the jungle.
And off we went. It was the first time we had spent much time on motorbikes, and riding through the Cambodian countryside was a real treat – passing by real people and their families, businesses, and homes gave us a look into more rural Cambodian life that we hadn’t seen in Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville. Eventually we made the turn off toward Kep, which I believe is right at a campy flying horse statue.
We arrived to the Kep crab market early – just as vendors were setting up. Our hunch had been correct, and we were the only tourists to be found. We had the luxury of time to wander through the tight aisles, smelling the smells and interacting with the people, without a selfie stick to be seen.
We took a short stroll along the beach, next to crab fishermen’s empty traps from the morning, before taking off in search of an abandoned manor. In Kep, abandoned manors are not hard to find, and we were bounding up crumbling marble steps in a matter of minutes.
Inside, there wasn’t much grandeur left in the old manor. If not for the ornate use of tile and the creeping jungle vines, it could have been an abandoned property from any one of our travels – from a shelled out skeleton in Bosnia to an abandoned military structure in the Baltics. It was fascinating to see the similarities in two places that are so diametrically opposite on paper.
From there we headed back to Kampot. My shoulders were about three shades redder than they shouldn’t have been, and we needed to meet our driver who would take us to the Sihanoukville airport for our flight to Siem Reap that evening.
On our way back, we stopped at a home business – the kind I talked about seeing earlier – for beers and a water. I said “hello” and “thank you” in my best Khmer, and David and I enjoyed our warm Cambodia beers in the relative shade of the thatched awning. Watching the traffic speed by (this was on the main highway in Cambodia, connecting Ho Chih Minh City and Phnom Penh at either end) and having brief chats with the family running the place gave me a feeling of understanding, at least perceived, of the place I was in at that single fleeting moment. And it’s when I get those feelings that I continue to be so happy I am able to travel.