On the coast, about fifteen minutes from Kampot, is the small town of Kep. From 1900 to the 1960’s it was a prestigious resort town for the Cambodian and French elite. Most of the French colonial era mansions are ruins of what they once were. Not as much due to the Khmer Rouge destroying them, but because local residents stripped them of valuables to exchange in Vietnam for food and necessities during the hard times.
I explored a couple of the side roads as you arrive and looked for a spot to stay. For some reason I was drawn up to a nice boutique resort, and I asked the ladies at the front desk if they knew somewhere to camp. The owner knew a guy, gave him a call, and he drove over on his scooter. Max, a Frenchman, has a beautiful piece of land that he’s renting and building up. He’s already bringing groups out and doing team building, and has bigger plans in the works. Someday he would like it to be a place where people go to play music and have gatherings. Great guy with a great conversation, and a sweet little kitten friend. For 2 bucks you have a free range of the place to set up wherever you want, have access to water, and use the bathrooms and shower.
Theres two large graves in the open field of the mother and father of the owners of the property. Apparently they’re friendly ghosts, but I wouldn’t camp right in front of them. When the sun starts to go down the place turns into a shade of warm orange with a nice breeze, and the perfect time for a hammock. The best place in Kep for the sunset is at the crab market or the road leading to it along the sea. The crab market is sort of a famous spot that people come to eat fresh seafood, especially crabs. At the stalls on the far right side you can grab whole grilled fish and a bunch of other things. There’s also a bunch of restaurants where you can pay a couple bucks extra to sit and be served. The atmosphere and colors of the old structures makes for a nice vibe at sunset. As you keep heading down the road towards the small beach in town, there are benches all along the sea that are perfect for a chilled out sunrise.
At night back at Max’s camp spot, the stars light up the sky and twinkle away. Both nights I was there a massive nearly full moon rose over the hills and lit up my tent. It was so bright I could read under it. The place should be called ant kingdom. I’ve never seen so many ants in my life, and every size. You have to be careful where you set up your tent because colonies of them are hiding in the grass. It’s pretty easy to find them by just standing barefoot in a place for a minute and if they’re there then you will begin to get bitten. They don’t look like much, but man do they pack a sting of a bite. I got back the first night and opened my tent to find hundreds of them all over inside the entrance. The sneaky devils somehow creeped in through the zipper, and damn they bit hard. It was a mission shaking them all out and moving to another spot, but I had beautiful stars overhead and posted up under a giant old mango tree. Big red ants also love the property, and especially trees. A couple of times I found myself being bitten by them. I ended up bringing Max a customer when I bumped into a Polish lady who is riding her bicycle around Asia, and was in need of a nice peaceful camp spot. If you ever want to camp in Kep check it out.
You can ask for Max at Botanica. It was a tough decision to pack up and move on, but I headed off after a couple of nights. Before making my way to Phnom Penh I drove up into Bokor National Park. The Russian guy I rode with told me about the road, and it was worth the side trip. They’ve finished a brand new smooth road up to the top full of twists and hairpin turns. It’s a blast riding the thirty plus km up and coming down is even better. There’s a few neat things to see up top, like a huge buddha statue and the old abandoned casino hotel, which is set on a sheer cliff and has views out over the coast.
Most of the upper area is just a bunch of development, which includes a giant casino and resort, homes, and massive blocks of condominiums. In most countries, when an area is a National Park it means it’s protected, but not Cambodia. Their parks are being destroyed rapidly. Most of the supposed protected areas in Cambodia have been torn apart. Boutum Sakor National Park, which is a large park on the southwest coast, is a good example. The Cambodian government handed over a massive chunk of the park to a Chinese developer with a multi billion dollar plan. The project is started and the company along with the military has gone in and forcibly removed people from their land and even burned their homes down. There are stories of herds of elephants that have lost their homes. Over 45,000 hectares of land has been clear-cut. There’s a you tube video that shows some of what’s going on, here’s the LINK. I don’t mind development, but don’t call an area a National Park and then destroy it. One of my favorite things in Cambodia are the coconut stands on the sides of the road.
It’s the perfect spot to get off the road and cool down with some good company. The ladies are always full of smiles and easily brighten your day up. Usually you get a few kids to come watch your every move while giggling to each other. If you want to know what it’s like to be on reality TV, just go to rural places in SE Asia and you will experience having many eyes watch your every move. Nothing beats a giant coconut out of the cooler chopped open and a straw shoved into it right in front of you. The ladies are usually wearing their pajama suits, which reminds me of Vietnam. They know how to kick back in their hammock and enjoy the day. A short stop always turns into a long hang out with these pajama clad hosts and their family.
Some of them are so huge that it takes a while to drink it, and the behemoths are only fifty cents. I arrived into Phnom Penh at 6pm just as it got dark and the traffic turned into World War III. I got some insane videos with my GoPro driving into town. It’s complete madness and lawlessness. If you go to Phnom Penh you have to watch the old guys play their game on the riverfront. It makes hackey-sack look easy.
Also, don’t miss the group exercise after sunset to some cranking music.
I spent a couple of nights in the city, but didn’t really hit up the main spots people go since I had seen them before, and once was enough. Two of the things that most visitors go to are the killing fields and the genocide museum, which are intense. A few years ago when I came to Cambodia I had no idea of the terrible history. In school we were never taught a thing about it, even though it was happening in the late 70’s. It was pretty much a small holocaust that most the world just stood by and watched without intervening. Cambodia was in civil war from 1970-1975, and directly after was controlled by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. The Khmer Rouge killed off close to a third of the population directly or indirectly. The Wikipedia page is a must read to find out what went on and to understand the terrible things that people went through. Here’s the Wikipedia page: LINK. The Cheung Ek Killing Fields are located just outside Phnom Penh and is one of thousands of locations throughout the country where the regime would torture and brutally kill men, women, and children. In the center is a memorial that is completely filled with skulls and bones from the mass graves. It’s impossible to leave feeling in a good mood. The Wikipedia for the killing fields is also worth a read LINK. They give you a headset to wear as you walk the trail, which describes different areas of the fields and gives a history. The grave where they used to smash babies on a tree is especially harsh. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is a former high school that was turned into the notorious S-21 prison. Tuol Sleng means “hill of the poisonous trees”. It was one of many execution centers throughout the country. Over 20,000 people were killed at this one alone. The Wikipedia page for the site is at this LINK. Walking through the eerie hallways and empty rooms gives you a sense of what went on and gave me chills up my spine. My guess is there are things that went on before and around this time in SE Asia that makes it so teachers don’t want to teach this history to us in high school. I’m sure at a university you could find a class that goes over it, but it’s a part of history people should know. The evils in history need to be well-known to try and avoid them happening again, even though they almost certainly will at some point. The Cambodian people have been through a lot and it wasn’t that long ago. Humans keep doing the same evils over and over. If you’ve never heard of the genocide that went on in Cambodia, check out the links. The world needs a lot more love.