Between Kampot & Kep there is a lot of Pepper, so we decided to arrange a tuk-tuk from our hostel in Kampot to stop off at a well known plantation on the way to Kep. This was actually quite a lot further than we had expected and was down some pretty terrible dirt roads – not aided by all the rain we’d been having. On the way, we saw just how much water there was everywhere, including at “Secret Lake” which was very big and very flooded with water pouring out over the road next to the lake at an impressive rate. That didn’t stop the locals using it as a bike-wash though, even though the water was probably waist high on some of them!
We eventually made it to “La Plantation” – a pepper plantation set up by a Belgian couple as a community enterprise to help the locals fund schooling and other various schemes. After a short wait, we were invited to join one of the free tours they offer which was actually quite informative – the pepper industry in Cambodia was essentially outlawed by the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot & co) when they took over & pretty much destroyed the country. Since then though, Kampot Pepper has been brought back and is regarded as some of the finest pepper in the world and is also geographically protected in the same way Champagne & Melton Mowbray Pork Pies are.
The tour consisted of some background as to what they do there & a tasting session of the different types of pepper. I hadn’t realised the different flavours of each of the different types, so found this really interesting. They could use providing some water though – munching on a number of peppercorns each increasing in spice level makes the mouth fairly uncomfortable after a while! After the tasting, in a break in the rain (yep, still raining…), we were able to head out and look at the plantation itself. Again this was surprisingly interesting & they grow quite a few fruits there too.
Next, we headed into Kep. En route, we came across yet more proof that people in SE Asia can carry literally anything on their motorbike: This time, a man on a motorbike carrying 4 fully grown pigs on the back. Here’s the (slightly blurry) proof:
Having arrived at our accommodation, the heavily pregnant woman who was the cleaner & chef as well as running the place with her husband thought we were mad when we asked to rent her bicycles to go into town (due to the rain) but off we went to have a look at the beach and the famous Kep Crab market. This was the first time on the trip we had actually reached the ocean, so was quite nice even if it was still very wet. We had dinner in a crab restaurant (the market itself was a bit too much to handle at this point) who made us fried crab in Kampot pepper sauce which was very messy, very fiddly and very tasty.
The next day the rain had eased, so we went to the butterfly garden nearby and had a look at the all the butterflies. This resulted in many, many, many photos and was a nice way to spend the morning. For the afternoon, we thought the river in Kampot would have calmed so went back to the kayaking place we had been before to try & actually do the route – we’d heard great things hence our eagerness to not miss out. When we got there, the advice was the same – river too high, but this time the person we spoke too said that there were other places a bit upriver (right by the start of the loop we were trying to do) that might let us go if we were really keen. We were, so went & tried them out.
Getting there was hard. The dirt road was more puddle than road & there was much grumping on the way (from me), despite it only being about 500m further along. When we got there, the woman said she would let us out but she only had a single kayak. This obviously didn’t work for 2 people, so we tried her next door neighbours. They had many kayaks & let us go, so we finally managed to do one of the main things we wanted to while down here!
The water was absolutely fine – the other places had been very over cautious – and it was a lovely 90 minutes or so working our way around what was essentially a calm canal through the palms which in places grow fully over the water making a tunnel. There was also loads of different fruit & veg growing on the trees above, including avocados, oranges & coconuts. On a sunny day it would be glorious, but the clouds didn’t detract too much & the rain largely held off for us too. The only downside was the sheer volume of rubbish in the water, which was really unpleasant and can’t be good for anyone living there.
I occasionally managed to get into trouble as chief navigator, particularly when I let myself become distracted by Avocados, resulting in Claire (at the front of the boat), ending up in the trees. We also discovered that Claire paddles in circles, so she was for a time relegated from paddler to photographer which allowed us to go in a straight line!
We had wanted to go to Rabbit Island while in Kep, which is an island just off the coast with a nice beach. Sadly, the boat coming back in the afternoon wouldn’t run as it was too windy, so rather than go over in the morning and have to stay the night over there we decided to go for a walk in Kep national park. This was a pleasant, but very sweaty excursion for which the rain finally held off. We made it round most of the hill that is the centrepiece of the national park, past a few viewpoints, the “remarkable tree” and what claimed to be a waterfall even though it was barely a trickle even with all the rain we’d had.
We decided to nip down to the crab market for lunch before completing the loop & heading to the Buddha statue at the top of the hill. This was a good decision, as the heavens opened just as we were leaving the park & we were drenched within seconds. It would have been very unpleasant to be on the slippy paths with no real shelter which is what would have happened if we hadn’t headed down.
The crab market was a bit confusing, but somehow we ended up with 1kg of crab bought from 1 person, before another person cooked it up for us. A third person then owned the seats, who we needed to buy a drink from in order to sit at. That was pretty much our impression of Cambodia so far in a nutshell – inefficient to the extreme, fairly baffling but works if you just go with it and don’t ask questions & ensured that everyone got paid (it’s pretty corrupt, we’ve seen a number of little backhanders here & there, particularly with bus drivers). Fortunately, it was delicious. Eating it without any cutlery was not a pretty site though!
The rain didn’t stop for more than 5 minutes at a time for the rest of the afternoon, so we decided to give up on the rest of the hill and after a short walk back to the main part of town get a tuk-tuk back past the beach, past the giant crab statue & to a bar just down the road from our accommodation. We played a couple of games of pool on a table that was about as close to flat as we’ve seen out here, then played a couple of the locals before heading back for dinner & an early night as we were heading off to Sihanoukville the following day.