I had always wanted to visit Kampot ever since I was given a bag of Kampot Pepper from my friend Madz and it was quite fitting that we’d both visit the town together. Sounds weird that I would visit a town because it is named after a variety of pepper doesn’t it? This bag of finely ground pepper when applied to any vegetable or meat would elevate any dish to a level of culinary nirvana. Once tasted, all other peppers will fail and taste like sand in comparison. Anyhow, as you would imagine, I had pretty high expectations of Kampot and especially after coming off my crab high in Kep was probably the reason why I felt slightly let down when I left a few days later.
Ok, being let down is a slight critical assessment. It wasn’t what I had expected and I probably should have done more research to keep my expectation levels in check. What I did find oddly charming was the crumbling French colonial architecture that was ever present around town. It seemed like there no investment into housing or buildings since the fall of the Khmer Rouge and that the majority of them had been left to crumble. Cycling around the city you can’t help but look up at at the worn out looking buildings as though how the city looks isn’t high up there on the priority list.
Early mornings and evenings, you can hear a distinct whistling noise echoing from some of the buildings. It turns out that some of these buildings have been converted into nesting homes for Swallows. The Chinese have an insatiable appetite for all things weird especially swallows nests that are constructed from the birds spit and feces and used as the key ingredient in birds nest soup. Who would have thought you can eat bird shit eh? Apart from the standard improvements in libido (that’s why we try these crazy things right?), it’s meant to cure a tonne of other ailments and keep you fighting fit.
The only things about harvesting swallows nests is that it’s dangerous business and best avoided in countries with strict labour laws as people die scaling the towering cliff tops to collect them. So many of these homes are converted into The Matrix style harvesting centres with methods of attracting the birds into the buildings, thus saving many human lives as well as banking up to $2,500 per kilo. Win-Win situation right? After a while, it’s hard not to notice the high pitched cries of these birds. Luckily none of the places I stayed in were close to these nesting centres.
One thing that I found strange was that there was a lack of Khmer food around the place besides from the local markets. Everywhere seemed to cater to westerners. I had watched an episode of Rick Stein in Kep and Kampot where he tried Fish Amok, a steamed fish curry dish which is known as the national dish of Cambodia. Ever since then I wanted to try it but nowhere sold it. We were by the sea and nobody was serving it. ARGH! Also for a place known for its pepper, there was a lack of pepper on the tables or as an accompaniment. Even when I asked for pepper and lime, I was given a strange look.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that all dishes were a disaster, there were just a few average ones the time I was there. Even the one local place we went to, the food didn’t blow me away. When we entered the restaurant by the river, we were greeted by a stand full of Durian and I was willing, hoping so badly for it to deliver. Again, just like comparing beaches and islands, I was benchmarking this experience with the crab experiences that I had in Kep so when the crab order came out, we were greeted by a lone mud crab the size of my fist to share between three people. Immediately I could tell that we were all thinking, “take me back to Kep and the kilo of crabs for $5”.
One thing though that I liked about Kampot and pretty much all of Cambodia is that everybody is super friendly and that everybody and everything is pretty easy going. I’m pretty sure that it was because I was with two caucasians friends and that they wanted to practice their english but I’ve never seen so many welcoming people with good intentions. We rode past a concert put on by the local beer company and a local gentleman introduced himself to us and wanted us to meet his family. On my final day in Kampot, I met an Australian man who volunteered throughout Asia after retiring and decided to settle in Kampot and open a cafe/restaurant because it was easy to do so with very little red tape.
Here in SE Asia, I love how the family home and business coexist simultaneously. After hours when the shops are closed, the doors are still opened and the mats are out and family goes about their own business in full view from the street. By now, I’m much more confident stopping and having a quick peak without feeling too awkward. Hey they can stare so why can’t I? The kids are free to roam around outside, finding anything that they can use to implement as a toy to kick around with others.
Like most places here, there are some quite poverty stricken places. You only need to venture out a few kilometres out of town to see people living in tin shacks by the rice paddies. Nothing more than a few dogs, chickens ducks, cows and water buffalos to keep them company. I can sense by now that I have a thing for rice paddies. I’m drawn to the square shaped patterns that stretch for hundreds and hundreds of metres. Something so simple can feed half the worlds population and the cultivation is still done by back breaking work. The agriculture industry here in Cambodia still has a long way to go though. Madz explains that there is only one crop harvested each year and that there’s a long way to go in educating and motivating them to increasing the harvest crop up to three times a year in line with most parts of the world. I’m pretty sure you’ll see a few more photos of them over the coming months.
Stayed : The first place I stayed at was Blissful Guesthouse. We left after one evening due to the lack of maintenance on the flooded bathrooms and a crazy man breaking into the property in the evening and proceeded to have a conversation with himself at 4am. Moved into Tichs Guesthouse by the river for $10 per night for a private room with three beds (what was I going to do with three beds?) Great if you have somebody to split the costs. Has the only rooftop bar in Kampot offering great views of the sun setting over the mountain.
- Ecran Noodle: Fresh handmade Chinese noodles dishes as well as an in-house Cinema.
- Bokor Lodge: If you’re in town on a Sunday then check out their Sunday Roast. Seriously good lamb with all of the trimmings if you’re craving a touch of home.
- 2000 Cafe: On the roundabout that carries a monument with the number 2,000 to commemorate the year 2,000. Yes they love their monuments on roundabouts here. I had a nice pork and rice and Allan the Australian owner is super nice.
Few busses leave everyday at varying class levels. I caught a local bus because the first class one was booked out. It was nice enough and took about 5 hours to get to Phnom Penh. Make sure you bring warm clothes because they crank up the air conditioning. Cost is around $6. From Sihanoukville it will take around 3 hours by mini van.
$1 for the day and there are quite a few places including guest houses.