Part 2 - CAMBODIA - Kampot, Kep & Sihanoukville 

  An uneventful 1� hour flight from Singapore Changi Airport to Phnom Penh International Airport saw us being waved nonchalantly through the Khmer customs and walking out of the terminal to a horde of Khmer taxi drivers desperate for fares. I spotted a vertically challenged Khmer dude holding a huge sign with our names on it and figured he must have been sent by Deej to pick us up. We got into the Camry taxi and headed out of the airport, destination: Kampot. Just as well I don�t have a weak heart otherwise I could have easily collapsed from the shock of sitting in the taxi as our driver nonchalantly weaved his way against oncoming traffic amidst vigorous tooting of horns from various modes of transport coming from all directions! Finally we got on to the right side of the road but my huge sigh of relief was short-lived as I watched the chaotic but strangely organized driving etiquette of the Khmer road users continued on all the way to Kampot.

During the two-and-a-half hours� �interesting� drive, I experienced a culture shock like you wouldn�t believe - it was as I imagined what Singapore would have been like in the 1940s� We passed a village a little out of Phnom Penh and I was amazed to see both sides of the main road lined with countless bakeries. We drove through many road works in various stages of progress along the National Highway No. 3, passing countless paddy fields on both sides with waterways teeming with water convolvulus, water-lilies and hyacinths. Little lopsided stalls by the road-side sell young coconuts, dried cuttlefish, baguettes and unusual looking local snacks that would have attracted the interest of �Bizarre Foods� presenter, Andrew Zimmern. Gigantic ceramic pots which serve as water �tanks� are transported in lots of three or four, precariously placed on a narrow open trailer hooked up by a tow-bar to the back of a motor-bike, nonchalantly ridden by sun-baked scrawny-looking Khmer men. We drove past wee little towns bustling with morning shoppers doing their daily marketing, buying meat from roadside butchers who randomly hacked away at the carcasses hanging from hooks under the blazing sun, generously coated with plumes of dust from nearby roadworks and in the presence of the ever-friendly flies. Local modes of transportation consist of Hi-Ace type vans with passengers very tightly packed like sardines inside with a minimum of two passengers hanging on out the back and about half a dozen sitting on top� Another mode of transport is the motor-remorque (long open trailers with bench seats attached to a motorbike) � the passengers sit patiently and wait until the driver is satisfied that his trailer is completely packed with no room to move before he starts his engine. I think the operators work on a ratio of 10 drops of fuel per passenger� The slightly better-off folks will spend a bit more to travel in the Camry taxis with a minimum of 4 passengers in the back and at least 3 in the front with the driver. Finally, there�s the tuk-tuk - small 125cc motor-bikes with a carriage-style roofed trailer attached, designed to carry 4 to 6 passengers. These tuk-tuks are very popular with the tourists.

We finally arrived at the RikiTikiTavi Guesthouse in Kampot. Cost of taxi service was US$40. We were shown to our room by a sweet petite Khmer young lady named Rumdoul (after the fragrant national flower of Cambodia) who manages the guesthouse during the Expatriate owners� absence. Upon learning that we are Deej's parents, she decided to play a little prank on us by telling us that there was someone (not Deej) waiting to see us in the restaurant upstairs. While wondering who it could be, we hastily changed into shorts and T-shirts before heading upstairs to meet this �someone�. It turned out to be Deej and Gen after all! We were then introduced to the rest of the staff before sitting down to a late breakfast.

After that, Deej drove us in his Toyota Camry (nicknamed �Cameron�) to his home by the river for a tour of the compound before we went for a little drive. Failing to find the rambutans I wanted (out of season), Deej drove on to Utopia Guesthouse overlooking the Kampot River for our first taste of the local fare (Prawns in garlic and Lok Lak Chicken). From there it was off to the market to get some fresh tropical fruit before heading back to Rikitiki for the happy hour (2 for 1) session. Gen and I then wandered 2 doors down for an hour-long massage (legs, head, shoulders and back) for a mere US$6 each. Dinner was enjoyed at Wunderbah (US$19, for the four of us, inclusive of wine and fresh fruit juice). We parted company after dinner and looked forward to a sightseeing session with a river boat cruise booked for 3pm.

Today's sightseeing started off with a tuk-tuk drive with Deej to check out Elephant Cave (Phnom Chhnork cave). It started out as a fairly tame ride down the main street of Kampot, continuing on the major highway until we reached the turn-off to the cave. That was when Dina�s (our tuk-tuk driver) expertise came to the fore � he expertly maneuvered his tuk-tuk along the unpaved dirt road full of huge potholes without incident. In between clutching the hand rail of the tuk-tuk to prevent myself from being tossed out, I managed to click my camera a couple of times, err� a few dozen times, to capture scenes of paddy fields and quaint attap farm houses with pigs, chickens, buffalos and the odd dog or two. We cheerily reciprocated with �sues dei� (Khmer for �hello� pronounced 'sue-saw-day' ) when the local kids raced out of their homes to cheerily yell out, �Hello!� at the top of their voices. We finally arrived at the bottom of the hillside where Elephant Cave is. About half a dozen local kids had followed us on their pushbikes a few metres before our destination and all eagerly volunteered to be our guides. One kid offered to keep an eye on the tuk-tuk, a couple decided to just hang around while the remaining three decided that they will be our guides, come hell or high water.

It was stinking hot but we soldiered on following the walking track to the base of the hill to where wild monkeys were cavorting happily among the branches. We paid US$1 each to the keeper of the cave and proceeded to climb up 103 steps to Elephant Cave. After my puffing and wheezing had eased slightly, I snapped a few, err.... several photos before we made our way back down the hill� We got back to Kampot in time for lunch before our date with Bart the Boatman who took us on a fantastic 3 hours� cruise which included a swimming stop and a most interesting ride through nipa palm-lined waterways. We got back just after sunset as the swallows flew home to their nests under the old bridge.

Back to Rikitiki for happy hour drinks before the guys head off down the road for a couple of beers while Gen and I once again made a beeline for the massage parlour before joining our men for dinner of Sunday roast lamb - NZ lamb roasted in Kampot! We parted company after dinner - it was back to Rikitiki for the MOTH and me for a refreshing shower before settling in to watch a documentary entitled �Cambodia/Kampuchea� by James Gerrand.

After breakfast and a quick trip to the jeweller's stall in the market to get a couple of jewellery items hand-made, we convened at Deej & Gen's to be introduced to their landlord (Chinn) and his wife, Ung. Upon learning that I like young coconuts, Chinn immediately got Dina to climb up one of his coconut trees to cut off a whole bunch of young coconuts for me to enjoy. Within minutes, I was drinking the best tasting young coconut ever! After Dina�s departure, I headed into the kitchen to show Synat how to cook fried bee hoon with water convolvulus and sliced chicken. We must have been ravenous as the wokful of noodles was consumed within minutes.

After lunch, Gen drove the MOTH and me back to Rikitiki for the MOTH to watch motor-racing on cable TV while I went walkabout in search of a beauty salon for a facial. I had no trouble finding the beauty salon and after an impromptu impersonation of Marcel Marceau, I managed to get my message across. I enjoyed a most relaxing hour-long facial treatment for US$5 before making my way back to Rikitiki. Deej and Gen arrived soon after to take us to Traeuy Kaoh Wat on Fish Isle. A monk, obviously keen to practice his English with us, proceeded to tell us his life story and also about Buddhism� There we stood in the middle of the wat and man, was he well and truly wound up! Finally, we managed to leave without appearing rude and we headed off to Bodhi Villa for afternoon drinks and dinner before we were dropped off back at Rikitiki.

Today it was off to a pepper plantation at Phnom Voar. We left the plantation with a bag of black peppercorns and went on to Kampong Trach Cave and Kiriseila Pagoda, near a gemstone cave which unfortunately is not easily accessible. As soon as our car pulled up at the cave checkpoint where we paid US$1 a head entrance fee, a gazillion kids appeared from out of nowhere to be our guides and despite our refusal, the persistent little tykes jumped on their pushbikes and followed us all the way to the cave. It was a rather irritating experience trying to take photos of Buddha statues and cave formations while little heads kept popping up at random intervals. We very quickly lost interest and left shortly afterwards to Deej & Gen's for lunch of yummy Fish Amok (a semi-spicy coconut milk based fish dish containing garlic, onions, turmeric, lemon grass with a mild hint of chillies) cooked by Synat, the housemaid.

After lunch, Gen opted for a siesta while Deej accompanied the MOTH and me to the market where our eyes and noses barely stood up to the challenge of the heat-ripened odours of rotting fish guts, prawn shells, various dried seafood, seaweeds, etc� I purchased a few sapodillas before we left the market scene behind us and headed back to Rikitiki for a refreshing shower before refreshments while waiting for Gen to join us for dinner. Tomorrow we will head for Kep where the MOTH and I will be staying for a couple of days before returning to Kampot to celebrate Deej�s birthday.

As soon as breakfast was over, I wandered down the side street and after another Marcel Marceau miming routine, I sat down for a manicure and pedicure which took care of two hours of the morning for the princely sum of US$1! Back to Rikitiki I raced to join the MOTH and it wasn�t long before Deej and Gen arrived to take us to Kep for a couple of nights� stay at the Veranda Natural Resort where we had booked accommodation at 'The Residence' suite. Deej drove us in Cameron into Kep but our suite at the Veranda wasn�t ready, so we left our bags at the reception and headed down to the waterfront restaurant called Kimly for a hearty lunch of pepper crabs freshly taken from one of the many crab baskets that were floating gently to and fro in the ebbing tide and other equally delicious seafood. From there we had a brief drive around Kep before checking in at the Veranda. Deej and Gen drove back to Kampot to await the arrival of my Singaporean niece, Aisyah and a couple of their mates who were coming from Battambang.

'The Residence' suite was awesome! It was HUGE with every creature comfort catered for! After admiring the views from our private terrace, we went downstairs to check out the amenities - a large swimming pool, a restaurant serving food in a huge dining veranda with WiFi access, a fully stocked bar, a bakery and an ice creamery! Back upstairs for a siesta before booking a tuk-tuk for a sightseeing tour of the area. A polite Khmer guy named Soph@t showed up after a bit of a wait and he suggested a little tour which included catching the sunset before bringing us back to the Veranda for the princely sum of US$8. The tour was worth every cent, especially the final stop at a seaside park to see the statue of King Khorn with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop. We gave him US$2 tip and he was so happy that he gave us his contact number, should we need his services again.

We then chilled out in the restaurant/bar area where the MOTH enjoyed his couple of beers while I sipped my Margarita. A mutual decision was made to have our dinner there before retiring for the night and as we were both feeling rather peckish, we ordered a plateful of French fries served with aioli (garlic mayo) while waiting for our main meal of seafood pizza. Well, our pizzas arrived soon after and they were super huge! There was no way either of us would be able to finish them so we arranged for the second pizza to be sent up to our suite for a midnight snack. Tomorrow, Deej and Co. will meet up with us at the jetty for a long-tail boat trip to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island).

After a scrumptious complimentary buffet breakfast, we went back upstairs for a morning siesta until 11.30am when a phone call to Soph@t soon got us to the Rabbit Island long boat jetty to meet up with the rest of the "gang" for our boat ride to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island). We had to take two boats (US$20 return trip per boat) and a slightly bumpy boat ride later saw us enjoying a refreshing swim after placing our lunch order at the beach restaurant on the island. After a yummy seafood lunch, we decided to call it a day as it looked like a storm was brewing and the boatmen were starting to get a tad twitchy.

An unfortunate incident when attempting to get into the long boat saw me taking an impromtu swim before a quick 'rescue' effort by my MOTH. From the jetty, we headed back to the Veranda where the young 'uns enjoyed a few drinks by the poolside while I showered and changed. After pre-dinner drinks, our belly worms began to growl for something more substantial, so off we set in two vehicles to get to Kimly by the sea for our lavish seafood dinner. Dinner over, we parted company with the young 'uns who returned to Kampot.

The next morning, after breakfast, the MOTH checked his phone to see a cute message from Soph@t wishing us well and a return message of thanks together with a request for a trip back to Kampot soon had him appearing at The Veranda. Our bags were loaded into the tuk-tuk and off we went. He stopped to show us where he lives - in a wee little house on a fairly large block of land which belongs to a widowed friend who couldn�t manage the fruit plantation so, in return for a rent-free house, Soph@t and his wife would pick the fruit and sell them in the nearby market with profits going to their widowed friend. He explained that his two kids (6yo boy and 5yo girl) were on their own in the house as his wife was in the market selling fruit. I had earlier packed up the uneaten seafood pizza so I offered it to Soph@t, who delightedly accepted it.

We had a great tuk-tuk trip back to Kampot with Soph@t ever obligingly stopping whenever asked, so we could take photos of the local scenery. Feeling extra generous, we doubled the usual US$10 fare and in return, we were heaped with Buddha�s blessings�. After arrival at Rikitiki, we met up with Aisyah upstairs while she was enjoying a late breakfast. To kill some time, we went for a leisurely walk to the market with Aisyah. I don�t think Aisyah was too impressed with the stench of the market, especially in seafood section so we didn't linger for too long� The MOTH and I bought a couple of Oxford Khmer/English dictionaries at a little book-store (which I nicknamed "Officeworks") outside the market as a present to Rumdoul, who is studying for a degree in business management in the tourism industry and goes around with a tattered dictionary which she constantly refers to like a bible. Needless to say, Ramdoul was speechless with delight...

Dark clouds were gathering fast as we waited impatiently for Deej to arrive to take us to his house for lunch, after which, we went to the gazebo by the river at the back of the house and before we could blink, their landlady came racing out with her granddaughter with 4 rolled up mats for us to sit on while we took in the river views. Her husband soon appeared and insisted that we should try some summer rolls (fresh shrimp rolls) and dumplings with the special dipping chilli fish sauce from a passing vendor. Delicious! Afterwards, Gen stayed back for a little siesta while Deej took us for a walk on the old disused railway bridge where we spent 20 minutes waiting for the Cham Khmer (Muslim Khmer) fishermen to go out in their boats after their late afternoon prayers. We then continued walking to Rikitiki while perspiring like hogs in the very humid condition left by the downpour earlier.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, we got into Dina�s tuk-tuk to get to Bodhi Villa. We enjoyed a fine dining experience with thin sliced potato chips, vegies sticks with a hummus dip and super yummy beef spring rolls. This was quickly followed by a chicken curry and a beef curry served with rice and hot crusty bagettes. Drinks all around and after presents were opened and the 3 birthday cakes cut, (rainbow cake from Dina, chocolate cake and a cheesecake from Gen), the band started playing. The joint was soon rocking but we oldies decided to call it a night at about 11pm. Dina brought us back to Rikitiki before heading back to Bodhi Villa to give more rides to those who have had enough. For us old farts, sleep beckoned�

Aisyah and I went for a full body massage at the Khmer Lady Massage (US$6 each) after a quick trip to the market to pick up my jewellery. Back to Rikitiki to learn from a phone call that birthday boy Deej had stayed up till 3am at Bodhi Villa drinking shots from all his mates after Gen left for home at midnight! Nursing a massive hangover, Deej only got out of bed 4 throw up! Gen arrived at Rikitiki to farewell Aisyah who left by taxi for a night in Phnom Penh to catch an early flight back to Singapore tomorrow morning. The MOTH and I spent the afternoon with Gen at the rapids at Prek Thnout Community Based Ecotourism reserve (US$3pp entry fee and 75cts for parking). There were quite a few people there who had come to indulge in fully-clothed swimming sessions in the rapids before socialising happily in the picnic huts along the stream.

That done, we returned to their place and hung around the gazebo and again watched the Cham Khmer (Muslim Khmer) fishermen to go out in their boats right on 5pm, while waiting to see if Deej felt well enough to have dinner with us. Unfortunately, he was still feeling a bit under the weather so he missed out on a delicious dinner with us at Blissful, an ex-pat backpacker-type restaurant that Gen took us to. Tomorrow, we will check out of Rikitiki to go to Sihanoukville with Deej and Gen to spend the day and a night there before they take us to Phnom Penh for an early morning flight to Singapore on the 21st.

Soon after our arrival in Sihanoukville, we checked into the Beach Club Resort in Tola St (US$25 [off peak rate, buffet breakfast @ US$4pp]). After s short power nap, we joined Deej and Gen by the poolside and a bit later, the four of us sauntered down to Ochheuteal Beach. [The name Ochheuteal Beach comes from the name of the small river at the southern end of the beach. In Khmer, Chheuteal is a type of tree. The creek is called O-Chheuteal and the beach is named after the creek.] We decided to have our afternoon drinks at Kaya Shack, one of many, many beachfront restaurant shacks desperate for business in the off-peak tourist season. One drink led to another as we waved away about 200 masseurs, bling vendors, youths selling sunglasses, maidens selling fresh fruit, fried mantra shrimps, cooked sand crabs, various Khmer hawker foods and beggars galore. What a relaxing experience it was to lie back on the beach chair and sip on a Mai Tai while getting a leg massage and pumice treatment on my feet (US$8)...

We continued our happy hour drinking until sunset and as if on cue, our bellies began to rumble for a re-fuel so we paid for our drinks (US$21) with the intention of checking out another restaurant shack. Feeling a bit on the lazy side, it didn't take much for us to be convinced to stay and dine there instead. We sat down to a candlelit dinner of a seafood platter for 2 (US$12) and a whole barbecued fish for Deej and Gen to share (US$6). With our full bellies, we walked leisurely back to our rooms at the Beach Club Resort and re-grouped 10 mins later to walk to the night market near the Golden Lions Traffic Circle. Not at all what I was expecting - visions of souvenir shopping very quickly disappeared as we set eyes on some bizarre foods on offer - deep fried crickets, bbqed snakes, fried grubs, crispy fried frogs, bbqed chicken wing tips, chicken feet, snails and so on - the kind of bizarre foods that would have Andrew Zimmen licking his chops! Photo session over, we made our way back to the Beach Club Resort. We called it a night and will meet at 8.30 in the morning for breakfast.

Thought we'd lash out and have breakfast at the elite Independence Hotel..Got there and checked out the buffet spread at US$12 but opted out when we found out that 70% of the food there had some form of pork product. So back in the car to head off to Sakal Bungalows at Independence Beach for a Western breakfast (total cost was US$15.25]. On the way back to Beach Club Resort, Deej stopped at a section of the road that had a roadside stall selling water, bananas and peanuts so tourists like us can buy food to feed the many monkeys there. We gladly parted with 4000 riels (US1) for a small bunch of bananas and a small packet of shelled peanuts to hand-feed our furry friends. Came back to check out of the Beach Club Resort to get on our way to Phnom Penh. We stopped for late lunch at a modern restaurant 'Yi Sang-Ppsez', not far from the city. Total cost was US$26 with a complimentary mini moon-cake each.

We drove through the city in peak hour traffic and I was very, very impressed by Deej's driving skills in Cambodian traffic - I just hope he does not bring it home to Australia. We finally found our way to the Feeling Home Guesthouse, checked in and reconvened half an hour later for a spot of shopping at the Shopping Center Sorya Ltd. Deej felt like Vietnamese Pho (Beef Noodle Soup) so we jumped into a tuk tuk but Deej lost his sense of direction and we got off in the wrong street. Oops! Not to worry, the night was still young so we walked right around the block, nervously following Deej and Gen as they casually cross the busy streets almost as well as the locals. Wouldn't you know it, when we got there, the establishment was shut for renovations. Well, no choice but to walk for another block to find another restaurant that has Pho on its menu. Aha! Found it! High fives all around as we eagerly entered. We chuckled over the dishes on offer in the extensive menu - a few penis dishes and funny misspelt English translation of local dishes. After a complimentary dessert of banana with sago in coconut milk, we had a leisurely stroll back to our guesthouse. Tonight's dinner cost US$16.80. We said our goodbyes as we will be leaving early tomorrow morning and declined Deej's offer to drive us to the airport. Arranged for a wake-up call for 7am and for a taxi to take us to airport at 7.30am (US$10 fare).

We thanked our lucky stars we decided against taking a tuk-tuk to the airport as we would probably have arrived at the airport a lot greyer! The morning peak hour traffic was horrendous to put it mildly - motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuk, taxis, motor cars, pick up trucks, vans and vendors pushing or pulling their food carts went in every which way in the most disorganized manner I have ever seen. Motorists drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other permanently fixed on the horn! FINALLY, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as we turned into the Phnom Penh International Airport...

The last three days of our holiday were spent with my family in Singapore, eating, shopping, more eating, more shopping and yet more eating... What a fantastic three weeks' holiday - one we'll reminisce about while we sit in our rocking chairs in our future years.



Border: BoogieJack

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