Flooded paddies in Kampot

Kampot’s chilled-out charm

November 21, 2012 | Cambodia, Travel | 4 Comments

After lazing around forever on Otres beach and trying to avoid Koh Rong’s wildlife, it was finally time to leave the Cambodian coastline. We didn’t stray too far, of course – just a couple of hours in a crowded minivan down what passes for the main road from Sihanoukville.

I’d heard good things about Kampot for years, but never quite managed to get there. Much like Bokor Hill Station before the developers moved in, the place has a faded colonial charm. Old French buildings quietly decay along the main promenade, now largely converted into chilled-out restaurants and bars. There are as many bicycles as scooters riding by, and even the wide, brown river doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to get anywhere.

Sleepy doesn’t even start to describe it. Like Kratie in the north of the country, Kampot is the kind of place where the days soon blur into a happy haze of sundowners and seafood, and any plans to leave get quietly shelved.

You need just one last plate of incredible ribs at the Rusty Keyhole. Maybe fit in another life-changing lunch of crabs in green pepper sauce somewhere. Of course those happy hour cocktails at Rikitikitavi really are very good.

One more day can’t hurt … right?

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Palm tree, Koh Rong

Beaches, Bugs and Bovines on Koh Rong

November 19, 2012 | Cambodia, Travel | 4 Comments

After a perfect ten days on Otres beach we reluctantly decided to move on. It would have been far too easy to spend our entire month there, but there was a lot more of the Cambodian coast to see. First stop: Koh Rong.

This island, a couple of hours by sputtering ferry from Sihanoukville, used to have little more than a dive shop and a few bungalows until a couple of years ago. Even now, with the addition of that regular boat service, there just aren’t that many places to stay and visitor numbers stay low.

It’s not quite ‘The Beach’, but parts of the island aren’t far from it.

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Bokor church

Amidst the ruins of Bokor Hill Station

November 14, 2012 | Cambodia, Travel | 8 Comments

For the last forty years Bokor Hill Station in southern Cambodia has been slowly falling into ruin.

Built by French settlers in the 1920’s as a respite from the brutal heat of Phnom Penh, the mountain-top retreat had a hotel and casino, church, post office, shops and apartments. Death was a constant companion from the beginning, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of workers losing their lives during construction, and has stalked the town ever since.

Uprisings in the 1940’s sent the settlers packing, and the Khmer Rouge took the area over from the country’s elite in 1972. What was left of the town remained a stronghold during the Vietnamese invasion seven years later, bullets and bombs accelerating the decline that nature had started.

And then, a few years ago, Sokimex turned up to finish the job.

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Otres beach

The One Reason Sihanoukville Doesn’t Suck

November 12, 2012 | Cambodia, Travel | 23 Comments

When people talk about Cambodia’s beaches, they seem to use words like undiscovered and untouched. Visions of white sand and gently swaying palm trees spring to mind. A cheaper, quieter alternative to Thailand, perhaps.

And, well, then you turn up in Sihanoukville.

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Koh Rong beach scene

The Friday Photo #135 – Is this paradise?

It took the better part of two weeks, but we finally dragged ourselves away from Cambodia’s Otres beach. We didn’t travel far, though – just a couple of hours on a slow boat to Koh Rong, an island offshore from Sihanoukville.

It was absolutely stunning.

If paradise had ten million sandflies and broken flip-flops washed up on the shore, I’m pretty sure it would look like this.

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Cow on the beach, Cambodia

The Friday Photo #134 – Cow on the beach

I’ve been staying on the beautiful Otres beach in Cambodia for the last couple of weeks, a few kilometres from Sihanoukville town. We walked into that backpacker ghetto one morning, just to see what was what.

There was little to redeem the place, with polluted seas and a strip of sand covered in rubbish and sun loungers, but the walk there more than made up for it. At the far end of Ochheuteal beach the pace of life is a lot more relaxed, and with little development nearby there is plenty of room for everyone and everything to stretch out.

Including the cows.

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Grand Palace, Phnom Penh

The Friday Photo #108 – Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Stepping inside the grounds of the Grand Palace in Phnom Penh is a strange, almost surreal experience.

The manicured gardens and golden buildings seem bizarrely out of place compared with the dirt, noise and poverty of city life on the other side of the gates.

The Cambodian Royal family have lived there since it was built in the 1860s, interrupted only by the horror of the Khmer Rouge.genocide. Try as I might, though, I didn’t spot the king wandering around anywhere…

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Outside Angkor Thom

The Friday Photo #107 – Outside Angkor Thom

I spent three days exploring the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, and while there was a huge diversity of architecture, sculptures and state of repair, there was one thing that stayed consistent the whole time.

The heat.

Damn it was hot. All day, every day. Even when the afternoon storms rolled in the temperature didn’t drop much.

I remember standing there outside the entrance to Ankgor Thom with two thoughts in my head.

1. Those statues are really interesting. I should take a photo of them.

2. I’m incredibly sweaty. I really want to jump in that river right now.

In the end I only did one of those things.

I’ll let you decide which it was.

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