I’ve always loved Kampot, as regular readers of my blog will know, so when I was invited to join a motorbike trip down to the province for the Buddhist festival, Pchum Ben, I could hardly say no, much to my parents’ horror (sorry parentals!) The roads in Cambodia aren’t exactly known for their impeccable safety record but I was riding with a Khmer friend who’s been driving motorbikes for half his life so I knew I was in safe hands.
There was a group of ten of us in total, riding down on six bikes: myself, Vanny, Emily, Veasna, Jacinta, Ehud, Jenna, Pov, Serai, and Yuri. The ride took about four hours, including a relaxed breakfast stop and the occasional break to ease our aching butts. We arrived completely unharmed, despite a slightly close call between my kneecap and a white van. But we made it: look!
And because the whole point of this holiday was motorbiking, after we settled into our accommodation we rode up to Ta Da Waterfall (yes, that is actually its name). A new attraction for tourists in Kampot, I’m sure this would have been an incredible site if half of Phnom Penh hadn’t decided to visit at the same time. We still had fun and the scenery was stunning but it was rather overcrowded. And the water was freezing cold!
The next day was the focal point of our trip: a drive up Bokor Mountain. This national park is one of Cambodia’s treasures and significant (Chinese) investment means the road up to the top is in great condition. We visited a second waterfall which was much quieter than the one from the previous day, thank goodness! And then, after literally driving through a cloud and getting rather wet, we arrived at the old casino, one of my favourite places in Cambodia. This old building was built by the French colonists but later used as a Khmer Rouge stronghold and stripped of its former glory. The result is an eery yet beautiful building, succumbing to the elements and perched on a cliff edge overlooking the sea. At least, it would be overlooking the sea if there hadn’t been a cloud there …
After meandering safely down Bokor’s jungle-covered sides, we headed to Kep, the small seaside town/province just half an hour from Kampot. Once again the beach was heaving with holidaying Khmers so our swim in the sea was undertaken semi-clothed (bikinis would have been wildly inappropriate). We then sat on the sand, played frisbee, and ate copious amounts of delicious squid. Kep is well known for its seafood so that evening saw feasts of crab, shrimp, and fish at one of the seafront restaurants. Crab is more hassle than it’s worth, in my opinion.
The following day it was back to Kampot for sunbathing, reading, and drinking coffee. Vanny and I went for a ride through the country and took in a little of the local lifestyle in the area, as well as visiting a pagoda. It was Pchum Ben, after all. The green of the paddy fields during the rainy season is just out of this world: it’s my favourite ever colour.
Amazing as it was to be riding around for the entire weekend, Vanny and I decided against slogging back up the inevitably busy road on the final day of Pchum Ben. So we took the train. Yes, Cambodia now has a fully functioning railway. Ok, not fully functioning … it runs from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville via Takeo and Kampot. And it was over an hour later arriving. But strangely it got to Phnom Penh bang on time, passing completely stationary traffic jams, much to the amusement of the train passengers! The journey itself was fine: very Khmer (karaoke videos, loud music, children wandering up and down the aisle talking to strangers, people snacking on baby birds etc) but it was cheap and hassle-free. Oh yeah and for an extra five bucks we got the moto back too …
All in all I had an awesome Pchum Ben, spending time with a great new group of people and seeing more of Cambodia than ever before from the saddle of a bike.