On trip to to Kampot and Kep, three out of four ain’t bad

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Returning to the city on a sunset cruise from Kampot.

Importuned to travel somewhere in Cambodia when a friend had a long weekend, three of us headed to Kampot within a province of the same name on Sunday.  Kampot, which enjoys justifiable fame for the quality of its pepper, is on the Kampong Bay River 148 kilometers (92 miles) southeast of  Phnom Penh.

We also drove to Kep, which lies on the Gulf of Thailand only a half-hour ride from Kampot for lunch.  Aside from its pleasing coastal views, that city is notable for its crabs, which women, just women, trap and sell at the shore on the edge of the food market.

Arrival at our hotel went badly, as I will explain in some detail later, but there were at least three diversions that made the trip worthwhile.

One was the sunset cruise, pictured above and below.  Another was that lunchtime feast overlooking the coast in Kep.  The third and last touristic activity involved a visit to a diminutive and necessarily crude Hindu temple dating to the 6th century within a cave.

I’m not usually much for hokey tourist attractions, but I have to say that the cruise ranked up there with a nighttime cruise on the Seine, where I also had overcome my usual reluctance to join the camera-wielding hordes.  As you will see, I seem to belong among them.  In any case, I will caption only those photos that require an explanation (click on the multiples for details in the event that I have provided them), including our guesthouse experience.

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View from a bridge, over which I insisted on walking from “downtown” Kampot.

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The sprawling market in Kampot with a huge range of tantalizing produce among a host of products.

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Workers being transported to their jobs on one side of the covered market.

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Lunch in Kep at water’s edge, and of course it wasn’t for me alone.

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Women crabbers seen from my comfortable seat at lunch.

After researching various hotel options online, I lit on one that had rave reviews on booking.com, La Belle Villa, and a great price — $46 for two rooms.  Cancellation was permitted at no cost until the day before our arrival.

Some reviews mentioned that the place was hard to find, but the three of us — including two Cambodians — were confident that we could get directions easily enough.

We didn’t know two important things: There was no signage, even outside the three-room guesthouse, that led the way once we turned off the main road in the center of Kampot.  Nor did anyone answer the facility’s telephone.  And when we finally thought we had arrived at the place, cracking open the gate to what we guessed was La Belle Villa and not a private home that might have an attack dog, no one answered our shouted hellos.

Moreover, my two companions, having decided the area was remote and unsafe, refused to stay there.  One threatened to take a bus home if we didn’t cancel.

When the owner showed up on a motorbike after our several minutes of attempting to reach him, there was no apology, not an appeal to have a look inside, nothing to ameliorate the situation.

If you ever go to Kampot, do check out the numerous other options.  (I now think La Belle Villa is for sale, which perhaps explains a lot.)

This plaint at least came to a happy conclusion.  Not only was the other accommodation quite satisfactory, but booking.com came through in less than a day by initiating a negotiation with the owner; he agreed to waive the room charge to which I had agreed.

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Until we picked up a tourist booklet, we never had heard of the cave below.  It was the third of the three things that made our trip memorable.

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A glimpse into the diminutive 6th century Hindu temple inside a cave in Chngouk Mountain, 12 km (7.5 miles) northeast of Kampot.

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We didn’t have the skills or inclination to get that high up the mountain, but here’s a view of the farms leading to it and the mountains beyond.

Kampot normally can be a three-hour ride from Phnom Penh.  Should you undertake the short journey, with luck you’ll take pleasure in all four of the four aspects of the trip.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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