Kampot_Cambodia

After a long, treacherous and vomit-inducing journey on a road filled with zigzags and pot-holes, the mini-van comes to a halt.

The driver opens the door and I reach for my bag. As I’m about to step out, I notice a large puddle of muddy water. It’s about 20 cm deep, dark and sticky-looking.

We’ve stopped bang in the middle of it.

‘We have arrive. You get out now.’

I stare at the driver, confused.

‘Um. Here? Seriously?’

‘Yes, sorry lady. Welcome to Kampot’.

I crack a smile, thinking this is some kind of sick joke.

But he’s not laughing. He’s getting impatient. He’s not joking.

I reluctantly get out of the mini-van and submerge my blue Converse (and half of my leg) in this scary brown mess.

The two French girls behind me look horrified. There are things, unidentifiable things, floating in this puddle.

Then I spot something familiar. Feathers. Is that a…?

That looks like a piece of dead chicken. FML.

Oh Kampot. What else could you possibly have in store for me? 

Luckily, my sordid introduction to this Cambodian riverside town was a one-off.

From the minute I got out of that puddle and scrubbed bits of animal carcass off my leg, I knew Kampot and I were going to get along just fine.

To be honest, it’s hard not to love Kampot. What was once Cambodia’s main port is now a sleepy, charming and chilled-out town.

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The French influence is striking. Kampot immediately reminded me of Luang Prabang, another South East Asian town defined by its colonial architecture.

The streets are quiet and narrow, adorned by pastel-coloured townhouses. The town centre boasts dozens of cafes and restaurants, one more cozy looking than the other.

But unlike Luang Prabang, Kampot is crumbling.

It’s not surprising, really. Kampot (like the rest of Cambodia) has gone through a lot. It was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war and later dilapidated by the tyrannous regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

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Buildings are in ruins and bright town houses are losing their colours. The whole town feels damaged and deserted. But strangely enough, that’s part of its charm.

I spent my days wandering around, eating, daydreaming and reading a novel inside a little cafe facing the river.

Well, that, and visiting pepper farms.

Did you know that the world’s best pepper grows in Kampot?

Neither did I, until I learned that Kampot is internationally famous for its pepper. It’s said to have a strong but delicate aroma, ranging from mildly sweet to super spicy.

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While peppercorns have been cultivated here since the 13th century, the industry boomed during the French colonial era.

Parisian chefs considered Kampot pepper to be the best in the world. They flat-out refused to offer their customers any other kind.

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It’s a small miracle that Kampot’s pepper industry is still alive and breathing. In the 1970s, pepper plantations were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and replaced by rice paddies. All but a few pepper plants survived.

The pursuit of communist agrarian utopia didn’t leave room for luxuries like pepper.

Fortunately, pepper farms were rebuilt after the fall of the regime. While Kampot’s pepper industry is nowhere near the scale it used to be, it’s slowly starting to pick up again.

Final Thoughts

Kampot is one the most charming towns I’ve encountered in South East Asia so far. There’s something about the crumbling architecture and sleepy atmosphere that makes Kampot look and feel surreal.

It might not be as magnificent as Angkor or as dreamy as Koh Rong Samloem, but this pretty riverside town is an essential stop on anyone’s Cambodian itinerary.

Have you been to Kampot? What did you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Angkor_Wat_Travel_Blog

Sometimes you travel to a place and immediately sense you’ve stumbled upon something very special.

The archaeological park of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one of those places.

Containing temple ruins of the ancient Khmer Empire, Angkor is one of the most important archeological sites on this planet.

Its most sought-after temple complex is Angkor Wat, an architectural masterpiece dating back to the 12th century.

More than two million visitors come to Angkor every year, wanting to catch a glimpse of a spot only matched by a few others on earth.

But before we go any further, let me tell you a cautionary tale.

 
Most people explore the temples of Angkor by renting a tuk-tuk for the day.

There’s a few good reasons for this, such as (1) the archaeological park is massive (2) the Cambodian sun is lethal (3) at around $15/day, it’s pretty cheap.

But not everyone is smart and sensible. Some people think differently about these things, aka:

Why would you pay for a tuk-tuk when you can borrow a crappy-ass bike from your hotel, for FREE? The breaks might not work and the seat might fall off occasionally, but this just makes the whole experience more authentic, right?

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Pictured: a tired and sunburned blonde who’s made some bad decisions in life. This is one of them.

To cut a long story short, what seemed like an excellent idea at the time backfired massively.

The first day was bad.

The second one was horrendous.

On the third day we could barely walk. So we admitted defeat and hired a tuk-tuk.

A girl can only take so many heatstrokes, bruises and looks of pity from strangers. Basically, the point I’m trying to get to is this: if you go to Angkor, don’t even think about riding a bicycle.

The Ancient Temples of Angkor: In Pictures

Aside from complications arising out of the above – including dehydration, exhaustion and sunburn – visiting Angkor was everything I’d imagined it to be and more.

It goes without saying that the ancient temples of Angkor are incredibly photogenic. In three days, I took more than 300 (!) pictures. I’ve compiled my favourite ones in this photo essay, splitting them by temple.

Bayon

Located within a walled city in Angkor, Bayon represents the intersection between heaven and earth. Bayon is mostly famous for the huge stone faces carved into its walls and towers. They appear to smile with their eyes closed. Their identity has always been a mystery.

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Neak Pean

For a small temple, Neak Pean has a lot to offer. Located on an island and surrounded by pools, this unique temple complex is a photographer’s dream. To reach Neak Pean, visitors need to walk along a long, wooden bridge with incredible views.

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Preah Khan

Preah Khan is the largest temple complex in Angkor. Not much is known about its history, except that 15,000 people, including monks, servants and citizens lived here hundreds of years ago.

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Ta Som

Another small and quiet temple full of surprises. Ta Som’s defining feature is a huge tree that grows on top of one of the temple’s structures. It looks rather surreal, don’t you think?

Ta_Som_Temple_AngkorTa Som

Ta Phrom

Wandering around Ta Phrom feels like starring in an Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider movie (scenes from both were filmed in Ta Phrom). Located in the middle of the jungle, Ta Phrom is mysterious and intriguing. You could spend hours there, exploring the grounds of the temple and getting lost within its crumbling structures.

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Angkor Wat

Last, but definitely not least: Angkor Wat. It’s the largest religious monument on earth. Some people call it the 8th wonder of the world and it’s not difficult to see why. In my opinion, it’s the most impressive temple within the archaeological park. I visited Angkor Wat at sunset and it’s a sight I’ll never forget.

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Final Thoughts

Seeing the temples of Angkor was definitely a highlight of my trip. It’s one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. It’s hard to believe our ancestors were capable of creating something so intricate and grandiose more than 900 years ago.

When you walk around the temple ruins, it truly feels like you’ve gone back in time.

I loved photographing the temples ruins of Angkor. What’s your favourite picture? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Sihanoukville_Travel_Blog

Otres beach. The only decent-looking thing in Sihanoukville. The rest is not as pretty.

There are many amazing places to visit in Cambodia.

There’s Kampot, a riverside town filled with French colonial houses and quirky cafes. There’s Koh Rong Samloem, a small island where the sea is turquoise and life is beautiful. And let’s not forget about Angkor, a mind-boggling example of human genius that leaves every traveller awestruck.

But then there’s Sihanoukville.

Guidebooks describe it as a must-see for anyone who wants to experience Cambodian beach life.

They say it’s pretty, they say it’s fun, they say it’s worth it.

They must have been getting high on the wrong kind of magic mushroom because this is not the same place I went to.

Let me describe Sihanoukville for you:

It’s seedy.
It’s sleazy.
It’s shit.

Here are some things I had the misfortune of encountering in Sihanoukville:

Perverts

 
Old, fat and topless white men parading around with beautiful young girls on their arm is a common sight in Sihanoukville. I almost choked on my beer when I saw a decaying human specimen as ancient as Angkor Wat making out with a girl who barely looked 18.

And what about those poor old souls who are too broke or just too gross to find love (if we can call it that)? Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. You can spot them at the market, trying their luck with schoolgirls in uniform.

Hookers/gold diggers

 
When the gold diggers/hookers (terms are interchangeable) of Sihanoukville are not too busy whoring themselves out to the aforementioned old dirty men, you can find them at the bar. Any bar.

They’re easy to spot. Dressed up to the nines, sitting on bar stools like vultures, they’re eyeing their prey aka any white man that happens to walk by. It doesn’t matter if the white man is holding hands with his girlfriend/wife/mother, the hookers of Sihanoukville will still do their absolute best to lure him in.

But I’ve got to give credit where it’s due. For hookers who are not lady boys (I think) – they’ve got some serious balls.

Thugs, otherwise known as tuk-tuk drivers

 
‘HELLOO SIIIRRR- WEED-MDMA-MUSHROOMS-HEROIN-SPEED-OPIUM-MDMA-WEED-DO-YOU-WANT-SIIIIRRRR??’

If Sihanoukville had a national anthem, this would be the chorus. And if I had a dollar for every time a tuk-tuk driver tried to sell me drugs, I’d be filthy rich by now.

Dear readers who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a tuk-tuk driver yet, let me give you a little introduction:

Tuk-tuk driver = part-time driver + full-time drug dealer.

If there was a job description for tuk-tuk drivers, it would look like this:
 
Tuk-Tuk driver needed  – skills and competencies:

  • Harassment skills (compulsory)
  • Creeping and stalking skills (compulsory)
  • Ability to shamelessly rip people off (compulsory)
  • Drug-dealing skills (compulsory)
  • Driving skills (optional)

Tuk-tuk drivers can annoy the hell out of you anywhere in South East Asia (although many can be very friendly), but the ones in Sihanoukville are a special kind of breed.

Serenpidity beach

 
Google tells me the word serenpidity means ‘fortunate happenstance’ or ‘pleasant surprise’.

Someone must have named Sihanoukville’s most famous beach on 1st April 1990-something and died immediately after, never getting a chance to let others know about the April Fool’s joke.

I’m sure Serenpidity must have looked nice at some point, but the damage has been done and it’s irreversible. These days it’s filled with loud, trashy bars, one more sketchy-looking than the other. You can spot the occasional neon-paint covered gap-yaher knocking back shots of Sambuca. But even they don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves.

Just to put it out there – I have nothing against trashy bars. I’ve got a fair share of them under my belt and will happily continue to frequent them when the mood strikes.

But I wouldn’t touch Serenpidity’s bars with a ten-foot pole.

And please, for the love of god, can somebody change the name of that beach already.

Final Thoughts

 
Sihanoukville, it wasn’t nice meeting you and we’re not going to see each other again. Unless it’s to go to one of your beautiful islands, in which case I’ll wear a blindfold until I get on that ferry.

Have you been to Sihanoukville? Would you go back there, and why? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Picture this:

It’s 11pm, you’re tired and want to go to bed. You’re sleeping inside a beach bungalow on an island tonight. It’s nice and spacious. There’s a bed, a fan, a hammock and an en-suite bathroom.

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But what you don’t know yet, is that you’re going to have company for the night. And it’s not the hot-Aussie from-the-bar kind of company.

As soon as you turn off the lights, an army of oversized ants, furry spiders, diseased mosquitos and a giant gecko start to crawl in through the gaps in the walls, making themselves at home while you sleep.

The mosquito net is the only thing that stands between you and them and there are holes in it.

At midnight, the electric generator powering the whole village cuts off and it’s pitch black.

You can hear them, you can feel them, but you can’t see them.

Sometime around 4am, an unidentified bird/resurrected small dinosaur sits on the roof of your bungalow and makes a noise that makes your skin crawl.

The first thing you do when the sun rises is hope and pray that the giant gecko devoured all the insects and didn’t leave any leftovers.

You run for the bathroom. You’ve been holding in three pints of beer and a bottle of water all night.

Peeing in the middle of the night was never an option. You’d rather wet your bed twice than venture out of the mosquito net and endure the wrath of the furry spider waiting for you on the toilet seat.

You finally make it to the bathroom. No creepy crawlies in sight.  Good. You thank the mighty Giant Gecko for doing a stellar job and beg him to stay over another night.

You’re desperate for a shower. You’ve been sweating like an animal, partly because sleeping without a fan was unbearable but mostly because you were scared shitless all night.

You turn on the water. It’s cold. You remember why. There’s no hot water on the island. You tell yourself it’s actually a good thing as it’ll make you shower quicker. The resident furry spider of the en-suite bathroom might not be dead after all.

You get dressed, scraping gecko poo off the clothes you picked off the floor and shut the door of the bungalow.

You turn around, and this is what you see:

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Everything you endured last night is now worth it. Because as far as you’re concerned, you’ve just woken up in paradise.

M’Pay Bay

 
There’s a small fisherman’s village in Koh Rong Samloem, an island off the coast of Cambodia. It’s called M’Pay Bay.

Nights on M’Pay Bay might be quite literally nightmare inducing, but the days – ah the days – are the stuff dreams are made of.

I’d planned on staying on M’Pay Bay for two nights but ended up staying five. Every other traveller I met on the island had a similar story.

Once you set foot on M’Pay Bay, you’ll never want to leave.

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Lazy Days On a Lonely Beach

 
Unlike most beach towns in South East Asia, M’Pay Bay is almost deserted. The place is tiny – there’s a couple guesthouses, a handful of restaurants, one bar and not much else.

There’s a beach with shallow, turquoise water filled with multi-coloured fish and corals. There are dozens of bright fishing boats on the shore heading to the sea, on their way to capture the snapper you’ll be eating for dinner tonight.

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In the distance you can see kids from the village jumping off the jetty and waving at you, daring you to come join them.

At midday, you escape the heat and lounge inside an open hut with a 360 degree view on the sea. It’s the perfect place to read a novel, drink beer and chat about how this is the 5th day you’ve done absolutely nothing and how amazing doing absolutely nothing feels.

Later on, you sit on the pier, watching the sun set over the horizon.

When the clock strikes seven, you eat that snapper with steamed rice and fresh green pepper. It tastes delicious. You enjoy a glass of white wine with your meal before making your way to the bar next door for a boozy evening with the handful of other travellers and locals staying on the bay tonight.

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M’Pay Bay Is A Stoner’s Paradise

 
One thing you notice right away when you arrive on M’Pay Bay is the weed. There might not be any rastafarians or hippies in sight, but weed is as common as a pack of cigarettes.

There’s even a sign advertising chocolate and Haribo so you know where to go if you’ve got the munchies.

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It turns out that Cambodians have a very relaxed approach towards weed. Apparently, they’ve been using it in cooking for centuries. Or something like that.

I’m told it’s still illegal to smoke it though. But the people of M’Pay Bay are giving zero fucks.

Special Kinds of People Come To M’Pay Bay

 
I met quite a few fascinating characters on M’Pay Bay. There was the Danish ex-zoo keeper who’s building his guesthouse on the beach. There was the 48-year old British diving instructor who came here eight years ago and never left.

And then there was Bob.

I met Bob at breakfast around 10 am at the beach. He was smoking a big fat spliff and ordering his second glass of wine of the day, reading a book on Angkor Wat through pink-framed glasses.

Bob is a 75-year old retired scientist and world traveller from Australia. He was staying in the bungalow next to ours, smoking spliff after spliff while telling us about the time he meditated on top of a pyramid in 1970 or trekked through West Africa on his own.

The way Bob has lived his life is quite incredible. He told us stories like these everyday before gazing into the distance at sunset with a warm smile on his face and saying ‘today has been a good day’.

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This would be a good time to mention that Bob has a travel companion. It’s a small stuffed animal he’s brought everywhere on his travels for the past 25 years. He always thought it was a chicken, until someone recently pointed out that it was in fact a cock.

At the bar one night, Bob told everyone that his previously nameless travel companion has now been baptised ‘Bob’s Cock’.

Of course, hilarity ensues and we only talk about one thing for the next hour: ‘Can I touch Bob’s Cock?’, ‘Bob’s Cock’s been everywhere’, ‘Did you know that Bob’s Cock has only been washed once in 25 years?’.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll definitely never forget Bob (and his cock).

Final thoughts

 
M’Pay Bay is a place like no other. There’s nothing to do, but doing nothing is the best thing you could do for yourself on M’Pay Bay.

I’ve never been much of an ‘island person’ (I am a nutcase, I am aware) until I arrived in M’Pay Bay and fell in love.

There’s something about this place that sucks you in.  I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the lonely beaches, or the relaxed afternoons spent staring at the sea. Maybe it’s the eccentric people and the long conversations you have about nothing and everything while you watch the sunset from the pier.

All I know is that I want to go back to M’Pay Bay one day. When the time comes, I can only hope that it will welcome me back with open arms, like it has done now.

I might not look forward to the giant geckos, furry spiders or cold showers but I’ll certainly look forward to everything else.

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Have you ever been somewhere like M’Pay Bay? Leave a comment below to let me know!

 


WANT TO GO TO M’PAY BAY? HERE’S SOME TRAVEL INFO:

 
How long should I stay? Forever. If that’s not possible, stay at least 3-4 nights.
 
What should I do? Drink beer by the beach. Chat to people. You could go snorkelling or diving or fishing, if that’s your thing. You could also do nothing all day and have the time of your life.
 
How much money do I need? About $30/£20 per day – everything is a bit more expensive as it needs to be brought on the island but prices are still very reasonable. A beer costs $1.25.
 
How do I get there? Get a ferry from Sihanoukville. It takes about 45 minutes and costs $20/£13 return.
 
Any other tips? Bring strong mosquito repellant, a good book & enjoy life.

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