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Cool & Quirky KAMPOT is a much loved destination for Cambodia's Expats.

"The Gods practiced first on Heaven, then they made Kampot" (Kampot Survival Guide). Cool and Quirky Kampot is a much loved destination for Cambodia's Expats

There's a wedding party going on across the river. This is the dry season, so locals take advantage of it putting on weddings pretty much every night of the week. As I lie in bed wondering how much sleep I'm going to get, it suddenly dawns on me that I have a another problem. The directions to this place involved a mosque less 100m away. So at 5am I'm woken by the call to prayer. The guy clearly thinks its too loud, switching down the volume twice but it's too late. He's roused the dogs and they kick off the roosters and now every person and animal in the village is awake. This is life in a Cambodian village and it's too early for me, so I roll over and go back to sleep.


Still, the call to prayer is infinitely more pleasant than the Voice of Vietnam at 6am screeching reminders out across a rural village to lay-about high school graduates to join the army or go to university.


We're not far from the Vietnamese border here, in fact, you can go by boat, but most visitors to Kampot are expats on a weekender from Phnom Penh and there's plenty of well appointed but cheap and casual foreign-owned places for them to stay.


There are A LOT of expats and euro migrants here. More English signage than Cambodian. If you're a foreigner and want to settle in Cambodia and open a quiet little guesthouse this is the place to do it. It doesn't draw the crowds of Siem Reap or the backpacker party scene of Sihanoukville but it gets a steady stream of the chillax crowd. One side of the river stretches with guesthouse after guesthouse, each vying for the title of 'best over-the-water bungalow for 10 bucks a night'. On the other side are the two eco-lodges. That's where I am, well down the dirt road behind a tiny Cham village with nothing beyond it but rural life. A boatman will row you across the river with your bike and bring you back if you're successful in waving and hollering for his attention. It can take a while.


This is the real Cambodia. Just 5 clicks from town you actually start to see how the 80% live. Away from the dust and bustle of the big city and tourist spots, it's the Cambodia we want to experience. Although it has a distinctly foreign element to it, it's limited itself and blends well. Those who come here love the country and its culture and will wholeheartedly tell you why they choose to be here and give insight you might otherwise miss as a tourist. Of course you can get further of the beaten track than Kampot but this is a curious half-way point between tourist and local. An interesting intersection of east and west.


KAMPOT

Back in Kampot, it's best to keep cool hopping between the cafes and bars. There are dozens of them down the riverside and every other guesthouse seems to have a restaurant or rooftop bar.


Kampot has some quirky local character about it. Crusty colonial buildings line wide, sleepy streets punctuated by colourful monuments and neon bridges. In the centre of town is an enormous concrete durian fruit sitting on a roundabout, to remind us, I guess, that this is the durian capital of Cambodia, though I haven't seen a single one since I arrived.


There are also some weary-looking westerners here. Spindly legged, bare-chested and leather tanned with greying ponytails they look like they came in a gap year when travellers still believed Lonely Planet had found something new, and haven't left. Maybe because LPs maps are so notoriously shit they couldn't find their way past the durian fruit roundabout and out of town.


I meet Will at the pool of my guesthouse. He met Amy there yesterday and the three of us meet up at Andy's rooftop bar later that night. Andy's an ex-games developer from the UK come to play in the real world, at least as real as Kampot gets. Amy's a dance instructor from Australia come to help out a friend start a school dance project, trying to reinstate a little of the creative tradition the Khmer Rouge took away. Will is a traveller waiting on a friend who looks increasingly unlikely to show. We eat pizza and try Andy's cocktails and shots made from recipes he's stolen from bars around the world.


KEP


If Kampot is the durian capital then Kep is the crab capital. Its shoreline is a run of crab shacks and markets. Between the crab shacks and the beach, with its imported sand, is a national park. It's all of about 8km surrounded on 3 sides by road and one side by water. They had a problem with logging for a while, but, tiny as it is, the rangers were onto it pretty quick and put a stop to it. Still, there's been no sightings of tigers for a while.


Offshore, is Rabbit Island. As far as islands go this is as good as any and better than some. The aqua waters look relatively clean and there's lots of leafy shade hanging over the sun lounges and hammocks on the narrow beach. The lounges sit outside restaurants but few tout for business and there are no hawkers here. Mostly they're fishermen who make a living transiting tourists to the mainland, selling them simple meals or very basic accommodation. Their green fishing boats bob in the shallows and local kids swim amongst the crab pots. Electricity is patchy at best, there's not really anything like 'internet'. On the other side of the island, away from the mainland, are the open waters and islands of the Gulf of Thailand.


Dusk is falling as we come back on the roof of a boat. The sky is a deep peach colour that reflects off the water, the mountains a misty blue. The fishing boats are all heading out into the gulf, and into one of the reddest sunsets I've seen. Back in the Cham village, there will be the rise and fall of the koranic verses, and on the other side of the river somewhere, the crackle of speakers of a wedding party.

 

Want to visit KAMPOT ?

GETTING THERE: Daily buses go from the capital, Phnom Penh to Kampot but be aware, as always in Cambodia, that the scheduled 3 hour journey can drag into 6. Sihankoville is 1 hour by bus. Both these cities have connections to Siem Reap by road and air.

WHERE TO STAY: There are numerous places to stay in the Kampot area as its a popular weekend escape for Phnom Penh Expats. Town is best for hotels and resorts but if you are looking for a more rustic / rural guesthouse or bungalow experience head out to the river.

WHATS AN "EXPAT": I refer to EXPATS as those who are in a country on a work assignment - usually for a limited / short term and they will move on somewhere else at the end of the assignment. Pretty much any one else who come over to work, live or set up business in the country on a more permanent basis I refer to as a MIGRANT. A lot of Westerners in Cambodia are 'expats' working short term assignments in the development sector for international orgs or their country's government. But there is a tendency to call all Westerners 'expats' rather than 'migrants' and I'm not really sure why that is. I don't hold with it.

 
 

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