Caves, Lakes, and Pepper Farms

After arriving in Kampot and making my way to the RikiTikiTavi Guest House, I put on comfortable clothes, settle in, and go to the house’s attached restaurant for dinner. While eating a very westernized burger, fries and shake, I meet Joanne from Ireland. She is having dinner by herself, I am about to have dinner alone, and I ask if she would like some company. After conversing over the basics, I learn she has already rented a motorbike, and we set up a plan to meet the following day and explore Kampot.

The next day, we acquire a rough map and set off towards near-by caves. Before we get to the true touristy caves discussed in Lonely Planet and the like, we run across another explorer who is on bicycle and he informs us of a larger, less crowded cave on the way. We pick up two more, Jesper and Matilda from Sweden, en route, find a spot to park our motorbikes, and meet a handful of local teenagers eager to show us around the cave. The cave is the site of an old ruined temple, which we confirm by the many statues and broken staircases throughout. We feel our way through passages of complete darkness and try to fit in others that are much to small. We find bats as we attempt to climb up a wall using a hanging vine. All the while, we play with the exposure settings on our cameras as we have to fight the intense contrast caused by thin streaks of light sneaking in between trapped boulders. After this positive caving experience, Joanna, Jesper, Matilda, and I decide to forgo the more touristy one, and continue on to the appropriately named Secret Lake.

Caves near Kampot

Cave climbing in Kampot

This lake may not be a secret to the locals, but for the four of us, finding the lake is an adventure as we bump along dirt paths through local villages. Every couple meters, a young high-pitched voice yells “hello” at us and we all respond with another “hello” in chorus. And at every junction, we stop, assess the options, and eventually attempt to ask someone the way. I enjoy the path to the lake just as much as the lake itself. While the other three find tubes and go swimming, I play with two local kids and make myself comfortable in a hammock. I even doze off for a moment as I enjoy my shady spot.

Cambodian countryside

Kids near Secret Lake

For the next activity on the day’s agenda, we take a 30 minute ride to a pepper farm. Kampot is apparently well-known for its pepper, and we were interested in learning more about all the hype. We find a small farm, where a father and his son show us around with the son doing most of the talking because he could speak better English. We learn about pepper as well as other local fruits, which they are also growing on the same site. To complete the tour, they cut up some fresh fruit for us, and we enjoy the new tastes with some cold drinks.

The last stop of the day is Kep beach.  On the way, we stop for gas, which means that we pull over to a village hut, find gasoline in old pepsi bottles and ask for either one or two liters worth.  Kep beach is relatively quiet with some tourists, some locals, and a handful of monks all there for an afternoon swim. I sip on a Coca Cola to combat the warm sun as we wander up and down the beach taking in the sights, sounds, and smells.  After a while, I realize that I am wearing a similar color to the monks and ask some to take a fun photograph with me.  As the sun starts to go down, we realize it is time to head back so that we do not end up riding in the dark. In the evening, the four of us meet up one last time for dinner and drinks before heading our separate ways hoping that one day we would see other again.

Matching with the monks

Kampot and Kep, Cambodia

Kampot and Kep are small adjacent towns near the southern beaches of Cambodia. Kampot has a population of around 40,000. The pace of life is slow and all the locals wear smiles. The weather changes from sun to rain and back again. And the tourists who choose to visit are mostly energetic to explore the countryside. On my way to Kampot, I have to change buses in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, and am happy that the change is quick because the smog, heat, and hustle of the city is uninspiring.

Although it is not as historic as Siem Reap, Kampot still offers plenty to photograph and enjoy, and even a little rain can’t stop me from having a good time while we explore as evidenced by my poncho-wearing grin.

Raining in Kampot

Le Meridien and RikiTikiTavi

Thanks to Nithya’s many weeks of consulting on the road, she had accumulated enough Starwood Hotel points to allow us to stay at Le Meridien near Angkor Wat. Best shower of the trip. There was strong pressure, constant hot temperatures, and of course great shampoo. But, I had gotten so used to staying at small guest houses and hostels, that I had begun to take for granted that the staff would recognize me and that all places would be as friendly as a family run guest house. The customer service at Le Meridien surprisingly did not meet up to this standard. They forgot our box breakfasts one morning, and they were unfortunately inflexible in accommodating us. That said, it was still a fabulous place to spend three nights and I couldn’t get enough of that shower. I was using conditioner in my very short hair as an excuse to prolong it.

From Le Meridien, I bussed through a flash flood down to Kampot in the South of Cambodia and stayed at a small guest house called RikiTikiTavi. Although not as fancy, there were only five small rooms, and the staff knew my name when I arrived. The room was clean, nice and had A/C, but more than the room, the staff made the place so welcoming. The following evening, I also had a chance to meet Denise, the owner of RikiTikiTavi, who was very friendly as I enjoyed some spring rolls and other happy hour specials while watching the sunset over the river.

Sunset from RikiTikiTavi

I can’t complain about either place as both were fabulous, but I confirmed the value of customer service as a result of their differences.