So much to see – Salt, Pepper, Crabs, Caves, Lakes & Landmines We aimed to pack a lot in on our first day trip from Kampot with a visit to a pepper farm, the salt flats, a secret lake and then some hillside cave temples. All this before we reach Kep, a seaside town famous for it’s crabs. Ambitious? Perhaps. Opting to travel by tuktuk so that we feel nearer the sights and sounds of the countryside, the four of us fit quite comfortably in the motorbike drawn carriage. We agree a price for the whole day with the driver who will act as a guide and who keeps suggesting extra places to visit. Trundling around the countryside in between our stops we see life in rural villages – lazy pigs, traditional wooden homes and many children waving and shouting hello to us as our wheels threw up the dust as we pass by. Much of the land is given over to paddy fields; it is not a busy time with rice at the moment so workers are few and far between mainly maintaining the fields. It will be so beautiful in the lush rainy season, even more so than it is now.
Our first stop and (just about) within cycling distance of town are some picturesque salt fields. The salt fields are community owned and worked by the women and young girls. We are told the men may work elsewhere or they just sit at home. It looks like hard work. The wages are not good. Really not good, at just a couple of dollars for a backbreaking days work as it is calculated on a piecemeal basis. What is good is that the profits are shared among the community when the salt is sold. Not so good is that the distribution of profit is decided by the village head and are considered to be the men’s wages! Secret Lake
The Secret Lake isn’t named for its hidden location, but rather what hides beneath it. It is rather beautiful, set as it is within the countryside, but it is another Khmer Rouge horror site. According to our guide, back in the days of the Khmer Rouge, the lake was built using forced labour by prisoners and captured villagers to create a dam. Thousands of the people were killed after they helped build the dam and buried in a mass grave at the bottom. One man who escaped told people of the “secret” location of the mass grave under the water. The bodies have never been recovered and some fishermen have collected human bones along with their daily catch. No wonder there are no hotels on the edge of this lake! Our guide tells us there are not many fish to be caught and the lack of water in the river is a problem. Also, farming option are limited as the countryside is still littered with landmines from the same period. The man who escaped still lives in the nearby village, but the village remains half unoccupied as it not considered an auspicious place to live.
The countryside remains dangerous with land not yet cleared of landlines left by the Khmer Rouge regime as we get closer to the cultivated land where the pepper plantations are. At a distance we see towers, standing like green sentrymen, which are the pepper plants on the farms. Pepper from Kampot seems to be the combination of hope and glory, history and the future. Read more about Kampot Pepper in our next post. Kep Crab Market
The really fresh crabs are sold from crates immersed in the sea at bargain prices. Crates are hoisted up when a prospective customer comes close for inspection. Aside from crab, there are plenty of seafood and fish choices for lunch. The market stalls cook prawns and fish on BBQs. The market building itself is occupied by small restaurants that back on to the sea and we decide to sit on the deck over the waters edge, eating a scrumptious lunch while watch some fishermen haul in their nets. They caught it and we ate it, all within a few metres. Needless to say, it was totally delicious.
Kep is a seaside town, mainly frequented by Cambodians, who come to enjoy the atmosphere and the seafood – especially the Crabs, which are sold along the coast at a beachsidpe crab market. We decide to visit both. Leigh and I jump in the sea – the first time Leigh has had the opportunity since coming to Asia to visit us. Clive and Alan stand at the edge like (baking hot) lemons holding our stuff, until Alan can’t resist and joins us. That leaves Clive at the edge, getting hotter and hotter. We have no towels so not ideal but at least we have been in the sea. Oddly, very few Cambodians are in the sea or even on the beach, preferring instead to swing in hammocks or sit on wooden platforms in the shade across the road, just hanging out with friends and perhaps buying some of the plastic souvenirs that littered the stalls nearby. At one end of the beach are the boats which head out to Rabbit Island – known not for its rabbits, but for its seafood.
Back to Kampot
The road between Kep and Kampot has been vastly improved recently as a result it is now much faster and easier to travel the 25km between the two places. Foreign visitors tend to stay in the small resort style hotels which have their own bit of beach, just a few kms away from everything. The hotels are not expensive, seem to be privately owned and the low-rise buildings are hidden by the lush greenery from the road. I don’t know if this is due to strict development controls or luck, but I hope it is the former. The main road improvements are part of a plan to encourage tourism, so only time will tell. This part of the journey is pretty much the only part on a main road. It is wide, but the traffic is minimal and sometimes quite interesting.
Our original plan really was too ambitious. We decided to leave the climb up the hillsides to see the cave temples for another day. Luckily we are staying in Kampot for longer than a few days. There is so much more to see. No wonder many people say the wish they had stayed longer.