Posts Tagged With: Kep

Kep & Kampot Off The Beaten Path (AKA, What else you can do besides eating crab.)

When most people visit Kep and Kampot, they beeline it to the coast and spend the afternoon sinking their teeth into succulent seafood and reading poolside. As the sun sinks into the horizon, they kick back with a cocktail and plan their next destination of either Sihanoukville, Vietnam, or Phnom Penh. I am the first person to admit that many of my weekends in Kep look like this, but it must be said that there is SO much more.

You could easily kill a week in Kep and Kampot and never do the same thing twice. (Although you might want to.) Back in October, Sean and I spent all of the Pchum Ben holiday along the coast. While we have our local favorite activities, we knew there were a few hidden gems that we had to visit. With a tank full of gas and a map in our hands, we set out to look for all that Kep and Kampot have to offer.

Some of our favorites? The caves. We had no idea there were caves in Cambodia! Not to mention, Phnom Chhnork cave has a 7th century temple inside of it. Another favorite was bicycling along the pepper plantations, home to the famous Kampot pepper. Rabbit island was also a pleasant surprise; a tropical getaway just off the coast of Kep.

I drew up a map to give you a feeling of the area. The red line is the route we drove on our trip last October. I recommend driving this way as it makes a nice loop for the drive to/from Phnom Penh. The limestone hills on both routes are stunning, and you can see them from two different perspectives.

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Also, you’ve got to check out the video Sean made as a mash-up of our trip. Hopefully it will convince you to spend more than a weekend in Kep!

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Visiting Cambodia, Part One (Kep & Kampot)

Have you ever done something so many times that it becomes second nature? You don’t even think twice about doing it? Take, for example, the way you brew your coffee in the morning. Or your drive to work. These things seem obviously simple to you. Until someone else enters your life, and views these things from a lens that completely blows your mind.

Going home to Wisconsin for Christmas, getting lunch at the local cafe is so routine for my father, they start making his salad before he walks in the door. For me, it was a flurry for colors, smells, and tastes I never experience the other 364 days of the year. Not to mention the excessive amount of cheese that is present on every Wisconsin plate.

So it is with Cambodia. When my friends and family come visit, they are amazed by things that I view as my day-to-day life. Take, for example, dodging motos when crossing the street. Or ordering lemon when you want lime. (Don’t ask.)

My aunt and her friends visited this past month, and it was a total blast. We had so much fun exploring Cambodia, and I love any excuse to play tourist. My aunt is one of the best photographers I know, so I asked to steal some of her photos for my blog. (Seriously, she gets one of her photos in her annual work calendar every year!)

So, here you go. Cambodia from another pair of eyes.

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The view from my rooftop in the Russian Market neighborhood. If you’ve ever been here, you can see White Linen Boutique Guesthouse in the bottom center. (The lavender colored building.)

 

 

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Walking through the Russian Market.

 

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The meat venders of the Russian Market.

 

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Fruit outside the Russian Market. (As if you needed any more evidence that the Russian Market is one of the best in Phnom Penh!)

 

IMG_4718Sunset over the Kampot river, a two hour drive from my school. It makes for the perfect weekend getaway.

IMG_4741The famous Saraman curry at Rikitikitavi in Kampot. Saraman curry is a special Cambodian curry that is not easy to come by. It is very, very rich and very flavorful. The primary ingredients are dry roasted coconut, shallots, garlic, cinnamon, and a lot of yum.

 

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My friend Anna snuck down to Kampot with us for a weekend. We woke up nice and early to get a yoga session in with the sunrise. Little did I know, my aunt snapped a great photo!

 

IMG_4791Eating breakfast off the balcony at Greenhouse in Kampot.

 

IMG_4801Downtown Kampot.

 

IMG_4813Downtown Kampot.

 

IMG_4818The famous Durian statue in downtown Kampot.

 

IMG_4838Walking along the Kep coastline. What a contrast.

 

IMG_4847Monkeys along the Kep coastline.

 

IMG_4851Monkeys along the Kep coast.

IMG_4860More monkeys.

IMG_4888Buying snacks in Kep.

 

IMG_4902My favorite hotel in Kep, the Kep Lodge.

 

IMG_4954Ordering squid in Kep.

 

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Browsing the crab market.

 

IMG_4982On the drive home from Kep, we passed at least thirty busses carrying young women. Sadly, we deduced they were being taken home from their factory shifts. Check the label of your shirt right now. Does it say, “Made in Cambodia”?

 

IMG_5023Passing a family of five on a moto.

 

IMG_5024Beautiful smiles.

 

I love all these pictures for so many reasons. My aunt takes a fantastic photograph, and it is a reminder of how beautiful this country is that I have come to call home.

Check back soon for the next blog, in which I give you yet another tour of Phnom Penh!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How To Have Fun In Kep Without Really Trying

I am majorly behind on my blog. As I force myself to move in chronological order with my posts, I am still writing about events from January. That’s bad. Although, as belated as it may be, late blog posts have two hidden benefits:

1. It means I have been enjoying life in Cambodia so much that I haven’t had time to write.
2. I get to relive the memories from a few months back over again.

So, when my dad and sister were here in mid-January, I took a long weekend and we went down to Kep together. For Sean and I, Kep is our weekend getaway. Only two and a half hours outside of the city, you can be there in time for happy hour on Friday, and get back home on Sunday with enough time to relax and watch a movie before bed.

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Kep has many hidden secrets, and just as many not-so-hidden ones. It’s pretty easy to enjoy a weekend in Kep. Here’s how…

IMG_0317Go on a treasure hunt for all the unique statues around the city. Off the top of my head, I can count at least five.

IMG_0362Drive the—almost—empty roads that traverse the rolling hills. Snap photos of over-loaded motos.

IMG_0331Head down to the coast and watch the boats at the crab market.

IMG_0333Experience the culinary delight that is fresh-grilled seafood.

IMG_0350Count the number of different types of seafood you can identify.

IMG_0352Sample the seafood. It’s less than a dollar for a grilled squid on a skewer.

IMG_0336Witness the hustle and bustle of crab sales at the market.

IMG_0348Try to spot the biggest crab.

IMG_0345Watch the crab get steamed in assembly-line style.

IMG_2313Take a breather from the crab market, and head over to the Sailing Club for the perfect happy hour sunset. (Bonus Activity: Jump off their jetty after dark and swim with phosphorescent plankton!)

IMG_2286Ride horses through the Kep mountains.

IMG_2337Trek to Sunset Rock for the best view of the city.

Kep really is the ideal weekend trip. You’ve just got to bring along your swimsuit, your smile, and your camera.

 

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Cambodia’s Hidden Secret

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you are enjoying your holidays wherever you are. Here in Cambodia, it’s been freezing. There has been a record-breaking cold spell for the past week, and it has become sweatshirt weather. Normally we only wear a t-shirt and shorts, but this past week has been in the 60’s, when normally it’s the 80’s. It’s not quite below zero, but a big enough change for us!

We stuck around Cambodia this holiday season; we have two sets of visitors here. (First our friends Abby and Kyle from Kuwait, then my Dad and sister from America. My mom will come later—again with my dad—at spring break.) As a consequence, I am able to type this blog post with a cup of coffee and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, in the comfort of my own apartment. It’s mega tourist season right now in Cambodia. While the weather is perfect for travel, everywhere you go in Cambodia is now full with tourists. However, I discovered one of Cambodia’s hidden places a few weeks back. This is one of those quiet, secret, beautiful places, that you hope never changes. It’s a little town called Kep, located on the Gulf of Thailand just three hours south of Phnom Penh.

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Where Kampot has “Bokor Mountain National Park”, Kep has “Kep National Park” which contains Kep mountain. We had heard stories that you could hike around the mountain, but I wasn’t expecting this type of signage….
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We felt like we were in a National Park in the United States! There were at least ten different hiking routes you could take around the mountain. Each was sign posted with elevation, distance, and sights along the way.

 

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As we began to climb up the side of Kep mountain, I immediately fell in love. Kep not only has rolling hills that slide right up to the coast, it has a beautiful shoreline that stretches on for miles, with small islands dotting the horizon. It felt like Hawaii!

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We found a few creatures on our hike… This was the husk of a bug, just stuck on a tree.

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This guy did a whole photo shoot for us; we were snapping photos for at least ten minutes, and he didn’t move a muscle!

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We were determined to find the summit of Kep Mountain. We think we did…?

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After the summit, we had decided to make a loop to get back to the trailhead. We took the “jungle hike” trail on the way down. Without a doubt, it was the toughest hike we’ve done so far in Cambodia. The trail began to drop off over large boulders, sticks, fallen logs, and streams of water. We had to use the ropes that were tied onto the side of the trail to lower ourselves down. I think going up that side would have been fine, but trying to maneuver backwards down a slippery jungle mountain is no fun!

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But we weren’t without our rewards.

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We emerged on the other side, with sweeping views of Kep’s countryside.

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It reminded me of both Maui and Sri Lanka.

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Then we found this massive guy on the trail! Luckily, I have never seen this type of bug before, and hope I don’t have to again. He was as long (or longer than) my forearm.

After our hike, we met up with our friends who also went to Kep for the long weekend. They told us about their favorite seafood place, as Kep is famous for seafood, caught right off the shore.
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I got the crab with Kampot pepper. I am getting hungry just looking back at this picture!

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We had crab, shrimp, octopus, and squid. It was a feast fit for a king. (Or a Chihuahua?)

After lunch, we were all feeling a bit adventurous. So, we decided to look for a small beach we saw on the map, supposedly hidden from the main area in Kep.

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After much driving, the only thing we had found was a lot of red dirt on our cars, and suntans on our faces. We asked a few people, who eventually pointed us in the right direction. However, this was exactly the type of trip where the journey was just as beautiful as the destination. I loved the Kep countryside!
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We found the beach at dusk. Just enough time to walk along the shore, hunt for shells, and watch the sun sink lower in the sky.

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We were happy we endured the off-roading and mis-directions; we found an incredible sunset!

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Back at our lodge the next morning, Sean found two critters near the bathroom.

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This spider was hanging out on the wall of the bathroom! It was larger than my palm!

 

Sadly, we had to head back to the city of Phnom Penh the next morning. It was a four-day weekend, and we had school the next day.

I left the coast knowing that I will return to Kep— or in my eyes—Cambodia’s secret. It is a small town, with unbelievable shore line, mountains, sweeping views, seafood, and endless trails to get lost between the palm trees and fragrant flowers.

We will be taking our family back to Kep when they come visit, and I can’t wait to share it with them. We just finished a trip to Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor Wat, which I will blog about soon. I am really behind with the blogging; there is so much in Cambodia to see and do, I can’t keep it with it all. What a great problem to have, huh?

Enjoy your holiday season, and your new year, and I will write again as soon as I can.

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Bokor Mountain, Kampot

We love Cambodia. We find more and more to love every day. A few weeks ago, we found Bokor Mountain.

As you drive South from Phnom Penh, you begin to enter rolling hills. Pretty soon you come across taller hills, oddly shaped hills, hills with temples on top, hills begging you to explore them. It’s all part of the Elephant Mountains, a small mountain range in Southeastern Cambodia. The tallest mountain of them all is 3,547 feet.

And its name is Bokor Mountain.

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Sean did an amazing job shooting all these panoramas; click on them to open in a new tab. It’s better to see them on a bigger screen to get all the amazing detail.

These are all shot from the top of Bokor Mountain. You can see the ocean, and islands off in the distance. This part of the ocean is known as the Gulf of Thailand.

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Bokor, in Khmer, means cow hump. (Pronounced: Bo-Ko.) You know what I mean; those cows you see in the countryside of certain countries with the massive hump on their back. It is apparently incredibly delicious. Sean has been dying to try it ever since he saw his first cow with that massive chunk of meat rolling between its shoulders…

I’m pretty sure the type of cow see in Cambodia is a zebu, check it out here. They live primarly in this region, and are known for their massive hump between their shoulders, or in Khmer, their bokor.

While doing my research, I stumbled on a fascinating article about the Kouprey, Cambodia’s national animal. It is a species of cattle found only in Cambodia. I had no idea! They are a “wild, forest-dwelling bovine species” in the jungles of northern Cambodia. They are seldom seen anymore due to deforestation and hunting. They weren’t even discovered until 1937! Learn more about the kouprey here.

Anyways, back to our trip to Bokor Mountain…

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You can drive to the top of the mountain and hike around from there. If you look at the left side of the above picture, you can see all sorts of cars and people on picnics. We were there during a holiday, so it was a bit crowded. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful.

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This is the statue of Lok Yeay Mao, also at the top of the mountain. Lok is the most formal version of Mr. or Mrs. You use Lok when speaking to someone of extreme status (like royalty, or someone in a government role). Yeay Mao is an ancient hero and divinity for the Buddhists in Cambodia. She is seen as the protector of travelers. One legend says that she used to be married to Ta Krohom-Koh, literally “Grandpa Red Neck“. (I’m not kidding.) They used to live in the forests, and her husband left her alone once and a tiger devoured her. Another legend has it that she was married to a powerful warrior, and when he died, she took control of his armies and became very powerful. I choose to believe the second story.

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Never miss an opportunity to have someone take your picture! We never have enough photos of us together.

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Near the statue of Lok Yeay Mao there is an abandoned building with some awesome graffiti. I later found out these abandoned buildings were part of the old King Sihanouk’s residence.  So much history on this one mountain!

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If you driver further along the mountain road, you come across an old French church. The French built it during the twenties when they wanted to have a French community at the top of the mountain.

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It’s abandoned now, but makes for an amazing place to explore…


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Inside the church.
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Speaking of abandoned things, the most popular artifact is the abandoned hotel. It was also built by the French in the twenties, but was never finished. It is in excellent condition, and you can explore every hallways and rooftop. There are no railings, security guards, or caution signs, so explore at your own risk!

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Explore we did. This is the view from the top of the abandoned hotel.

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The architecture was really neat, as was how well it is preserved. It was almost eerie…

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Then we found Popokvil Waterfall. IMG_8534

These guys live life on the wild side. They must have amazing balancing skills, because I would have fallen over the edge minutes ago.

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One of the steps of the falls. It was tough to get it all in a picture; they rolled on for quite a ways!


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A Cambodian phenomenon: The amount of people you can fit on one moto.

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Another view from Bokor. That is the town of Kampot off to the left. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Then we checked in to our guesthouse… or ‘nature lodge’ I suppose. It was thatched huts on stilts in the middle of rice paddies.

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The view from the balcony of our hut. That’s Bokor Mountain. How massive! You could spend a week explore every inch of its plateau.

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Then we headed into the town of Kampot for dinner. I loved the colonial-looking architecture…

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Sunset over the river in Kampot.

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When I woke up in the morning, I saw a woman heading to work…

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I wanted to get a shot the next morning of where we parked our car. We were skeptical when we saw that we had to park here and walk through the woods to get the bungalows. It was the first time I’ve seen a mosque since outside Kuwait!

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Sean in trusty Champee. The sign pointing towards Ganesha, where we stayed.

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The road was absolutely terrible. There were times that it felt more like a swamp than a dirt path!

Genesha4The rice paddies in front of Bokor Mountain.

Kampot is a beautiful place.

…but then we found Kep.

Check back soon for the rest of our weekend adventure!

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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