In the beginning of January we went from winter in Nepal (yes, I am wearing flip flops with a hoodie and a puffy jacket) to winter in Cambodia in less than 24 hours.
We went directly to our favorite town in Cambodia, Kampot, and stayed put for three weeks. Tee could only stay for 14 days because of his visa so we had 2 weeks to check out all the things we meant to do when we were there last year and to revisit some of our favorite spots.
I visited the local market almost daily for breakfast or to buy huge chunks of jack fruit from a tiny Cambodian grandma who shouted “Awkhun” with a huge smile after each sale. We noticed a new section just outside that we hadn’t seen last year, a piglet section where live piglet of all sizes were for sale.
We went on a sunset cruise up the Kampot River and watched the fleet of local fishing boats head out to the ocean.
We went back out to Anlong Pring Bird Sanctuary to see the Saurus Cranes again. Since last year they have developed a visitor center that has a viewing balcony, binoculars and a spotting scope you can use, and bird ID posters. They also now charge a fee to visit and I was more than happy to pay to see my spirit bird. We saw about a hundred cranes, lots of herons and egrets, a kingfisher hunting just feet away from us, and a bee-eater flashing its vibrant colors. Though I like some of the improvements that the new center brings, the glaring mistake they made is the uncovered viewing balcony. Besides being more visible in an uncovered area, and thereby possibly causing more disturbance to the birds, the heat here is intense and we could only stay up top for about an hour before the heat pushed us to the shade.
When our friends arrived we introduced them to our favorite street food stall where, almost nightly, we ate rice soup, balut, and fruit salad covered in ice and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.
We went up to Bokor Mountain to see the the abandoned church and casino and the new casino that had more employees than visitors, a modern day ghost town. The highlight of my day was when Tee spotted a pair of hornbills in a tree on our way back down the mountain.
We went out to the crab market in Kep twice. I wanted to try the crab that the market is so well known for, but they were so small we decided to that the squid and prawns were better deals. The squid was the most tender squid I’ve ever sunk my teeth into and I washed it all down with crisp sugar cane juice that is crushed with a slice of orange. The next time we bought a kilo of huge prawns and had them cooked up. They were good, but not as amazing as the bbq’d squid gonads (?) that we tried. The gonads were rich and creamy with almost a liver like texture. A quick Google search tells me they mostly are nidamental glands, but my mind keep telling me they look like nads.
We also took a sunset drive out onto Troey Koh in hopes of making it to Coconut Hill, known for great views of the villages outside of Kampot, before sunset. We got distracted by the salt fields and will have to get out to Coconut Hill another time.
The rest of our (my) time was spent kayaking on the Kampot River, going to movies at Ecran, eating fresh pulled noodles and dumplings at Ecran Noodle House, getting massages, going to yoga, and reading.
After Tee left I had a week on my own. I FINALLY tried stand up paddle boarding (SUP), with SUP Asia, and it was incredible. We paddled around a loop off the main river channel known as the green cathedral and then up the river to the fishing village to see the fleet of fishing boats. The green cathedral, edged by flowering mangroves and towering palm-like fronds, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced. I was the only person on the tour that morning and my guide was from Oregon so we had a grand time chattering away about the birds, butterflies, trees, local history, traveling, movies, and much more. The owner is also working on some mangrove restoration and environmental education projects in the area and encouraged me to come back and volunteer with them anytime. I had such a great time I almost went back for the afternoon tour a few days later. Instead I signed up for a cooking class with Khmer Roots.
Khmer Roots has just started a small fruit and veggie farm and hosts cooking classes at their farm as well. They were highly rated so I figured I’d go check it out. Turns out I was the only person to come out that day so the who day was a little weird. Instead of getting a farm tour, where we are supposed to pick ingredients to cook with, I tagged along with the neighbor kid, who didn’t speak English, to go pick some kaffir lime leaves, that we also didn’t cook with. My cooking “class” took about 15 minutes and consisted of the owner putting things into a pan for me while I stirred the food. The neat part was I made my own coconut milk for the dish. After lunch I had the option cycling around by myself in the same direction that we had come in the morning and would see again in the afternoon, so I declined and took a nap in the hammock instead. All in all I liked the place and the concept, I just wish they had told me I’d be the only one because I think it’d have been a much better experience in a larger group where we could have cooked a larger variety of dishes. I’d like to go back in a couple years and see what the place has developed into. The best part was the drive through the countryside to and from the farm. I saw baby durian and they are pretty freaking cute!
Kampot still holds the title for being my favorite town in Cambodia and I’d love to come back here after the rainy season when the rice fields are green and full of life.
Tee is back in Thailand visiting his family now. He made it back just in time to use his puffy jacket from Nepal when a cold front hovered over northern Thailand for the last week.
I’m off to Nepal for Round 3 with All Hands.