Kampot: A Slice of Rural Cambodia

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More and more people are discovering the joys of traveling to Cambodia for holidays. Simon Slater found a wonderful place known as Kampot — that is still somewhat of a secret.

Too often on the increasingly congested highway of the Southeast Asian banana pancake trail, you hear of some ‘amazing’ place that people have just returned from. Some wide-eyed European will excitedly say the adjective with a head jolt and conviction as if they’d been to heaven and back.

I was in Sihanoukville, a rapidly touristed town in Southern Cambodia when I got wind of one of these revered places that people insist you have to visit. Kampot, a French Colonial town just two hours away along the coast toward Vietnam is attracting a lot of hype. After realizing that Sihanoukville, which had a fairly rough and ready vibe when I’d visited a few years earlier, had lost a lot of its rustic appeal with increased tourism and hotel developments, my disappointment subsided at the prospect of heading out east.

Fast forward a few days, and my brother and I, who had linked up with me on his vacation from England and mine from Korea, were clunking along a dusty road out of Kampot town center and into the rural sticks. Lush green fields of rice paddies dotted with water buffalo surrounded us, as did the country’s distinctive pom-esque palm trees sporadically sprouting up into the bold blue sky.

“You know when there are mango trees in your backyard, a giant multi-colored gecko chilling on the side of your hut, and fireflies acting as nightlights that you’ve found someplace special.”

If the journey to get there was like a National Geographic magazine come to life, Ganesha, a guesthouse well and truly intertwined with its surroundings, took the exotic escape feeling one step further. We were spellbound by the picturesque riverside yurt we’d booked, and you know when there are mango trees in your backyard, a giant multicolored gecko chilling on the side of your hut, and fireflies acting as nightlights that you’ve found someplace special. Heaven indeed.

It wasn’t just Ganesha’s beautifully cultivated environment that was worth the journey; rural Kampot is beyond gorgeous. Rent a scooter or push bike and there is ample opportunity to get blissfully lost along the dirt tracks, passing through small settlements whilst interacting with locals, regardless of spoken language differences.

They say that Cambodia is one of the friendliest countries in the world, and I completely agree. Not only did I find myself communicating through hand signals and broken French (they speak a mix of both French and Khmer around Kampot) with people of all ages, but I even spent the day road tripping with a kid who had struck up a conversation with me whilst we were riding parallel to each other.

Kampot’s tranquility might not last forever. I even heard stirrings that it’s the ‘next big spot’ for travelers. That’s ok, because no visit to the same place is always identical. Change is inevitable and there’s always another great spot under the radar. What remains, however, is the overwhelmingly warm and open spirit of the Cambodian people, who are usually willing to engage with you if approached. It’s harder to do so in more developed parts of the world with the hectic pace of life and people’s heads glued to smartphones, which is why spending time in a place like Kampot isn’t just a good idea – it’s essential.


 Photos by Simon Slater

I had tried asking this girl if she ever rode the buffalo that she takes care of. She didn't understand me so I said goodbye and was about to ride off when I looked back and saw this magnificent sight.

Exploring rural Kampot is like a National Geographic magazine come to life.

This monk at Wat Treuy Koh said that when the Khmer Rouge was a tit's most powerful, they were still afraid of the mystic powers of the head monk here, so they stayed away from the area.

I met this young monk at the peak of Bokor National Park, just above a waterfall.

I thought I grew up close to nature living in the Welsh countryside. I've got nothing on these girls.

I was able to communicate with this salt field worker through basic French I learned over half my life ago and drawing numbers in the sand.

If you only stick to the main cities of a country, you're not seeing the bigger picture. Get two wheels and hit those dirt roads.

Sunni Islam is practiced by the ethnic group of Cham people, who can be found dotted around Kampot.

The view from our riverside yurt
This woman was collecting alms for a group of nearby monks.

When the sun sets over the palm-fringed river, the only thing missing is Jim Morrison singing 'The End', which will inevitably be playing in your head.


You can check out more from Simon Slater at The Secret Map: thesecretmap.wordpress.com

 

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