Tag Archives: Kep

The Lost Blog. Choeung Ek.

This was written after a visit to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh in November. I lost my enthusiasm for a while.

Please heed the warning below if you are easily shocked.

Kep, on the coast of Cambodia, is surely something of an oasis. Most people seem to visit to just sleep whether it be in one of the hotels, guest houses, bungalows, or just swing in a hammock all day in one of the many, many thatched shacks that line the shore and beaches. The little town fills up over the weekend with visitors from Phnom Penh but for the rest of the week it is almost deserted. So much has happened, and not happened, since I arrived there that I might miss an important point or two. Right now I am in a local bus making my way down the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam to Can Tho, so yes, I’ve got some stories to tell since leaving Angkor and Siem Reap.

I shirked the twelve hour bus ride south to the coast and took a plane. Only a forty five minute flight, quite inexpensive, and a lot less boring than the long bus ride. From Sihanoukville I got a ride along the coast to Kep and a happy return to the Lodge. Not too much has changed, lots of dogs, monkeys, geckos, bats, amazing views and a feeling of isolation from the world at large. The Swiss owner is still there but seems to have a spouse problem, caused perhaps by having too many! They put me up in one of their newer rooms, a complimentary upgrade for a returning customer, it featured a balcony with a hammock, a mozzie net around the bed, hot water in the shower and the best view over the tree tops to the sea below. I had some fun with the webcam over the tiny pool adopting poses for the folk back home to see. I ate regular meals, took a tuk tuk into the town, lay on the new beach (they have imported the sand), made friends with some  girls who owned a barbecue stall who fed me fish, and generally took a time out from the world for a whole week. It was quite blissful.

And then, and then, and then……..

I went back to Phnom Penh from Kep, got my visa for Viet Nam, saw a few sites and headed off down the Mekong. Hmm, that’s a whole lot in one brief sentence. Actually I went to Cheoung Ek and have yet to recover. Well, this was my third visit to P.P. and I got a kick in the pants from my sister in law (Vicky) so I went. In a tuk tuk, of course. They were doing something to the road, driver stopped and bought me one of face masks everyone wears around here. I felt very local. Relieved also in the clouds of dust. It was very hot. We got there. I bought a ticket and was given headphones for the audio tour. The following two hours or so were some of my worst. I have been trying to find the words for the last two weeks, they won’t come. Horrifying, horrible, heartbreaking. Maybe you have seen a movie, the Killing Fields. I have not. On the way back to town I was texting my distress back home and the wife, Jules, said comforting things and soothing words, as always. But it’s still there and I went.

Then off down the Mekong to Viet Nam. I was dropped of in a kind of a one horse town in the Delta, Chao Doc. No hotel, no nothing that I could see. There was a guy with a bicycle that had a little trailer on the back on top of which was what looked like a large tea tray with a hole in the middle. I sat on it, feet through the hole, clutching bags, and off he peddled. Well, this is a riot thinks I. Finally we came to what might be called downtown. There was a hotel, kind of. But it was only for one night so who cares. There didn’t appear to be any food around so I did what the locals all seemed to be doing, sitting on plastic lawn chairs in the dust, drinking beer and watching the traffic. One way to spend an evening I suppose.

Following are some very gruesome, graphic and upsetting photos. Please, if you are easily distressed or easily disturbed,

DO NOT GO FURTHER. I AM NOT KIDDING.

Many mass graves.

Many mass graves.

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Farewell IndoChine.

Well that’s it for IndoChina. What a treat, what a privilege, a big thank you to all the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, you have all been so kind and gracious. Not to mention your great food and cooking.
My five days in the Province of Kampot in the small town of Kep was a welcome break from the big cities, World Heritage Sites, museums, temples but most of all from the pollution and really really bad air quality. It took three days but I finally threw off completely the cold I caught in Hanoi. I did try a Post from Kep, alas still unfinished but will try for a successful completion at some point, but the power was unreliable and the web connection kept crashing. I have to say though that I couldn’t actually come up with too much to say that would be of much interest to anyone. The days passed far too quickly, breakfast became lunch, the afternoon into a siesta, tea became dinner and then it was all over and it was sleep time. Apologies to the squeamish but my sleep mates were wide and varied ! There was a dog outside my room every night despite changing rooms three times during the five day stay. Very large geckoes were constant companions both in and outside the room, there were toads and frogs kicking up a shindig for most of the night. I don’t really want to tell of the spiders and ants that marched about the rooms and the monkeys who screeched and yelled for most of the night, at least I suppose they were monkeys.
I think I may have mentioned the food, peppercorns, still attached to their vine, fried up and served with just about everything. The crab, the prawns, Lok Lak (a Khmer traditional beef dish), every meal was an exploration of my taste buds and an event to anticipate.
All too soon it came to an end and I was back on a tuk tuk to the bus station and the ride back to PP. Scheduled for 12.30 pm departure we were all still hanging about in the heat until about 2.00, will it come? Is that it? Where is it? Did we miss it? All the usual anxieties. Got to chatting with a Canadian gent, odd how they are always so easy to chat with, he from Vancouver Island and raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Victoria. Its good to get around a bit. Bus eventually came, another double decker, and I successfully found seat thirteen (angst) and who should settle in beside me but the Canadian. How do you do says I , Tim, no, he says, that’s who I am too. Not an Aries, but we had a most entertaining ride to PP. We ranged from the ten thousand hour rule, which dictates that to be really good at anything you have to have practiced same for said amount of hours to his six minute rule. I might try it.
Back home he specializes in emergency management at disaster sites and was in Cambodia with his wife and family researching for a magazine article she was writing on the indentured servant racket that is so prevalent in this country. Nice guy, we shared a tuk tuk to hotel row and off he went to find his family, funny to think he might be reading this. (hello Tim McLeod).
Not a very good evening as it was already getting late, did some gift shopping, Kramas (Khmer accessory), silk scarves, more pepper, a t shirt for me etc. went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, the FCC, for dinner and turned in early. That was the plan. Turned out the room had three extremely noisy extracta fans which I couldn’t figure how to disable. Called reception, first one, then two, then three hotel handy men came avisiting. Climbing on chairs, plunging the room into darkness, every switch, knob, dial, remote was brought into the scenario. Finally at about ten thirty I called a halt, herded them out and spent a largely sleepless night wearing my noise canceling headphones.
A 5am wake up call, 6am cab to airport, and this 8.30 flight. Oh yawn.
A break there for a read.
Right then, India for tea. Major expletive! Doodling over my 5.30 am cup of tea I made a couple of notes. I think one of the first books I remember reading was Kipling’s Just so Stories, so finally I am going to the land of Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo, O Best Beloved (s). I remember reading about the terrible famines and the tragedy of Partition. Plus of course the Bonzo Dog’s Hunting Tigers out in India!
I am on my way, have I planned sufficiently, am I prepared, time will tell I guess. If all goes to plan the next Post will be from Kochi (old Cochin) in the State of Kerala. More from there.

Some views of Kep.

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One of the hotel dogs who slept outside my room all night.

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My little house at Kep Lodge, the one on the right.

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A Kep crab boat seen through a restaurant.

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Restaurant Row in Kep, water side.

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Part of the crab boat fleet.

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Crabs.

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Poignant evidence remains of Pol Pot’s madness.

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More evidence. I am sure these relics will be demolished soon as this region is developed.

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Crab pots.

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Inspecting the catch.

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Preparing the catch. Mine was prepared with the local pepper. Delicious but finicky.

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Restaurant Row in Kep, land side.

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Back to the hotel, this is the driveway. Not exactly smooth, as I found out from the back of a motor scooter after accepting a ride.

Getting away from it all.

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The Kep Bus.

On the bus to Kep, where ever the heck that is. Shamefully ignorant of the geography of Cambodia, I admit I didn’t even know it had a coastline, but it does and that is where I am bound. The bus is ok, a double decker with luggage and baggage on the lower, passengers on the upper. Eleven rows set in a two and one configuration, I am in a one that is slightly raised up above the rest, feels a bit throne like, but at least I can see out the front from six rows back. The seats are tolerably comfortable though an easy comparison with cattle class on BA, that goes for the legroom as well, there basically isn’t any. Fellow passengers appear to be two thirds Cambodian and one third Westerners. A French family with two young children, a couple from the boat down from Siem Reap, German I think, can’t ignore the cutest little Cambodian newborn you ever did see, not uttered a sound in over an hour. The terrain is flat, very very flat. The ground is dry, the rice paddies all shrivel led and stalks, dead and grey. There are occasional orchards with oranges growing and of course palms with coconuts. It will get hotter and hotter until the end of April and then the monsoon will break, much to the relief of all. The road is a good road, two lanes with a well kept surface, pleasantly smooth. The Highway code/rules of the road are completely non existent however. Small town markets spill onto the highway reducing it to one lane, down the middle. There is a bike, motor scooter lane but it seems to be not much used and the bus driver leans on the horn constantly. ……We paused for refreshments etc and have turned off the main road to Kompot onto a narrow jungle road , just about as wide as the bus. Passing pull outs, dusty, acres and acres of dried up paddies, random roadside stalls, locals dig trench across road in villages to slow the traffic, white cattle seek shade. There are hills ahead, the Coastal Range ?
We came to Kep, a dusty crossroads with maybe half a dozen tuk tuks, a cafe, tourist information office and that was about it for Kep downtown. A ten minute ride to the base of a low hill and here I am, all checked into my room, sitting in the thatch roofed restaurant of the Lodge. A small pool in front, a small pool table behind, a well stocked bar, piles of books and games, a beer (thank you) ,lunch on its way, spiced beef with ginger and rice, learning about Kampot pepper. Grown locally it seems to be the pride of the district, “Highly prized by gourmets worldwide”. (Nat, you heard of this stuff ?)
Lunch was great, best food I have had in Cambodia, and then I succumbed to the pressures of the day and fell fast asleep for an hour. I think I may have finally found my spot. First thing I notice sitting poolside is the lack of noise, there is no traffic, the nearest road is a half mile away, no motor scooters, no beeping. There is no pollution, no people in my immediate vicinity wearing smog masks. I may finally completely throw off the lingering cold I caught in Hanoi. We are a matter of yards from the entrance to a nature reserve, the air is full of the sound of birdsong, in fact the jungle threatens to encroach on the whole property. There will be some strange and unfamiliar sounds tonight I am sure. The hotel posts warnings about geckos, bats and frogs in the rooms, also that the spiders are not poisonous and are rather shy, good to hear.

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The Hotel reception, lobby, dining room, lounge, bar, business center and activities room.

I may have finally worked out how to add photos and captions to a post using just my tablet and the WordPress blogging App. Finally. Goodbye Business Centers.

Let’s see what the evening brings.