Coastal Cambodia – Days 315 to 317

Tue 11th – Thu 13th Dec

I have been toying between going to Kep or Kampot and after a few hectic days, decide on the coastal town of Kep rather than the busier riverside town of Kampot.

Looking to just chill, I book an expensive (by backpacker standards) hotel with a nice pool and hope to work on the tan for a day or 2.

I get the bus with Giant Ibis which is apparently the best company around. It cost only 10$ and wasn’t too bad. The worst bit of the journey is the state of the roads and definitely adds to the length of the journey. Tip – take the morning one as traffic is much worse later on and can tke up to 6 hours rather than the advertised 3.

The bus stops in a little square in Kep and I realise my hotel is further out than I thought. Bargain on tuk tuk prices as they will try for 5$ but u can get them as low as 1 (although rare).

Just as I arrive at my hotel – the Au Paradis Bleu and clock the lovely pool I had visions of spending a sun soaked afternoon by,

the heavens open! That knocks that idea on the head so I go in search of some lunch. The place I’m recommended is closed and there’s very little else around. I meet a Czech couple who too are starving so we head into the ‘town’ to find something to eat. There isn’t a lot on offer so we opt for pizza in an Italian – but it doesn’t come particularly cheap.

After food I decide to go for a bit of a rekkie but there really is very little here. It’s beyond a sleepy little village and reminds me somewhat of Blackpool – a place that was buzzing in its heyday but is now a shadow of its former glory.

That in fact is an apt description of Kep – once Cambodia’s top seaside destination until it was eclipsed in the 1960s by Sihanoukville. A former bustling beach resort, well-loved by the French during the colonial era and then popular with Cambodians after the nation became independent, however Kep’s glory was shattered by the Khmer Rouge. Bullet holes can still be seen in some of the town’s old buildings.

Kep is slowly becoming again more established as a Khmer holiday spot and also being rediscovered by travellers and backpackers – famous for its blue crab, small beach and national park. Some like me, find Kep a bit soulless but I’m sure if time was on my side I wd have stayed longer and enjoyed the sleepiness of the place but with only a few weeks to go, it was a bit lacklustre and lifeless for me.

The next day I am greeted with the weather the forecasts had promised and after breakfast, I take prime position in the sun by the pool and get chatting to the only 3 other guests in the hotel. The owner is lovely and does bring us out a cuppa and some watermelon.

Kep was famous for its big colonial French mansions. A once key place for the country’s high rollers who needed luxurious places to stay on their holidays and weekends away from Phnom Penh. Sadly, during the civil war, Kep stood for and was representative of everything despised by the Khmer Rouge. Due to the mass migration and persecution of the residents, the mansions were left to rot and ruin.

With many being in the area, I go for a walk to see how many I can find. In a 2 block radius I find a fair few, the majority all overgrown, dilapidated and overgrown. I’m not sure why the owners haven’t decided to repair them….

Having found one that has been restored, a facelift on all these cd really do a lot to lift the area.

The end of my trip was going to be 5 days on the island of Koh Rong Sanloem. Everyone has been telling me it’s paradise, a haven, to go now before it becomes too commercial like the islands of Thailand. There isn’t much on the island except beaches giving the chance to totally disconnect – perfect if the sun is shining! Once full of rustic huts, it now also has pricier accommodation on offer. Not quite 5* resorts but I struggled to find much on a backpacker budget. If you are travelling in a group, then you can take advantage of the nicer places on offer. Koh Rong Sanloem has not been spoiled like the bigger neighbouring island of Koh Rong with its big partying scene so it did seem to be the perfect place to chill at the end of my trip – that was my thought process until I arrived.

The weather was appalling and paradise looking it was not. After getting off the boat, I have to trawl for miles down Saracen Bay with all my stuff – this wdn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that there was no beach and I have to walk through the sea with big waves crashing against me. I start thinking someone has sent me the wrong way and several people I ask for my hostel look at me blankly. What can be seen of the beach is awash with debris and litter and the angry sea is not the beautiful turquoise blue I had anticipated…so far this place is not at all what I had envisaged and disappointment is slowly creeping over me.

To add insult to injury, with my mood already waning, I have to cross a sandy area where a stream meets the sea when on taking a step forward, one leg sinks in the sand up to my knee and I’m now stuck! WTF!!! Luckily there are 2 tourists behind me who yank me out. Swearing profusely, I wander on in the same direction looking for this poxy bloody hostel! Finally I find this Onederz Hostel and am told I can’t check in yet – what, are u serious!!! Not in the best of moods I tell them it’s ok, I’m going to take 5 and assess if I want to stay or not anyway.

Whilst having lunch I try to take stock of what to do – should I stay or should I go. I receive a message from a friend I’d made who is staying on a different part of the island and she’s had a pretty crap last few days here. I form a Plan B and then check in but that is just the icing on the cake – the dorm is dark and feels really cramped. It was probably ok, but my mood is getting the better of me. I go for a wander to suss the place out a bit more and the island is pretty and tranquil

but if weather is to stay like this, with no beach to lie on, it’s not going to be a fun few days. I find there is a boat leaving that afternoon and decide to jump ship. A decision I’m sure I might regret in the future and maybe I should give the place a chance but again, with only just over a week left, I don’t want to stay in cramped accommodation in bad weather with nothing else to do.

I get the last boat back to Sihanoukville which was one hell of a ride – the weather definitely is bad and a few people I got chatting too didn’t think we’d make it across safely. I stay at the Onederz hostel here too which is ok but nowhere near as nice as the one in Siem Reap but a great place to go for dinner is the Big Easy run by some Aussies. They have a hostel too which is worth checking out.

Sihanoukville was once a great cheap beautiful holiday spot and a few people I’d met had told me this – they had been here years ago though and sadly, the more recent reports I’ve had off people and read online are true. This place is now a building site on an exponential scale. The Chinese have invested hundreds of thousands and are building enormous hotel complexes and casinos. Whilst your sat in a restaurant, on the beach, by the pool you have an endless flow of articulated lorries and cement wagons passing by and the noise and dust from all this construction work is dreadful.

This mass construction has also driven local people out of their town as they can’t afford the increased rents as the Chinese buy up places and take over leases. Less tourists are visiting leaving the remaining businesses with a lack of customers and those left with anything live in fear that theirs will be the next to be bulldozed.

I honestly believe that the majority of non-Chinese tourists here solely use Sihanoukville for a stop over to and from the islands.

Only seeing is believing on how bad sadly, this place actually is.

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