Up early, to ensure that my packing was organised, so that I could have a quick shower and be ready for Vibol to pick Sue and I up and onto the airport after a morning teaching at GH. A very pleasant cycle there, as usual, and loved watching the guy standing on the set of wooden harrows as a pair of cattle pulled them across the earth they were preparing for rice planting. Once at school, I quickly prepared my Art lesson for the morning's lesson - a still life drawing of a bike, the opportunity to develop their natural ability further. Also an easy one for me, as very little was preparation or clearing away was needed! Also on Phearom could do with the afternoon lot without feeling too intimidated A rushed cycle back along the river road took me through town and back to Bou Savy, but as it was a very hot morning I walked in dripping with sweat. A quick shower sorted that out, but as I was drying myself the power went off and I was sweating profusely again - a complete waste of water and smelly for the flight! Vibol collected us and we went via Angkor Wat to the Domestic Terminal at the airport. Very quickly and efficiently we checked in and went through security, however, I did have my much travelled nail file confiscated - I'm sure it has travelled in my hand luggage before! We had an excellent flight to Sihanoukville, great views of the lake and Cambodian countryside before we were flying over and through spectacular cloud formations. Our inflight snack was a delicious piece of Blue Pumpkin cake and a carton of water. After a good landing we were able to walk out of the airport without any officialdom and our hand luggage straight into our taxi driver who was waiting with my name on his board.Nervously, we set off, I was not looking forward to the road part, as Cambodian drivers do not like to follow another vehicle and do not care about where they overtake. Other than a couple of panic attacks it was a great ride, we saw another part of this country, a similar standard of rural life and we met many cattle carts going back from the fields carrying rice or wood for cooking fires. However, the terrain does become hilly in this area. The driver slowed down whenever we passed the streams of children walking or cycling away from state school at the end of the day, and he was very careful not to harm any of the dogs, hens, ducks, or cows that were meandering across the road in front of us. At one point he kindly stopped for us to take some photos. I recognised the bridge we crossed to enter Kampot, but from there going became rougher and dustier because major road works are taking place. The road is being doubled in width in preparaton for this part of Cambodia being opened up to the international tourist market. It is an undiscovered area of stunning coast, national parks and three old towns. The Sihanoukville airport is to be rebuilt and apparently a new road has already been built from there to `Phnom Penh. Just before we drove into Kep we saw a working elephant coming towards us along the road. I didn't realise there were any still working ones here, unfortunately didn't manage to photograph it as we were in a line of traffic and it was getting dark. Our first view of the sea was with the sun beginning to set over it, a magical picture of colour, palm trees and fishing boats. I was able to direct our driver to Vanna Bungalows where we are staying, as nothing other than the road widening had changed from my previous visit, two years ago. After registering, we were brought to this wonderful room which looks directly onto the sea and the islands beyond. We managed a couple of photos before the sun set and darkness took over. Our bungalow is situated above the dining room, our view magnificent - the swimming pool, the sea and the rainforests which has grown in between here and the sea and covered the mountain side behind us. It is idyllic. Quickly we dumped our belongings and walked down to the Crab Shacks to feast on crab and green Kampot pepper sauce at Kimly's. Nothing appeared to have changed, but along the way a few discrete guesthouses/hotels had opened. However, it was very quiet and no one bothered us, such a change from SR. After a delicious meal we wandered back under the glory of the nearly full moon, but unfortunately a few clouds were gathering - the weather forecast I had read for Kep said rain all day Friday and then sun for the remaining days of our stay. Wifi was supposed to be available, the guy gave us the password, but nothing, so a young French woman came to see us. It transpired that she has been the owner for the last year - obviously a good eye for business as she has got into an up and coming new destination for world travellers. She promised that she woud sort out the wifi for the following day. I t was at breakfast that her main influence was noticeable, from a very mediocre one last time with undrinkable coffee we had a most delicious one with everything baked by her chef. Even the coffee was ok and came unlimited! Unfortunately, as we ate our breakfast overlooking the pool we could not see the sky for heavy clouds and as soon as we set off for a walk the heavens opened. We bravely continued to the crab market to watch the women catching and selling them, but it was a much smaller affair than the one I witnessed here on the Sunday last time, so I suspect/hope Sunday will be a bigger one - will be there to find out! As we continued our walk around the headland the rain got heavier and heavier until we were drenched to the skin and really worried about our cameras, and like buses tuk tuks never come along when you desperately need them. Eventually we got to central Kep and dived into the first place we could for a beer and to wait for the rain to stop, but that was not going to happen, so eventually we managed to get a tuk and ride back, except that the small moto engine and its poor grip on the wet sand track up here meant we had to get out and walk up the last part of the hill. The rain did not abate but it was very relaxing sitting on our balcony watching the clouds, rain, the islands and hill tops appear and disappear so many times. Once the rain lessened we decided to go and swim, as it was a beautiful temperature and the pool looked so inviting. Once I'd braved the water - the first time this year - I had a wonderful swim and enjoyed the rain too. The owner came to tell us that the internet provider had told her the problem with it was caused by the roadworks and would not be resolved until that is completed - I do not know that date! By late afternoon the rain had stopped and we both had a very relaxing massage before it was time to walk down to the crab shacks for dinner again. This time we went to a different one - Al Baraka, and I had crevettes with Kampot green pepper sauce - even more delicious than the previous evening. An enormous helping for about £4 - definitely more expensive than my last visit, but still excellent value for such fresh seafood. The moon guided us back, less clouds lingering but still they were there! We decided to have another try at getting wifi in the dining room - again unsuccessful,but we enjoyed talking to a French couple from St Malo over a glass of decent wine. He is an an orthopeadic surgeon and his wife an endocrinologist, and they were telling us about their experience of working in Laos for the last couple of months. They had been as part of a French medical volunteer team and she had been working in Phonsovan, the town nearest to The Plain of Jars, at a clinic the organisation had set up to help treat and diagnose diabetes. That is Asia's time bomb and about to explode experts believe. She had experienced the same there as we find here - people want Western medication, but if it doesn't work after a couple of pills or days they resort to the 'spirit or witch doctors' and do not continue with what has been prescribed. Sat I have been sitting on this balcony since 5:50 just looking at the wonderful view and enjoying the tranquility, in a very pleasant temperature. The hill tops are shrouded in cloud, but I can just see patches of blue sky appearing. Is that wishful thinking or fact? The answer remains to be seen but if the sun does come we plan to visit Rabbit Island for the day - I loved my last one there - a deserted island of golden sand and clear sea to swim and cool down in whlst watching the fish darting about. Three people have just dived into the pool - should I join them? After another delicious breakfst and copious cups of coffee we decided to risk a trip, quickly organised ourselves and went to the desk to find a tuk to take us to a boat. The guy on reception asked us what our plans were and said that we had to hurry as the boat left at 9am. A tuk was called and we flew down the hill, round corners and along the coast road, luckily we made it in time, quickly paid the 8$ and onto the rickity boat alongside about 6 other visitors and a few Khmer people carrying veg etc to cook on the food stalls they run there. It had been great to see how the authorities have been improving the sea front by adding wide pavements, trees, building lots of huts with hammocks for people to sit and picnic in and surprisingly they have imported yellow sand to cover the black that had been there previously. It was only as the day developed that I realised how Kep is becoming a 'French' area again, the majority of visitors on Rabbit Island were French and we discovered that our new favourite eating shack was French owned too. Although I have been shocked to see that many of the beautiful ruins of French villas I saw last time have either been destroyed to make way for new properties or are in an even worse state of decay. I hoped and thought that they would have been incorporated somehow into new buildings. Our day on the island was great, resting, swimming, sleeping and a little bit of beach walking, unfortunately the rainforest on the hillside behind t is inpenetratable. There were a few more shacks where people can now stay the night for 5$, but there is no electricity, washing or toilet facilities. However, tempting the idea of a night there seemed I decided it was too basic for me, and that I would be claustrophobic in one and worried all night about the bugs and temperature. As we were preparing our belongings for our 4pm return the black clouds were gathering, and as we walked along the beach towards our boat, the rain began, a Cambodian storm, is one you get very wet in, but survive - this was different - every cloud opened, lightning tore the sky apart and thunder crashed ferociously overhead. Within seconds we could not see anything, river channels appeared where there hadn't been any before and everyone huddled beneath any palmleaf sunshade they could find. I was quickly shivering from the drop in temperature and my wet clothes and it was quite frightening being completely cut off - not even able to see the sea that was no more than 4 metres to the side of you. As the storm raged with no sign of abating we expected that we woud have to stay on the island for the night, as you can imagine the boats that go back and forth woud not be safe to use and do not go once dark. However, after about 45 mins the sky slowly lightened and we could see the storm slowly moving. Raging streams had appeared from nowhere cutting channels into the sand and enormous torrents of water rushed into the sea, and water lay everywhere, no way did I fancy a night there! Our boat driver soon was emptying the bilges and the six passenger queued up, all rather nervous about going across the choppy water in a Cabodan boat - health and safety NO!. All the time we were watching an amazing show of lightning, the heavens were parting in sheet lightning and within that was forked, the colours were dramatic, as the black, cumulus clouds moved along and somewhere behind it all was the setting sun. Luckily, we could not hear any thunder by this point, so foolishly I believed we were safe, but of course the killer is the lightning and many people die in this country from it each year. As darkness descended we landed safely and a tuk was there to return us here. We watched the sun finally set from our balcony and there were some very dramatic colours and shapes to watch. All was calm by the time we had showered, so a dry but muddy walk to the Crab Markets for dinner. It was back to Al Baraka for grilled shrimps in green peppercorn sauce. Equally as delicious as Friday, and now we know that too is owned and run by a French guy. Although a holiday weekend in the high season there were not many people about which surprised me, but much more enjoyable without crowds and a rest from SR. Sun I awoke to another beautiful morning, it was wonderful sitting on the balcony watching the sea and dragonflies flying over the pool, not a person in sight or sound to be heard other than the cockerels, birds ,geckos and cicadas chirping and the occasional peep from the bread machine in the kitchen below. After another delicious breakfast we set off for the crab market, me hoping it would be very similar to the Sunday one two years ago, and to my great delight it was. Women wealing and dealing crabs, baskets being pulled out of the water, crabs inspected and bought if ok, or thrown back into the basket to go back int the water if not the right size. Women preparing squid in water turned black by the ink they had removed from them, others wading into the water to return or retrieve other baskets of crabs. Other women grilling a variety of fish and prawns on skewers of lemongrass. Exactly the same as last time - I really regretted having had breakfast, as I was too full to sample any of the deliciously fresh seafood on sale. It's mayhem of the kind I love to see, amazingly there was not a man to be seen, although a few on boats hanging about. Around the edge are others selling fresh veg and fruit, locally grown Kampot pepper, bags of prepared garlic, chilli sauce - all that is needed for a coastal Cambodian meal. After that we walked around the headland, again this time witnessing the Khmer on their day off - they all love a picnic and arrive in heavily overladen vehicles to their local beauty spot - many today had come from Phnom Penh. It was wonderful seeing them picnic in large groups on any spare bit of land or pavement with their enormous pots of rice, plates of prawns and crabs and the sauces that no Cambodian meal is complete without. Quite a few asked us to join in with their food - such kind and gentle people. We continued walking along the new pavement until we reached the 'Blue Swimmer Crab of Kep' a large 3 D model standing proudly for all who come to Kep to see. It was inaugurated on Tuesday 13th day of the waning moon of Kartika month of the year of the Dragon, 4th year cycle B.E.2556 or 11 Dec AD 2012. By then we were so hot and tired that we needed an Angkor beer to reach all the parts water cannot get to, so entered a Khmer picnic area and found people selling drinks and food. After the ubiquitous beer I couldn't resist a plate of freshly grilled prawns for £2.60, and of course when they came they were so delicious and quickly eaten, as we watched Khmer children playing in the ocean on large inner tubes and in most cases watched by their adoring parents. I assumed rightly or wrongly that these were the new monied Khmers from Phnom Penh. After a gentle stroll back to the centre of Kep watching the Khmers relax by eating and swimming we hailed a tuk to take us back to Vanna for a swim and lie down before our evening meal at Al Baraka - a preordered confit of duck and saladaise potatoes - I know so SW France, but ducks and garlic are local to here too, and potatoes are grown somewhere in this country, but too expensive for locals to buy! Another wonderful meal, although it is sad that the place is being taken over by the French again, it is great that we can eat well at Cambodian prices - however, I do wonder how long that will be the case. I must make it clear that the Crab Shacks are literally shacks on stilts over the ocean, not glamorous restaurants posturing. Although it is only about a mile back to Vanna Bungalows it is very dark, as no street lighting, so we were very grateful that the full moon was there to guide us back, the occasional dog barks as you pass, but otherwise you feel the place is deserted. During the day as you walk along you can admire the wonderful flowers that bloom on the trees and shrubs that line the track. A wonderful swim was a great way to cool off before thinking about the confit duck awaiting me - it was delicious, better than I've eaten in France - if my memory serves me right!! Mon we braved a tuk ride to Kampot, the problem was the road works and the dust created by them and the lunatic drivers - our tuk man said he would take us along tracks as much as possible, but the previous few days rain rendered that impossible. With faces completely covered by scarves we made it in one piece completely covered in a grey and orange film of dust and hair ful of grit. However, Kampot was worth it, it had a feeling of coming alive again, some of the old French terraced houses were being tastefully renovated and painted, new development was happening everywhere and smarter cafes and hotels had opened. The riverside has been nicely paved and spreading frond like trees cloned to palms to give shade, and covering every building were magnificent borganvillias, hibiscus and many I can't name flowering in beautiful colours. as it was a holiday everywhere was very calm and peaceful, other than in the market the only people about were backpackers and expats enjoying a beer in their free time. I could not visit Kampot without going to its local market - not an experience for everyone, but the sights, smells, colours and happenings I thoroughly enjoy experiencing, but you certainly need a strong stomach for it all. We were the only westerners in it, I not sure what the the locals make of us, mainly puzzlement I think, but they are kind and tolerate having their photograph taken. Our time there was over too quickly, and I really regretted the fact we weren't staying for one night, I would have like to see the sun setting there, over the Bokor Hills and National Park, somewhere else I still need to visit - so another trip beckons. I hope the place doesn't become too gentrified, but I suspect rich Khmers from Phnom Penh etc will be making it their home. However, like all of Cambodia the rural parts are still not benefitting from the greater prosperity there appears to be - still only available to a few. It was a nightmare journey back in the heat, dust and amidst the maniacal driving, we had to completely cover our faces in a scarf to protect our eyes and breathing, so could not appreciate the local life. I felt so sorry for the locals having to suffer the work and all it entails - will they benefit - I don't know, but hopefully the land used for the widening has been bought from them which may allow them to build a better home. The other positive sight was a railway line which has been built from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, it should open next year to carry both freight and passengers, we did see new houses being built and I suspect they were from the reenue acquired from the selling of a strip of land. We didn't see a station at either Kep or Kampot, but again it is another way opening up the area. Sihanoukville is a port so does need a good infrastrucure to get the goods away from it. A welcome shower and swim when we got back to clean off a bit and then cool down before the hard work of getting everything out of my hair. A delicious crab in green peppercorn sauce was my last meal before the moon led walk back. The place must be pitch black when there is no moonlight, so I wonder how long before street lights are installed for visitors? Although the electricity supply at the moment is not reliable or strong - something else that still needs lots of improvement. Mon: Sadly, it was time to leave after a final walk and visit to Kep's most expensive hotel - the renovated Customs House, we couldn't gain entry from the front, so as the intrepid beings we are we went down a lane, paddled and climbed over their low beach wall! We had a sit down from which to admire their view and then left - our place was less than a quarter of the cost and equally as good, except that we had a short walk to the sea. Although our driver back to the airport was not as careful as the one coming we arrived back there safely with only a few hairraising incidents - he didn't speak any Englsh, but when I commented loudly about something I didn't approve of he seemed to respond appropriately. It was a relief to arrive, but then we had a couple of hours wait, as the airport only has one inbound and one outbound flight per day there was nothing to do, but a member of staff kindly put the aircon on for us. The time passed quickly and soon other travellers arrived for the flight, they quickly took us through security etc, and once the incoming flight had unloaded we were on board and took off about 25 mins earlier than scheduled - an advantage of a country with little air traffic, so we arrived hre after a short and very pleasant flight. The plane was a prop, the same as used on the Guernsey run. As we were back so early Vibol was not waiting for us, but I knew he doesn't like paying the parking fees, so we walked out of the airport to meet him, as soon as he saw us he was mortified that he'd let us down, but I'd tried to reassure him, but have no idea if he understood or not. But to console him I've booked him to take me to the Angkor Bike Ride at 4:45 next Saturday morning. It was good to be back and catch up with what everyone else had done over the few days we had off, and then it was handwashing dirty clothes and preparation for the 3 days work still to do. I'm eally pleased we went to Kep, as I believe it will soon be in all the travel brochures and will appeal to people who want to visit pastures new, and it will fit in beautifully with a 3 day visit to here to see the temples and a few days relaxing by the sea and exploring the Bokor National Park and seeing its rainforest and natural beauty and wildlife. I still need to visit Bokor, so perhaps another visit is needed!
That's my Kep adventure, the rest will be in the next chapter, but my last full week looks as though it is going to be very busy - still so much to see and do, as well as a 100km to ride! Have a good week, take care and love to all, J x