I left the polluted noisy city of Phnom Penh on the midday bus and headed for the coast and some fresh air. On the bus I met an English DJ - an expat who originally travelled to Cambodia whilst in the forces in the early eighties. Typical expat though, he wanted to inform me on every aspect of local life and he told me the food in Kep was expensive and not that great but I decided to go there anyway. It's a very small town with not a lot going on but is famed for it's crab market which I visited but saw no crabs for sale. The barbecued squid was yum though and I did watch the crabs being hauled in from the sea. The scenery was lovely though and I found myself a lovely treehouse to stay in! It was called 'Treetops' and my room was accessed by two ladders and had a balcony and a hammock. Well that sold it to me really. The structure was like something from Little House On The Prairie with wooden windows and hand made latches - bits of tree were inside so I could hang stuff up. The restaurant area was rather quiet and lacking in atmosphere and at about 9pm the owner disappeared and came back in his pajamas ready for bed so I reckoned it was about time to rertire myself. The next two nights I went to Kep Lodge next door where there was a lot more going on.
From Kep I took a day trip out to Rabbit island, about half an hour's boat ride away. It's small but there was a lovely beach there and very basic huts selling food. It was relaxing just to lie and read for the day. The water was lovely to swim in as well and I finally got to exfoliate my dust-encrusted feet. I thought thare's be no hope for them! I met a couple from Texas - Nicky and Jason- and a Swiss girl whose name I never found out and I spent the next couple of evenings with them (partying in Kep Lodge!) The second day I was so hot and tired that I had an extremely lazy day in the hammock looking out at the scenery - green hills one way, the sea the other. so peaceful. I did fit in an hour's cycling along the seafront but the bike was the crankiest to date and kept veering to the left like a Sainsburies trolley so I traded it in for the hammock. After the 3rd night I decided it was time to move on and I took a tuktuk to Kampot down the road with Lisa from South africa and a guy called Gary. There I found myself a little shack with a verandah by a huge lilypond. It looked quite ramshackle but I loved it. Kampot is a busy little town with lots of cafes by the riverfront to while away the time. From here I went on a day's excursion to Bokor Hill station. At present they are rebuilding the road which means most of it cannot be used. So to get up there you must get into a truck through some countryside then do a steep hike up through hot humid rainforest for 2 hours. Then you must pile like cattle into another truck and travel along the rutted road from hell for about an hour until you reach your desired destination - a very creepy deserted casino! It was built in the 1920s and abandoned in 1940 and now just stands like a haunted house on a hill - it has actually been used as a film set (City of Ghosts?) . Behind this monstrosity which is blackened by age there is a one kilometer drop down onto a vast forest which stretches out as far as the sea. It's very dramatic and quite scary. In fact they had to relocate the casino eventually as a few people who had gambled away everything they owned through themselves over the cliff in desperation. There are other strange buildings dotted about the area such as a post office, a church and a guesthouse but it is really just a ghost town. There are huge plans to redevelop the area with hotels and holiday apartments but I can't see it happening. On the way down I requested to sit insde the cab. The novelty of being shaken about and squashed in the back had worn after about the the first 5 minutes on the way up but this meant I ousted out the guide who held the rifle. I hope he didn't take umbridge...
The climb back down through the forest was treacherous as it was so steep and covered in loose leaves and sand. People were falling down all over the shop but we had to do it at a pace as it was winter and you wouldn't want to be left in there in the dark. That evening I was totally exhausted and decided that the next day would be a lazy one. Another. Actually I was trying to decide where to be for Christmas and trying to avoid being back in Phnom Penh! I met a German girl and we had lunch and went on a sunset cruise in the evening. She twisted my arm to do it but I am glad I did. I have decided that that southern part of Cambodia is the most scenic. It's quite flat country but here there were a few hills, very green and lush and strewn with palm trees. Pretty! In the evening we went to the guesthouse across the road because it was more 'happening'! It had a lovely garden lit with lanterns and a barmaid who looked like Kathy Burke. They also did the best Lok Lak which is a kind of peppered steak and Kampot is famous for it's pepper! I had a couple of rum and cokes - the first drinks I'd had since arriving in Asia! I managed to work out my plan for the next few days - Christmas - but that's for the next blog.