The Tuk Tuk from Kep to Kampot was a fairly memorable trip, the road is pretty rough and somehow the Tuk Tuk managed to have less then no suspension! With sore backs and sore ears (from the squeaky ride) we eventually rumbled into Kampot and had the Tuk Tuk drop us at a hotel recommended to us by Giles who we met in Kep (very nice btw). Bags dropped we washed the collective salt off our bodies from two days on Rabbit Island without fresh water. We were so grateful for the dry bags we put all our clothes in as they protected them from the soaking everything else got on that boat ride! Next order of business was food.
Our place turns out to be the opposite end of town from the main tourist restaurants. Fortunately this isnt really an issue since Kampot is a small place, we both decided it really reminds us of Ninh Binh in Vietnam, with a slight sense of Luang Prabang. Its not touristy on its own merits but because it has a lot of interesting sights nearby. We walked into town and had some stir fried beef and pork both cooked with fresh green Kampot pepper which we are really enjoying. We then took a quick stroll around the town and snapped a quick photo of the massive Durian fruit statue that they have here. Apparently Kampots as good for Durains as it is for Pepper, we intend to find out! Giles also recommended the local market so went to check that out. Unfortunately it was 4pm by this stage and on a Sunday so very much winding down we had a quick wonder through before heading back to our hotel for a bit of a chill out having slept very little the night before.
For dinner we found out way back to tourist street (which was no mean feat given that here are very few street lights here!) and after umm-ing and ahh-ing about the budget we decided to go for the prettiest place on the riverside, a lovely spot all lit up with fairylights, called Rikitikitavi. It was just gorgeous and the staff were great, thinking about it, it's probably the nicest restaurant we've been to so far. But the real highlight was the food. The menu had so many Cambodian specialities that we hadn't seen anywhere else, as well as some nice sounding western food. I (Charlie) went for (what I guessed to be the house speciality) "Saraman", which is a really rich, nutty beef curry (that the menu says is only served on very special occasions...so...a sunday night?!). It was incredible, I really really want the recipe. Best meal in Cambodia...possibly best meal so far?! Tom ordered some beef kebabs, which were great...but the Saraman stole the show. Didn't stay there long after though as we were both so tired from the lack of sleep on rabbit island, so found our way back though the dark to our hotel.
Woken up at 6am by children at the next door school...6am!?!(and they're still there as I'm writing this at 6.30pm!)..snoozed...and eventually got up and searched for breakfast and some prices for day tours around the local area. The various tours and cookking classes all sounded great, but were extortionately priced, so we decided that we would just rent a scooter and get a map! (and like magic a $56 tour becomes a $7 tour!) ok i'm not sure we will have done all the same things but we had a really great day. First we went in search of the Teuk Chheu River Rapids, whoc weren't quite what we were expecting...but were most definitely river rapids with lots of local kids swimming and playing in tyre tubes. I paddled while Tom went in for a dip, and the next thing I see is him being swept away by the deceptively strong current! ... dont worry he made it out alive! After all that excitement we were hungry and looked to the string of food vendors across the street. we went to one and the lay didn't speak a word of Engish...and didn't seem to understand our attempts at Khmer (trying to say "food?"). So about to get back on the bike to go to town some ladies from a cane juice stall came to say hello, and seemed to realise that we wanted food. We tried a few more disjointed words ("jom hoy bye" - steamed rice) and tried to ask for chicken, then apprehensively took our plastic chairs and waited. After a while we saw rice approaching topped with butterfly prawns and squid...much better than chicken! :)
We then got back on the bike and rode off in the direction of the "secret lake" (an irrigation dam) and some caves.
The local area map we had was worryingly vague about the number of tracks that litter the countryside outside of Kampot. We followed some rough directions given on Wikitravel but soon ended up pretty lost on the dirt tracks. Scenary was nice though with paddy fields and camdobian houses at regular intervals. We soon found a group of Kids keen to show us their cave, lacking much of an alternative we accepted and were sheppered inside. I'm not particularly experienced when it comes to caves...but this one was pretty cool. The caverns were really tall, with bats at the top, and in some parts the roof had collapsed letting in the light. Accorrding to the kids there used to be a temple inside (there were a few bricks here and there, and the bottom of a staircase part way up the wall) which was demolished when part of the cave fell in. We squeezed though a few tight spots and saw some cool rock formations (sparkly limestone "diamond rock" and lots in the shape of animals and stuff). Then of course the kids stopped being so sweet and demanded money for guiding us...we gave then $2 which they reluctantly accepted and then cheekily ask to keep our torches!
We parted with suspicous directions to the secret lake taking us down a even smaller dirt track that we followed for quite a long way. There were several cross roads where we stopped and asked for directions, normally meeting with a confused look and a non commital point in a direction. Driving along these roads was really nice though all the kids shout hello at you our favourite was a little chap swimming in a muddy brown hole that shouted it up at us. We were speculating about if they had heard about rich westeners adopting kids from poor countries and were wanting to introduce themselves? It was along one of these roads we saw a massive fork of lightning and the sky promply opened we took shelter in a small cafe. The chap in there spoke more French then English but served an amazing coffee! Charlie had a little chat with him and we enjoyed our drinks untill the rain passed. We then set out again for secret lake which fortunately was just around the corner, while very scenic there wasn't a whole lot too it so we took a quick look and then turned the bike around for our return to Kampot.
Had an amazing evening meal at the expat pub "rusty keyhole" apparently home of the best ribs in Cambodia. The place was full that rainy evening and we ended up sharing a table with a really nice Kiwi chap who was over wintering in Cambodia. He advised us to share a regular plae of ribs as we were looking at a large portion. Wow was he right! Me and Charlie struggled to put away an amazing rack of ribs, they were so tasty, tender and really fell off the bone. We resolved we would have a tricky choice of where we would eat on our last night in Kampot having had amazing meals at the rusty keyhole and Riki Tiki Tavi.
Little did we know how wrong things would go tomorrow...