We’d heard that Kampot has a way of keeping people. We were told that travellers go there and stay there, and the ones that manage to leave always return. It sounded like a myth, a tale meant to intreague and capture the imagination and we didn’t believe it. We knew we’d leave because we had places to be. We’d leave Kampot after a night or two to spend some time in Kep and then on to Phnom Penh… At least that’s what we thought.
It all started with a coconut.
We’d checked into ‘Blissful Guesthouse’ earlier that day. After a walk around the quiet but quaint town of Kampot we were relaxing in hammocks just outside the bar discussing how a night would probably be enough here – nice as Kampot is there’s little to stay for. The riverside is pretty, the often western people are talkative and we’d heard there was an abandoned hill station nearby which we decided we’d check out tomorrow, but we felt Kampot could be nothing more than a flyby stop.
The coconut fell next to Gemma’s hammock. We went to the bar to ask if they’d cut it open for us…
“You should put rum in your coconut” Rapheal, the bar man told us, and thats when the night becomes blurry.
Here are a few things from that first night in Kampot that I do remember:
- A bottle of whiskey with a snake trapped inside it. Several pepper shots.
- Finding out that all the owners of ‘Blissful’ came to Kampot as a quick stop whilst travelling… but then never left.
- A rendition of ‘Knocking on heavens door’ with the lyrics changed to quite graphically describe making love to a donkey.
- Trying to leave the guesthouse at 5am, not finding the exit and thinking ‘this is it, this is how Kampot keeps people – drunkenly imprisoned in its guesthouses…’ I did think this, only probably shouted out loud and much less coherently…
- Agreeing to meet a group of peope (John, Guy and Marion) at 8 in the morning to drive a 4×4 truck up to the hill station the next day.
We met the others at midday to find that Marion was too hungover to come, John had lost his room last night and had slept on the street and that the exit from the guesthouse was exactly where it had been the day before… Next to the big sign that said ‘exit’.
The hill station is exactly as you’d imagine an abandoned building to look. Dirty and empty. In my home town of Clevedon we have an old abandoned lookout leftover from the war. Well, I say abandoned, actually I think a group of drug users claimed it in the 90’s and as a result it’s now covered in graffiti and littered with needles. It appears this has also been the fate of the hill station – minus the needles.
The journey itself however was a huge success, we’d found the station, we’d managed enough pit stops for Gemma to hungoverly lie down on the floor and we’d all become firm friends in the sober world as well as the drunk one… This called for a celebration.
Here are some things from that second night in Kampot that I do remember:
- Marion massaging a girl on the floor and John watching rather lustfully.
- Learning about a new spirit which I’ve now forgotten the name of.
- Marion massaging a girl on the table and John watching rather lustfully.
- Deciding that tomorrow, instead of leaving Kampot as planned, we would all rent motorbikes.
- Marion massaging Rapheal’s leg… And John watching rather lustfully.
Hopping on our bikes the next day, we set off in search of both a cave temple and a secret lake which we heard were not too far away. Luckily for us the secret lake was rather helpfully labelled on our map under a large bold font – ‘Secret Lake’ and it was right next to a main road. Shh… Don’t tell anyone!
The locals however don’t seem to have seen this map. Either this, or they hated us…
“Which way to the temple cave?” Guy asked a man who’d been blankly staring at him for about 5 minutes.
“Which way to the temple cave?” He tried again in a much friendlier way than this paragraph seems to imply. Again the man stared.
Eventually the man smiled and pointed down a dusty road. To this day I can’t work out why we trusted him. He was clearly friendly and trying to help, but he had no idea what we were saying no matter how loud we kept repeating the same thing.
The road was not a road. I’d describe it as a pile of mud. Locals seemed confused as to what we were doing there, none of us were any good at driving mopeds down it and just as we thought the road would never end we hit a big heap of mud. Somehow we scrambles over it, only to hit train tacks.
In true friendly Khmer style, 2 of the local children helped us across the tracks with the bikes. But then one of them noticed something…
“Wheel. Pppffft.” After following his pointing finger I knew exactly what he meant.
“Ah crap. A flat” I exclaimed. “How far to a garage?”
“Pppffft.” He replied.
We continued on the flat tyre for about 15 minutes until anyone was able to help. Eventually a man offered in a mime language to either pump the tyre up or shoot us.
We decided to take our chances and within minutes he had the whole wheel off. In the meantime Marion and Guy’s suspension broke.
This is the beautiful thing about Cambodia – no matter where you are and what goes wrong, the Khmer people will always try to help. The four of us were out of our depth here, miles into rural Cambodia and with no working transport. It was local children who got us across the tracks, local women who found us in need, and their husbands that fixed both bikes and directed us to the cave. It’s the people that make Cambodia a kingdom – more so than the attractions.
The cave was pretty but not as impressive as the guidebooks make out, the secret lake, a short swim taught us, has eels in it and the drive itself had been a hilarious shambles… But when we returned, for some reason we decided we deserved to celebrate.
Here are some things from that third night in Kampot that I still remember:
- Marion can make her ear move independently from the rest of her head.
- Eating at ‘Mom’s’, a tip off from Rapheal as being the best Khmer food in the world. There were no menus, you ate what Mom made you. And what Mom made us was incredible.
- Guy can touch his elbow with his tongue.
- Deciding that instead of leaving Kampot the next day we’d all meet up for a game of mini golf.
- Learning that Steve (the owner of Mom’s) had come to Kampot as a quick stop whilst travelling… but then never left.
Steve was an interesting man with many stories. But I began to realise that all of his stories were of times before Kampot. We’d been here three nights now and were planning a fourth, it was all getting out of hand. We had our stories of Kampot –
We’d made a group of awesome new friends, drove a 4×4 up a hill and hired mopeds which broke down somewhere truly off the beaten track. We’d swam with eels, tried local drinks and had the best pie I’ve ever tasted. Did I not mention the pie? Mom makes a damn fine pie too.
And it all started with a coconut.
But this is where it had to stop. We decided against mini golf. It was all coming a little too real, this game of mini golf could lead to us working in Kampot, starting our own little cafe or something and then never leaving… A nice life, but not our life.
We spoke to Guy about this and he agreed. The three of us boarded a bus and left, waving to John, Rapheal and Marion as we did.
John left Kampot a week later.
After leaving Kampot around the same time as John, Marion is now continuing her travels around South East Asia.
John returned to Kampot. We believe him to be living with Rapheal and Gordon. Soon I expect him to open his own Kampot restuarant.
And if he does – we’ll all meet him there.
“The ones that manage to leave ALWAYS return”