New Year in Kep and Kampot

Hello, friends. Remember me?
I know, I know. Lol. I keep on telling myself “I’ll blog regularly… I’ll update soon, yada-yada…” but I ALWAYS end up doing nothing. Booooo.

Anyhoo, I finally got around to sorting and sifting through our Khmer New Year holiday photos from Kep and Kampot! *applause*

We only stayed in Kep for three days and two nights (including a day trip to Kampot and to Bokor mountain) but it felt like I was home. Truly. On one hand, Kep was my (and my husband’s) home, my base, from 2006-2008, due to work. On the other had, my hometown, Roxas City, shares similarities with Kep – both have hills, the sea, and of course, the glorious seafood! It’s been years since our last holiday in Kep so, on the day we traveled, it felt like coming home.

Almost in Kep.
Are we there yet? Almost.
And we've arrived. Mmmm, can't wait to get my hands on crabs with Kampot pepper.
And we’ve arrived. Mmmm, see you at dinnertime, Mssrs. Crab and Shrimp.
The new road to Kep town centre.
The new road to Kep town centre.
Our favourite Kim Ly restaurant was closed for the holidays so we had dinner at Srey Pov restaurant. It was good, but Kim Ly's still the best!
Our favourite Kim Ly restaurant was closed for the holidays so we had dinner at Srey Pov restaurant instead. It was good, but Kim Ly’s still the best!
Kep Lodge swimming pool
The swimming pool at Kep Lodge where we stayed provided us with a refreshing embrace after a day spent outdoors.
Sunset at Kep Lodge restaurant
Watching the sun go down from the upper floor of Kep Lodge restaurant.

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at how huge the transformation in Kep was. So many shiny hotels and establishments, super-wide and smooth roads (the road from Seh Sor, or the White Horse statue, to Kep is undergoing construction so it remains dusty!), a renovated Psah Kdam (Crab Market) teeming with people and a bottle-neck traffic jam greeted us. It is no longer the sleepy beachtown that I knew the first time I set foot there.

The highlight of our holiday was our side-trip to Kampot —  we drove to Bokor Hill station. It was the best drive ever and the view gets more amazing as you ride higher and higher! The road to Bokor Hill station snakes through more than 40kms. of partially-cleared jungle in the national park and one that is, by far, the best road in the country. It is no longer the bone-jarring drive that it used to be, hurrah! Here is a short video clip of our Bokor run.

Halfway up Bokor mountain, we decided to have a break...
Halfway up Bokor mountain, we decided to have a break…
... and we have this view all to ourselves!
… and we have this view all to ourselves!

Half an hour so later after our pit stop, we’ve arrived. We’re face to face with the ruins of Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino, or as the French calls it, Le Bokor Palace. For so many years I’ve been pining to see this with my own eyes and, when I finally got to see it, it was disappointing. The structure of what was once the hotel, the favourite getaway of the French colonialists and the rich Khmers in its heydays, still stands there but was plastered in grey cement, the result of the “renovation” that was done not long ago. To me, it totally destroyed the charm of the naturally decaying building.   It no longer looks like this (click to see)… Que horror!

Bokor Palace Hotel
The facade of the refurbished Bokor Palace Hotel.
Bokor Palace Hotel
Saw different floor tile designs there.
Stairs at Bokor Palace Hotel
The stairs that go down and down… notice the garbage?
viewing deck at bokor palace hotel
A view from one of the refurbished wings.
fireplace at Bokor Palace Hotel
The grand fireplace at the main lobby of the hotel.
view from one of the viewing decks
Stories of gamblers who lost their fortune in the hotel’s casino tables jumping off the cliff to escape their miseries abound.
kampot and the gulf of thailand
Ghost sightings and stories of hauntings in the hotel are also told by many locals.
Old Catholic Church built by the French
An old Catholic church built by the French in 1920s.

A few metres down the road, on the way back, we stopped by to check out this old, abandoned Catholic church built by the French in 1920s. It is standing there forlornly, as an enduring reminder and a silent witness to Bokor’s golden years in the past and the rapid developments it is undergoing at present. More about the church in my future posts.

We only stayed long enough to see these two landmarks. On the way down, we had a look at the various developments in the area as we passed by. It is sad to say that these odd-looking structures that were built recently (and many  more are being built) have taken away the beauty and appeal of the landscape of Bokor.

We also dropped by Epic Arts for some nourishment when we reached Kampot town proper and we were not disappointed. They still serve the best sandwiches and beverages in town. I was secretly hoping to meet some of the stars of Epic Arts who were in this music video, but no such luck. Perhaps another time.

We pretty much moved around Kep and Kampot with Hagrid, our trusty Honda motorbike. Except for the aches from sore muscles and a bit of sunburn, there are no regrets.

Over-all, it has been a wonderful holiday in Kep. It is very refreshing to be able to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and take the much-needed rest in a place devoid of city-noise, explore local sights, be around people with simple and laidback lifestyles, and partake of the fresh bounty from the sea that we longed for.  It is for these reasons that we keep coming back to Kep.



Photo Hunt #44: Purple Skies

Here’s my comeback entry for Photo Hunt:

The purple skies of Kep, with the Bokor Mountain on the horizon.
The purple skies of Kep, with the Bokor Mountain on the horizon.

This was taken last year while I’m on holiday with my husband at, where else but our favorite Kep. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kep, arguably has the best sunset in Cambodia. Sure, some of you heard about or experienced purple haze, or have listened to the song Purple Rain, but how many of you have ever witnessed a purple sky? Not many, and not that often, I suppose.

On one August afternoon (last year), as soon as the sun started to descend on the horizon, my husband and I watched the sky as it changed colors. The sky was splashed with shades of purple, fortunately for us, it was well captured by our ever-reliable point-and-shoot digi-cam. No alterations via Photoshop or other editing programs have been done in this photo.

The sunset was a perfect background for our dinner and set the tone for a wonderful, relaxing night. Beat that.

*** Perhaps due to differences in computer settings, the color might appear different when you view it in your monitor.


A weekend in Kep Malibu

I’m still here, folks, trying to accomplish many things despite the scorching weather.
Yesterday was the hottest. According to my landlady, the temperature inside her house reached 40C; outside, higher. Can you imagine? Hothothot. Adding insult to injury is the annoying brownouts at any time of the day and night, for several days now.

This morning, I made a bad decision of making a quick trip to the market for some supplies. It was around 11am, and the midday sun is hovering above my head. Even if the market is a mere less than a mile walk from the house, I took a motodup to avoid getting baked in the sun. My head felt like a radiator while I was outdoors and now I’m having a bad, bad headache. This year’s summer heat is a lot different than last year’s. It’s the kind of heat that penetrates and stays in your body (and head) all day long that all you want to do is submerge in a swimming pool. Good idea! A pool like this one:

malibu bungalows main

Tempting, isn’t it? This is actually in Kep Malibu Estates where we stayed the last time we were in Kep. It is one of the recent additions to the growing hotels/guest-houses/restaurants/pubs in town owned by barangs (expats). It is set off a dirt path from the main road and nestled at the foot of Kep National Park, and about a mile to Psah Khdam (crab market).

Rob's sweaty imprint It was our first time to stay there, in the Daling room  and we’re disappointed. Kep Malibu Estates is a lovely French owned/managed property in compound with a big swimming pool, restaurant/bar and a lush garden. I instantly liked the bungalow assigned to us – it was spacious with a stylish Khmer interior – and it comes with a mini-bar, hot water and television set. The bungalow was just a few steps to the swimming pool and there is a small but screened patio where you can sit and watch the swimmers. The catch was that they withheld a very important detail – the air con machine was very noisy during our stay there – the airconditioner made a loud whirring noises like a broken engine and automatically turned itself off and on again, you get the picture. In addition, it wasn’t working well at all. The room was still hot – here’s how the bed looked like (left) after my husband got up from bed after 30mins or so of watching the telly.

There was not much to expect from the free breakfast (well, what can we expect for free anyway?) so if you are a big brekkie person this is not for you. You’ll be disappointed at the depressing breakfast offerings My husband and I stayed in other ex-pat owned guest-houses in our previous Kep holidays and the breakfasts were far better than what we had in Malibu. The Khmer staff were approachable and quite nice actually but when it comes to the managers/owners, it was a different story, enough to make me say I won’t be getting a room there the next time we have a holiday in Kep.

Driving to Kep

Photo Hunt hangingIt’s been nearly a week now since coming back from our weekend getaway in Kep, and you know how the feeling goes after returning from a holiday. It’s always the case whenever my husband and I have taken a holiday, regardless whether it’s within Cambodia or overseas – coming back and resuming “normal” activities is just the hardest thing to do.

Although going to Kep was a very welcome respite from our daily grind, it was in fact, a decision made at the 11th hour. Paige, our trusty old Pajero, conked out two nights before the date we set to drive out to Kep. Dear husband was stressed out thinking that the weekend holiday would simply vanish into thin air. So after coming home from work Wednesday last week, he examined the leaking radiator and, after an hour or so of seeking advise from a mechanic, he set on to fix it himself. On the eve of our departure, I still didn’t make any hotel reservations yet (thinking we might not be able to leave after all) while Rob was working on Paige, soldering the holes of the radiator. Luckily, by 2am, he thought he was able to fix the leak but still needed to test drive to make sure everything was fine. Morning came with only a few hours to spare, Rob was still making last-minute checks on Paige. By 11.30am, Rob finally declared the car fit for a long distance drive (although there were still some leaks but they were manageable, he said) and we had to hurry pack our bags and drop Max and Joe at the vet’s clinic before it closed. We made it by a hair, so to speak!

To make the story short, we were on our merry way to Kep by lunchtime, and boy, little did we know of the surprise that awaited us. We were still chatty driving into the first 40 or so kilometers out of Phnom Penh. To go there, we took the national road number 3 to get to road number 31 — and much to our horror, we encountered  an arduous, back-breaking, butt-numbing drive straight into clouds of white dust.

Getting ready to drive through that cloud of dust.
This vehicle just came out of that cloud of dust. Too close. As you can see, the road is not even. we are tilted at about 20 degrees angle as half of my husband's side (driver's side) was over a foot lower than my side.
And this one, too.

My husband says it was like driving on a ramp of loose stones, and no, we hardly saw anyone, or any vehicle, coming out of the dust most of the time…

“Never again!”, my husband and I chorused.
Just before we reached the junction about 10 kilometers away from Angtasom, we heard an incessant honking of horn from a huge trunk behind us. We didn’t understand why, and when the truck overtook, we got nervous thinking we were going to be held up or something. But the guys in the truck were gesturing, something about the lights. so when Rob saw a spot he pulled over the side of the road to check.

Photo Hunt hanging

Turned out that the right fog lights fell off it’s mounting, poor Paige. One-eyed Paige 😛 Oh what fun! And that’s me in the car updating my status on FB. Although we arrived in Kep in one piece and enjoyed the two glorious days chillaxing at Malibu Estates and Bungalows (story in next post), we came back via national road 2.  Although it’s a route that Rob hasn’t taken before and despite some bumps in some areas, it was definitely a better choice than national road 3. We arrived safely in just over three hours, unscathed, to tell our story.