On October 9th, James and I crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. We caught the ferry to Ha Tien and then rode through to the crossing in a mini bus. I must admit, my anxiety flared up a bit at the thought of using a land crossing (and the fact that we had to leave a guy behind because he had over stayed his Vietnamese visa didn’t help) but other than it being quite time consuming, it all worked out fine and we arrived at our destination of Kampot by early evening.
I had read that Cambodia was slightly more ‘rough around the edges’ than Vietnam so I was always on the lookout during my stay but I never felt unsafe while in the south. The only place where I felt more unease was in the Capital, Phnom Penh (but that’s for a later post). Below is an outline of where we went and how long we stayed so that it can be used as a rough guide if needed.
Our first stop was Kampot. This little river side town came as a big surprise to me. It is full of British expats meaning that access to homely comfort food is easy! Our hotel even served beans, chips and cheese – a favourite of mine for particularly naff days.
We spent 3 nights in this town. On our first full day here we rented a tuk tuk (our first of this whole trip!) which took us to see a cave with a shrine inside, the ‘secret lake’ and a tour of a kampot pepper plantation known as ‘la plantation’. This trip took us around 6 hours and cost around $20 (which is the currency Cambodians take alongside riel). Some tuk tuks will also take you to Kep to try some of their famous crab but we ran out of time in the end. The day out was worth it nonetheless.
The following day we joined a small tour group to head up Bokor Mountain. This was my favourite experience in Kampot as the views were incredible and we were able to mingle with the other people in our group. On the way up the mountain, we stopped to look at the long ruined ‘Black Palace’ which was the former King’s holiday home. We also stopped to look at a statue of a mythical heroine named ‘Lok Yeay Mao’. I had a good laugh at how I had somehow managed to dress like her for my visit!
At the top of the Mountain is a Buddhist temple where Monks live and take care of the grounds. The views were great and taking inspiration from an Asian tour group, James and I decided to have a go at modelling. Much to our amusement, on our way down from the mountain we found out that our minibus driver was a fan of the Vengaboys as he blasted ‘Boom boom boom’.
We had a nice little surprise when we were being dropped off as the driver told us all that a sunset river cruise was included in our ticket and that we would be taken to see fireflies that evening. I couldn’t get any decent photos once the sun had set but it was a lovely evening, especially when music started playing and the boat was lit up. We were sat on the roof of the boat and as we sailed back to the dock we all had to lie on our backs as we went under the bridges across the river. Not something I think you could do in the UK but it made me laugh!
After 3 nights in Kampot we got on a minibus heading towards Sihanoukville but got off the bus on Otres Beach which is where we spent the next two nights. There wasn’t too much to do in this area except for chilling out by the pool or on the beach which was needed after a busy couple of days! I’d say that 2 nights was enough for this area, Sihanoukville is just down the road and is an area that a lot of people choose to stay but it’s a bit of a party area and I just wanted somewhere to relax.
Our last stop was an island just off the coast of Cambodia called Koh Rong Samloem. A lot of people head to it’s bigger brother Koh Rong which is considered more the ‘party island’. Koh Rong Samloem is described by anyone you ask about it as ‘chilled’ and I couldn’t think of a better way to put it myself. It’s a teeny tiny island with no wifi, basic ammunities and beautiful beaches. I was a bit worried when I first got off the boat at M’pai bay and saw all of the construction materials on the sand but once you walk 10 minutes down the bay it’s beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. The sand is white, the water is crystal clear and the area is surrounded by jungle.
On our last full day, we went on a 30 minute walk through the jungle to get to Drift Water Bay which was postcard picture perfect. I even saw my first wild monkey in the jungle surrounding the hoste where we stopped for a drink. During our last night, we waded into the sea with some friends and looked for the bioluminescent plankton in the sea. You had to wave your hands around in the water and the water would glow with balls of light! I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life and it won’t be anything that I’ll forget.
Leaving the island was sad, but I was glad to get back to an internet connection so that I could talk with my family. I’m a millennial who is dependant on the internet (and proud of it haha). All together we spent 8 nights in the south of Cambodia and they were exactly how I pictured my backpacking experience to be- exploring new cultures, making friends and visiting idyllic beaches.