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A weekend trip to Kampot, Kep, Koh Tonsai (Rabbit Island) and points in between

July 24, 2004

by Jim CA2

Needing a break from the Phnom Penh scene, Kampot and Kep seemed appropriate as they sit just an easy three hours away. After a few rough bike rides, I needed something a little less strenuous and relaxing while still taking in some new terrain and sights. I try to draw a new line (no matter how small) on my road map every time I leave the city, and this time it would be road 31 south off of the 3. As usual, it takes me a little longer to get my motor running so an 11 am start was in order.

My partner and I headed south on the 2 towards Takeo which has been repaved recently. Just prior to the turn off to Phnom Chissor about 45K away we made a brief stop at the 10th Century ruins of Prasat Neang K’mal. I had been here before but lacked photos so this was my opportunity. Located in the back of a wat complex on the east side of the Highway 2, two prasats sit facing east. Click, click and on the road again.

At Takeo the road splits, Highway 2 veers left to Takeo, and Road 22 cuts west to Highway 3. This is a great alternative when heading to Kampot province due to the condition of Highway 2 and the 22 is much better to drive on instead of heading west through the Phnom Penh traffic past the airport to hook up with the 3. We made a left at the Tela gas station and headed south on the 3 about seven kilometers where the road splits. Highway 3 goes right and the 31 is left.

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I was expecting some small country road trails through villages, however there is an aggressive road project under way widening and potentially paving the 31. Simultaneous work is taking place on the 3 as well. I suspect there is a pent up demand to get down to Kampot and Kep without getting the new land cruisers dirty hence the funding for the new roads. On the return I took the 3 back to Phnom Penh and with more traffic and trucks, it was a lot dustier than the 31. Upon completion of the roads, the trip should be pretty quick, though plagued with more idiot shared taxi drivers, and more deaths.

Along the 31 we crossed the railroad tracks to Kampot two times; once just prior and just after going through the town of Tani. Also, after Tani there is a nice little wat on a hill with beautiful paintings inside. You can drive up to the wat but we chose the stairs to ascend to find some picturesque views of the countryside and the adjacent mountain range. The 31 will take you through Banteay Meas before you finally hit the junction for the 33 to Kampot. The road dead ends here and the road construction makes it pretty obvious. Heading west we stopped in Kampong Trach.

There is a nice cluster of mountains north of Kampong Trach that is sacred to the locals. Just past the bridge coming through Kampong Trach take the first right and the road will bring you to a wat complex surrounded by rocky peaks that jut into the air. Below the rocks is a network of caves and caverns and the locals have also constructed shrines with Buddhas. A couple of nice ladies took us on a tour through the caves with torches fueled with some kind of toxic substance. Within the confines of the caves they pointed out rock formations of a turtle, an elephant and many other things I couldn’t make out. I suspect either they were smoking something stronger than my Marlboros or it's been too many years of inhaling their torches.

We were able to travel approximately 25K to Kampot and arrive before dark. The 33 is also undergoing a widening project. This nice little southern dahling route from Phnom Bayong will never be the same. In Kampot we stayed at the Borey Bokor for 10 bucks a night. AC, cable hot water, and motorcycle parking. The Sen Monorom offers rooms with the same amenities from 8-13 dollars. There is a good restaurant off of the main traffic circle with good value. This time however I tried the Rivers Edge Restaurant. Nice to sit on the water, but the fried pork ribs were more batter and bone than pork meat. The old Marco Polo Hotel on the riverfront has been taken over and is now the Bokor Mountain Club. There were a few people drinking there, but the Tukralok stands had a lot more atmosphere and the girl was more than happy to mix our Mekong Whiskey with our fruit shakes. We contemplated whether or not the weathered cinema across the street actually had chairs or bleacher seating.

The next morning we headed back on the 33 towards Kep Beach, but took a slight detour to Phnom Chhngok. About 7K outside of town the road Vs and we headed left into the countryside. The road crosses the railroad tracks, passes a small marketplace, then goes into a small mountain. We followed the road left for another 3 to 5 K towards another mountain to an entrance to a wat. Behind the wat we picked up some easy single track through rice fields to the mountain. We had a guide take us up stairs to Prasat S’lok located inside a high ceiling cave. The guide had said the prasat was 1400 years old. Though smaller, it was similar to the 10th century structures at Neang K’mal. Bats flew overhead as I snapped off a few pics. We gave our guide a couple thousand riel each, though I have heard that sometimes there is a dollar entrance fee. Been there done that got the T-shirt it was time to hit the beach.

We got to Kep Beach around noon and started hitting the boat operators to take us to Koh Tonsai (Rabbit Island). The guys off of Kep Beach with the smaller speed boats wanted 15 bucks. We could do better. Past the beach and towards Kep Town there is an old pier where there is a customs and immigration office. Here we locked our bikes parked under a tree with the customs officials. We were able to get a wooden boat for 10 bucks. This guy made out as he was on a vendor delivery run anyway bringing beer, ice, and supplies to the island. He was already a little hammered and now would have enough cash for his next buzz. Traveling about 15K an hour we hit the island in about 20 minutes. The beach is typical tropical island settings. Long and lined with coconut palms. The sand isn’t as white as other beaches but the water is crystal clear and the jungle covered mountains provide a nice back drop to the coconut palms. There were vendors on the island with ice cold beer. By 4 PM our boat operator had slept off his drunk and we were ready to leave. We shoved off and were pleased to see our bikes where we left them. We gave the customs guys a couple thousand riel for watching our bikes and he seemed pretty grateful.

Before leaving Kep we treated ourselves to some fresh crab. They keep them live in cages off the water. 12,000 riel per kilo, grilled chicken & squid on a stick, rice and a few Anchors, put the total tab at about six bucks. We left Kep at dusk and we were happy to have proper eye protection for the bugs that were out in force back to Kampot.

The next morning my partner and I parted company. Despite wanting to take alternate Route 124 north I opted to continue on the 3 for reasons of stopping at a particular sugarcane drink vendor near the town of Noreay. I had stopped there before and the vendors sister is missing an arm and has a prosthetic leg. I was able to find the house but no sugarcane drink as the road widening has created a dustbowl along the roadside. They had remembered me from my previous journey and I purchased a coconut instead for the windfall amount of 10 dollars. It should help until the road gets done.

I made my way to Highway 2 and a brief stop to the Prasat at Tonle Bati to see some long time friends before finally rolling back into Phnom Penh in time for a late lunch. – Jim CA2



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