While Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville tend to top the tourist spots in Cambodia, I am rather partial to Kampot. I finally made my way down to the sleepy riverside town just before leaving Cambodia, and I’m so glad that I did.
One of my favorite days of my entire adventure in Cambodia was a tuk tuk tour between Kampot and Kep. I was fortunate enough to meet up with two friends, Rich and Ryan, who I had met back in Siem Reap last month, and the three of us had a blast exploring this beautiful stretch of countryside in southern Cambodia.
Our first stop of the day were the salt flats of Kampot. Salt is produced in four of Cambodia’s provinces, and these particular fields in Kampot produce 100-200 kilos of salt each week during the three-month season from January to March. We had the option of paying $3 to watch a movie about salt production but given that none of us were particular enthusiasts, we passed.
Next, we stopped in a fishing village. Sarkoun, our guide, explained that the fishing industry in Cambodia is comprised almost entirely of Muslims (who make up about 30% of the population). I couldn’t get an entirely clear answer as to why this is, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that Muslims do not raise pigs/eat pork. The fishing boats go out at night, during high tide, when they fish and catch crab.
After a long, bumpy, and beautiful ride…
…we arrived at caves which house a 7th-century temple. Given my unique talent for falling on slippery surfaces, I sent the guys ahead to spelunk and explored the outer edges of the cave myself.
There was also this gorgeous outlook from the top:
While driving to the next stop on our tour, our guide pulled over beside this serene spot known as “Secret Lake.”
Any notions of romantic mystery were quickly dispelled when he explained the reasoning behind the name. It is known as Secret Lake because during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, countless people were murdered and their bodies thrown into the water. The secret is that no one knows how many people were actually killed here.
It was a sobering moment, and yet another reminder of Cambodia’s very recent, very painful past.
We continued on for some time, before stopping at The Plantation. Kampot is probably most renowned for its pepper, and here we were able to walk through the fields and taste peppercorns straight off the vine.
These green peppercorns are boiled then dried, becoming the black or red peppercorns that you’ll find in your grinders at home. We also got to try long peppers, which are a little spicier.
That gorgeous flower is a lotus, which I did not realize is also a fruit (the green thing just to the bottom left of the flower). Sarkoun spotted it outside of the shop at the pepper plantation, excitedly picked it, and asked us if we had ever tried lotus before. I had seen them sold in markets around Siem Reap before, but had never tried one. So he cracked it open, showing us how to peel the pod away and get to the fruit. It tasted very…plant-like. Turns out I hadn’t really been missing out.
Before making our way back to Kampot, we stopped in Kep to have lunch. Kep is a seaside town known for its crab and seafood market, so we wandered through before grabbing a bite to eat.
The day ended with a windy walk along the beach – my very first since returning to Southeast Asia. I once again proved that it’s totally possible to get sunburn while it’s cloudy, and with that, we were on the road back to Kampot!