Our Pchum ben holiday was altered slightly by the arrival of a tropical storm. Rain like I’ve never seen before and wind much like the anger of a thunderstorm at home forced us to chill out at our hotel, eat dinner in the dark and be disconnected from the web for most of the night. In all honesty, the weather was not so concerning because of years of summer vacations at my families cabin on Crane Lake. Surrounded by simple accommodations we had only our friendships and a couple of card games to keep us entertained, it was angry outside but the three of us laughed and enjoyed the games. The following morning we set out to explore the area. The storm had not completely passed but it was calming down quickly.
All over town, like in the city there is clear evidence of humanities stupid and arrogant love affair with single use plastic (single use anything really). The more I travel and the more I see of our amazing world the more I am angry that single use remains an option. I am not perfect, but when I see things like this photo on the right, the white is not sea foam it is garbage mostly single use plastic bottles and containers I am pushed to do more. Enough of those depressing thoughts, back to travel.
Our guide and driver was a local fellow who normally makes his living touring people around his home community. With COVID he has been forced to quite his French lessons and take a construction job to provide for his family. We were lucky that he was not working this job and that he was generous enough to offer his services on this special holiday. In all honesty, he probably made more offering us this tour than he normally would in a week or more of working construction. The fact that as expats I am part of a very privileged segment of society is never really far from my mind.
We started out tour along the waterfront, wind, water and waves still raging. Kep, being most well known for its crab market has a cute little ocean statue of a crab for us to pose in front of as we headed out of town towards the salt pans.
Kep crab statue on the waterfront
Waterfront with storm waves
Garbage on the shore, so much it almost looked like seafoam
The history of Cambodia is also very evident here. When Cambodia was a French Protectorate there was a great deal of development here. The Europeans built villas and grand homes in this seaside village thinking to grow and develop it into a sort of Cambodian riviera. The place was quite a destination for many years. This town, like so much of the country suffered great losses during the Khmer Rouge government. Kep and its European grandeur was a symbol to a way of life despised by Pol Pot so during the fours years of his power these buildings were gutted. All over town we could see the shells of these buildings. In some places the jungle was taking back the land, in others you could see the poor and homeless squatting.
Our driver explained that most of these properties are not owned by locals, that as foreign and rich developers decide to build a new hotel, resort or shopping these ghosts of the past will be lost. I hope that the town is able to preserve some of ruins as a memory to what took place here.
The home of the King when he would visit Kep
We left town and came upon an area that seemed more desert like than coastal. Ditches and shacks surrounded large flat areas full of water. No one around at all as it is the rainy season and no salt is produced. Salt production occurs only in the dry season when the water is given the chance to evaporate. We stopped by one of the salt sheds and hesitantly took a peek inside. It was somewhat like a barn but no funny smells or animals. Upon reflection, my fear of critters was really quite sille even bugs can’t live in a saline environment like this.
The process was explained to us. In the early days of the dry season workers will flatten the pans rolling by hand concrete rollers over the clay. ditches and channels for water are repaired and everyone gears up for a couple of months of backbreaking physical work. The first harvest takes about 10 to 12 days then the pans produce salt at a 7 day interval. Workers with rakes and baskets gather the salt and store it in these sheds until trucks come to take it to a refinery where impurities are removed, salt is packaged and readied for sale.
Salt pans and sheds
Salt pans and sheds
Salt pans and sheds
inside a salt shed
Small baskets left behind from the workers
Roller used to flatten the pans
Our tour also took us past these swallow homes. These buildings are fitted with artificial swallow song loud speakers, beckoning the birds to come nest inside. These nests are then harvested and sold, at ridiculously high prices, to countries like China as a delicacy. I have to admit that while I had heard of this delicacy I truly thought it was some kind of noodle soup not actual birds nests. My western-centrism showing clearly.
We continued along and passed a fishing community. we could see the boats anchored in the bay as the sea was still to angry for people to head out. Then we drove through the village. These people have so very little while my heart was breaking for them the children playing tells me that they are able to find happiness in some simple ways.
Bird nest barn/farm
Local fishing boats
Home of a local fisherman and his family
Turning away from the coast we headed inland up the hills to the local Pagoda. I am sorry to say that I can not tell you much about it as out guide stayed with his tuk tuk and the little signage there was was all in Khmer. Like all churches and religious sites I have seen they have a serenity that speaks to me. The iconography different that I am used to was interesting and strange. Naga heads at the bottom and top of railings with the snake body running the length. Hippo statues flanked the stairs like ferocious guards of this jungle sanctuary.
Stairway up to the Pagoda
Naga head at one end of a railing
I am loving the naga ornamentation
Inside the Pagoda a main centerpiece looked like many other religions altars. Figures of the Buddha, candles and golden ornamentation was beautiful to look at. The walls were covered with paintings depicting what I can only assume as stories or teachings from Buddhism. In Europe I was getting fairly good at being able to tell what the stained glass and iconography was trying to tell me, here I was at a complete loss. I certainly felt like I need to read and research further with some of my free time here.
The altar inside the Pagoda
Paintings on the walls inside the Pagoda
The jungle creeping over the the stairs to the top of the hill
I also wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share with you a few of the critters we came across on our walk in the jungle. All interesting in their own right we watched the snail moved down the railing edge to the underneath of the stone handle his large yellow shell dangling from his body, incredible the adhesiveness of the body to the stone- isn’t nature just grand!
Caterpillar of some kind…maybe?
Millipede not small, huge, you could BBQ this guy
Our last stop before heading home was the crab market. We had stopped in the first day, but did not walk to the very end and see the best part! Here you can see the crab traps in the water, the fisherman hauling them in, passing them to their wives to sell in the market. We watched several negotiations and I can assure you of the freshness of the merchandise. Squid and shrimp of all kinds were also on offer. Once you made your purchase you could have your food cooked for you at the end of the dock. Having enjoyed crab at dinner the first night in town we did not partake in this exchange. The crab while excellent was so small it was really a pain to eat. The market also offered for sale smaller shrimp and fish in various salts and seasonings.
Looking down the dock at the market
Watching a sale negotiation take place
Crab traps still in the water within view of the dock
Noodles with seasonings, fish, shrimp and sauce
Salted and dried fish and shrimp
Have your meal cooked for you right where you bought it
We left the market and headed to one of the sea side restaurants that our driver recommended. There we enjoyed a great meal. We had seem one several menus morning glory and decided to give it a try. My experience at home was telling me to expect the stems and flowers of the garden plant I know. Rather it was more like a spinach-leek-green onion like green with oyster-soya-garlic sauce. The light coating and quick cooking meant that the greens were not soggy or over salty. Just a perfect crunchy fresh flavour of good green veg. I have since learned that there are in fact three different kinds I can buy in the market, I will have to ask my local friends the right words for the best kind to buy and learn how to cook this at home.
Seaside dining experience
Looking down at the other restaurants
Morning glory greens for dinner
Kep had lots to offer us and I will happily return and share this little town with friends from home when the borders open. There were other things to see and do, but time is always short when you are exploring. Now that we have hit Canadian Thanksgiving it is time to gear up and plan the next adventure! Off to the north we go! Stay tuned.