Lacy: One of our favorite things about the way we are traveling SE Asia is the flexibility of our schedule. The only thing we have needed to plan around is our VISAs and that’s not difficult at all. We began with a 1 month commitment to be in Indonesia working on ecological housing on the small island of Kenawa, but entered the country with a 60 day VISA if we decided to stay longer. 3 months later we actually left Indonesia with a day’s notice and wound up here in Cambodia. We really have very little plan for this country except to travel north from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and explore the cities, villages, mountains and beaches along the way. Every day is a new one and can change at a moments notice. We thought we would leave for Kep the day before we actually did, but upon waking up late (we are really only good at getting up early when we absolutely have to catch a ferry, bus or boat) we opted to stay a day longer in Phnom Penh. After a four hour morning bus ride we arrived in the hub of Kep, a coastal town known for its shoreline, crab and seafood market. It’s quiet here this time of year and a few shops have already closed due to the beginning of rainy season. We like it quiet. Our first afternoon we rented a scooter and checked out the crab market. Being the weekend, the market was the busiest place we have seen in town and Rob wasn’t in the mood to have the vendors hawk their goods at him so we quickly left and found a cold beer and excellent view of the water in a quieter scene. Rob got a huge bonus at the hotel when we realized that he could watch the World Cup in the room. The channel was a little fuzzy, but he was a happy guy!
Rob: It was so nice to have 2 wheels underneath us again as we headed out into the Cambodian countryside. As soon as we turned off the paved road, we drove right into agrarian village life. The first thing you notice here is that the cows are different. They are all large pure white Brahmas. It’s a sharp contrast to the lush green rice fields. We don’t see a lot of goats here like we have been accustomed to seeing. With rivers and the sea having such a dominant influence in this southern part of the country, there is so much fresh fish that it is the staple in your diet here along with rice, of course. I’ve had at least 1 version of Amok, the coconut fish curry, every day since we have been here. #FishCurryObsession🐟🍚❤
We arrived at La Plantation after about an hour’s ride. It is a massive Pepper Farm in an idyllic setting tucked in-between small coastal mountains overlooking a lake. It is only a few years old but the all wooden open Plantation house is architecturally stunning and beautifully built in the old local style. It overlooks blocks and blocks of trussed pepper plants that stand about 10’ high each. In between these vineyard looking plots, there are rows and smaller plots of Passionfruit, Dragonfruit, Pomegranate, Mango and Papaya trees. As you look down the hillside toward the lake, you see the rice paddies literally growing up and out of the water’s edge. It was a really stunning movie-set-like feeling.
As we looked out over the vista, a moment of cool breeze blew through the front of the building. It ruffled a menu that caught my eye. I saw that there are 2 restaurants on the Plantation and you could have a glass of wine at the main house while you waited for your tour to begin if you liked. In true Romero style we ordered a bottle of French Rose’. It wasn’t expensive and was a nice light variety of the type that Lacy calls “Breakfast Wine”. It was a perfect fit for the moment.
We started our tour with a Water Buffalo Cart ride. It was a quiet slow motion ride behind 2 exceptionally big and strong Buffalo. They bumped and plodded us along through the Plantation and down through the rice fields. Our cart driver picked a fresh ripe papaya and cut it up for us to eat along the way. Soon we had to put our feet up on the seats of the cart as we traversed from one rice field to another going through water about 3-4’ deep. It was a very unique view and experience for sure.
Next we headed into the farm with our guide who spoke both English and French. He was very eager to help us understand as much as we wanted to know about pepper farming. What I didn’t know, but soon learned, was that Green, Black, Red and White Peppercorns all come from the same plant but their maturity and processing are what differentiates their taste and color. We tried some the maturing peppercorns right from the plants in the field. We both appreciated the organic manner they ran such a large farm very much.
Kampot Pepper is one of just 2 regions in the world with an Agriculture Standard and Controls just like Wine from Bordeaux or Napa Valley would have. The owners of such a large operation have also invested in the community by building 2 Elementary Schools and providing scholarships to Secondary Schools as well as subsidies for housing and healthcare for their workers. Pretty great for us to see in person knowing what this region has gone through in the last 40 years.
After spending 4 hours at the Plantation including an amazing lunch, we went about 30 minutes deeper into the countryside. Our destination was a series of ancient caves including a small Temple within them that has been in use for 1200 years. Our 7 and 8 year old guides showed us the landmarks in the main cave that lead to the hidden Temple. It was made of carved stone, ancient brick and definitely showed building, rebuilding and restoring processes spread out over a very long span of time. It made me wonder if it’s natural survival was due to its location and constant use only by generations of local people who maintained it. Our guides showed us one cave trek we could take that would be about an hour through the caverns. We opted for the “easy” route out that still took us 15 minutes of very careful climbing from handhold to foothold through dark bat filled chambers and finally out an unmarked exit. It was a great side trip that let my imagination run wide open thinking about who would have known and kept the secret of the little Temple in their family or village for so many hundreds of years before making it public only recently for people like us to see and appreciate.
Lacy: Monday morning we planned to get up early (always a pipe dream for us), hike the National Park and make the 1pm boat to Rabbit Island nearby where we planned to stay a few nights. The 6:30 alarm came and went and when we finally started to walk out the door for our hike at 8:30 it began to rain. Luckily, it passed quickly and we were still able to make our “hiking date” happen. Since we move with the wind, and adapt easily, we quickly decided to take the boat the following day to be able to take advantage of a longer hike and the World Cup game that evening. Rob had read up on the trail and out hiking options in the park. With an elevated view that overlooked Kep and Kampot we began the ring road of the park. Surrounded by lush foliage, tangles of tree root vines and serenaded by passing birds we settled into our happy place together. The ring road itself is a flat easy trail, but naturally we craved a little more. Rob took us on a traverse trail that cut though the middle of the parks jungle. This part of the trail was very obviously rarely used as it was overgrown and reclaimed by the jungle. We forded through the trees and plants until we reached a very steep rock scramble that would bring us up the final bit of the 200 meter ascent to the summit. Using knotted ropes that hung down to assist in climbing this narrow the gorge, we were both dripping sweat. In area without the rope I lay on my belly in the dirt planning each handhold and foot placement ahead of me so as not to slip down from where I just came. Some of it was slippery and my bun kept getting tangled in the the low lying vines, but our adrenaline was pumping and we were so in our element. There was no one else around us and when we stopped to listen to the jungle around us we could hear monkeys in the trees above. I had hoped to see one, but no such luck. Rob was beaming when we reached the top and his healing foot didn’t seem to be bothering him much. The trail back down the other side was a piece of cake in comparison. Five miles later and covered in sweat, we hit the outdoor seafood market next for lunch.
Fortunately, being a weekday, it wasn’t crowded at all and Rob was able to stuff himself with shrimp, octopus, squid, rice and chilis until he felt about to flop over. I loved hearing him say what a great day he was having as we cleaned up our table and paid the lovely lady who fed us. After a nap back at our hotel we found ourselves back at the restaurant down the street. Walking in, we recognized a motorcycle we saw in town the day before that has a luggage rack on the back. Any bike that seems likely to hold us and our backpacks catches our eye. We spent the next few hours inside making friends with a Canadian couple, Evan & Jessa, who bought the bike in Vietnam and just entered Cambodia after riding for 3 months there. The four of us shared travel stories and it was readily apparent that we all have a similiar sensibility when it comes to travel. We have said it before, but the people you meet when traveling are really amazing and help make your trip so special. We all plan to meet again here in Cambodia as we are traveling in the same general direction and enjoyed our evening together.