Tuesday, February 25, 2014

18. Krong Kampot

Strolling around town

Kampot is a lovely, quiet town, a two and half hour ride south-southwest of Phnom Penh. Of course, like all towns in Cambodia it is based on a French-designed master-plan. The city grid is rectangular with the addition of three focal points, the roundabouts in "Arc de Triomphe-style", just a little smaller in diameter. 

The Durian vendor, Durian: The King of Fruits.

The biggest, and most prominent one is the "Durian Traffic Circle", with a huge sculpture of the "King of Fruits" in it's center. The fruit is cultivated here, tastes absolutely delicious, but has a distinct foul smell which causes several airlines, offices or hotels in the region to display a 'No-durian sign', a pictogram of the fruit in a red circle, crossed out. Matt Damon in 'City of Ghosts' says to his driver when he loads three of the fruit in the trunk of the car: "Are they supposed to smell like that?" Funny.

The second roundabout shows a sculpture of the "Salt-worker couple"; salt, besides pepper and durian, is the one of the other products of the town and the region. Large salt flats extend from Kampot to the sea border.

Radiating out from the traffic circles are several roads which violate the grid; as a result the town has interesting city corners. A central wide boulevard is a little over-sized but is still a pleasant place to wander around.

The last element of the French city plan is a fabulous river promenade, just as beautiful as in Phnom Penh.

The river promenade, called "The Front"

Kampong Bay river

There is not much to do here, except for watching the river flow by, sipping a cold beer, or cocktail in the few bars along the riverside, or going motorcycling. A few minutes out of town, the river enters the National Park (50 cent fee), and one can swim and spend a day eating, drinking and swaying in an hammock. Wonderful.

As they say: Off the beaten path. Indeed.

Watch for passing geese.

Our bikes at Ganeesha resort.

The famous Cambodian red dirt.

Dennis, his girlfriend and myself took the dusty dirt-roads to a mangrove forest to have a beer at an absolutely unique, stunning place, the guesthouse "Ganesha", owned and operated by the cool Emanuel, a young Parisian and his French girlfriend (http://www.ganesharesort.com). Rooms in bamboo huts, with shared bathrooms, can be had for a little as $10/day.

To get there means crossing people's yards, a Muslim village, passing by a scenic mosque, and waiting until geese and water buffalo crossed the narrow roads.

Abandoned French-designed movie theater No.1

Abandoned French-designed movie theater No.2

There are two French-designed 1960s cinemas in town (St. 700 and the diagonal street to Phnom Penh, but unfortunately both are used as storage or as a car wash. (Movies are shown in town near the Old Market at "L'Ecran", but it isn't a cinema in a traditional sense.) 

Old Governor's Mansion.

Architectural highlights are the old Governor's Mansion (James Caan's house in 'City of Ghosts', now restored), some of the French shophouses on Streets 724, 700 and along the riverside. Architectural-engineering highlight is the so-called "Old Bridge", consisting of various engineering styles and materials.

The Old Bridge

Architecturally speaking, my favored building in Kampot is a piece of classic modernism, of course, the French-designed railway station (CFC, Chemin de Fer de Cambodge). Now defunct, a lonely guard watches the premises, and once in a while a rare freight train passes by. Passenger service seized to exists some ten years ago. (Also featured in 'City of Ghosts')

In the morning I met a group of Cambodian Harley Riders from Phnom Penh who just had breakfast. (https://www.facebook.com/CBCBiker,http://cambodiabikerclub.org) The club now has almost one hundred members, most of them engineers, entrepreneurs and government officers. Bernard, one of them and I chatted about all kinds of things. When I met Bernard after my return to Phnom Penh I asked him how the ride back to the city was and he told me that what would normally take about two hours this time was an six hour ordeal. Some of the riders contracted food poisoning while in Kampot and they had to interrupt their ride every 20 to 30 minutes to throw up or frequent the bathroom! Poor guys!

Kampot prison.

The town has other features worth mentioning: It is home to a prison, a beautiful, large lotus pond, locally known as the "Mosquito farm", hehehe, and the so-called "American Ponds", meaning the numerous round bomb craters (The U.S. forces dropped in 230,000 sorties three million tons of ordnance on around 230,000+ sites in Cambodia between 1965-73.)

Large Kampot lotus pond, called the 'Mosquito Farm'.

The prison is a high-walled French-designed building which has currently an occupancy rate of about 270%, which means without air-conditioning it can get somewhat cozy in there. One has to be good, since staying in this facility will be a challenge, also in light of the daily food ration, which is said to cost about 1000 Riel, for all meals (25 US cents). On a regular basis, there are between three to five Westerners using the facility for their long-term accommodation.

The first draft beer has arrived in bars in Kampot, but my favored one, CAMBODIA beer (Cambodian owned, whereas ANGKOR is Carlsberg and ANCHOR is Singaporean) comes in a can and tastes very good.

Wonderful Khmer food, especially I like the soups.

Food safety education posters such as this one are seen all over town:
1. Do not use rusty cans, 2. Do not use dinged cans, 3. Do not buy 'home-made' conserves, 4. Do not drink expired, warm milk.
But meat is still kept all day at the market stalls at 90+ F degrees, and last week three children of a rural family died  in Stung Treng Province of Bird Flu, since the dad prepared a chicken which died of natural causes; he didn't want to waste the meat, he said.

Last items, odds and ends: 
1. Cats are numerous around here and are born genetically stunted, their tales are. They are not mutilated in any way but born without much of a tale. French settlers introduced them, together with pigeons and sparrows, I guess they are rare, at least the gene pool seems to be small.
2. Coconuts. Of course vendors selling coconuts from carts are everywhere, and a freshly opened fruit is a fabulous drink. However, out in the countryside, also while sitting next to the rapids along the river in Kampot one has to carefully scan the area where to sit; Under no circumstance sit under a coconut tree. Falling nuts claim 600 lives each year in neighboring Thailand!

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