Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

We don't know what the coming year will bring, but let's be hopeful (for a few good motorcycle rides, too!) and optimistic (maybe a few New Year wishes will come true this year). 

I wish all my readers a happy, healthy and successful 2015!

Kampong Trach

A little difficult to find:
From Kampot, or Kep go East on Route 31, in Kampong Trach turn left into dirt road leading through a couple of small villages, maybe 1.2 km.

Kampong Trach is the small, lively center of the province of the same name. The province borders Vietnam; from the town to the border crossing it only takes a short ride over fair to good paved roads. 

The town itself is unattractive, dusty, and seems to be largely unplanned; everything is coated by the red dirt of the surrounding unpaved tracks. 

But the lack of scenic beauty isn't the reason why I came here. The attraction is a large limestone mountain which, -due to groundwater erosion-, has collapsed and left a huge hole in its center, overgrown by the jungle. The way to get to the hole is through a system of caves and narrow tunnels which are home to several religious shrines.

The entrance to the cave system

Light in the pictures is just from the kid's flashlights.

With my mild to moderate case of claustrophobia I am not particularly well suited to walk, or crawl around in tight spaces, but this cave system is worth it.

On my way there I pass tiny villages and in one of the closest to the caves the kids already started screaming and competing for my attention, waving their big flashlights. Everyone wants to be my guide. I decide to select a little girl, by the name of Map, she smiles and is friendly; however the other kids keep following us to the caves. Our little convoy, me on the big BMW, the kids on their bicycles make it to the site, the roads are rocky and rough, it is limestone territory.

After an hour or so in the caves and a drink I wave my tour guides Good By! and I am on my way back to the coast.

Salt worker statue

Rice harvest time. Lady spreads out the harvest to dry in the sun.

At a small landing pier I see monks boarding a small motor vessel. They will cross over to Rabbit Island to celebrate New Year. It is a nice and colorful image.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Kep (Pronounced like: 'Skype' with a 'K')

This is the last day of the year!

It can't get any more laid-back and quiet than here!

Kep, founded by the French as the future 'St. Tropez of South-East Asia', Kep-Sur-Mer, only better, bigger and more beautiful, is today a calm, relaxed and lovely town, spread out far along the beautiful coast, its landscape dotted by the ruins of grand French-colonial built mansions. It is close to the border to Vietnam, some 15 km away.

The natural beauty of the locale is stunning,

I am, however, also drawn here by the French developments, the ruins of the former French seaside extravaganza, shelled, bombed, and riddles by machine gun fire under the Khmer Rouge rule. The large French master-planned town could never develop into the luxurious resort is was meant to be. After the heydays of independence the French left in the early 1960s, The Khmer Rouge destroyed the little building and development which had occurred til then.

Cryptic graffiti

I went to see one of the very few almost finished mansions, probably the biggest and most splendid one, directly adjacent of the beach and on the main road. It is largely empty, some squatters occupy parts of the grand house; some of the folks who live here must be paid by somebody to take care of the beautiful large well-maintained grounds.

A fabulous mansion.

Is there food in Kep-Sur-Mer? Oh, yes, and delicious food too.

The pepper vendor lady.

My grilled shrimp with Kampot pepper sauce. Yum!

My tuktuk driver; he was selected because of his taste of clothing.

Wide, French master-planned avenues along the beach, almost empty.

Along the coast is the Kep seafood market where some twenty shacks offer the freshest and most amazing seafood; crab is king here, but everything else is available too. Preparations are typically steamed, or grilled, mostly served with Kampot pepper sauce and rice. Very good.