Next stop in Cambodia (after we’d eventually prised ourselves away from Pappa Pippo) was Kampot – a couple of hours on the bus from Sihanoukville through flat, fairly monotonous scenery consisting mainly of crop fields and rice paddies.
After checking into our guest house (and spending a brief but exciting half hour trapped in the toilet when the door broke), we headed out down the main road to eat some delicious Amok curry before taking in the riverside sunset (and happy hour) at a local bar.
Kampot is home to a thriving, friendly expat scene of NGO workers and local business owners, and we found it easy to meet and chat with people. The Ecran movie house (also home to excellent dumplings) was hosting its inaugural comedy night, which may become a regular event, so it’s worth popping in to see. The comedians were a mix of expat locals and a Canadian comic who was hilarious (aren’t they always though?).
Mindful of my last encounter with the Khmers, I vowed to do better in Kampot and to be more aware of leaving a good impression of travellers. Thankfully, Kampot offered us a couple of opportunities to do just that.
The next morning we went for breakfast at Epic Arts cafe – a cafe run and staffed by deaf and physically impaired Khmers. EPiC stands for Every Person Counts, and they are striving for a world where disabled people are valued, accepted and respected. A commendable philosophy in any part of the world, but in a developing country such as Cambodia, providing meaningful employment to disabled people also helps them to independently earn a living in a country with few safety nets for the vulnerable. Happily, contributing to this worthy social enterprise isn’t a struggle – the food is fantastic. In addition to feeding the masses, EPiC also provide free sign language classes on a Friday afternoon (tourists are welcome) and sell lovely handicrafts and great quality clothing, so Craig added a t-shirt to his rucksack.
Full up on Eggs Benedict, we took a walk up to and through the local market, which was a mix of the usual fruits, meats and random stalls who specialised in one niche, such as miniature temples for offerings or duvet covers. There wasn’t much in the way of tourist souvenirs (actually, there was nothing in the way of tourist souvenirs) so to Craig’s relief we headed back for a walk down the riverfront empty-handed. We did, however, stop in at the central market to buy some famous Kampot pepper, a locally made scarf and a frankly inexplicable model of a boat as presents for Craig’s family.
Loaded up on local handicrafts, we headed to Seeing Hands V – a massage centre where the masseuses are blind or visually impaired. Cambodia has a massive epidemic of blindness – over 1% of the population have visual impairments, and a significant portion of that 1% is caused by accidents with the land mines that continue to plague the country.
We donned some very attractive one-size-fits-all cotton scrubs, lay down and had our aches and strains pummelled and pulled out of us. The hour-long massage cost us $4 (plus a small tip for the masseuses) and we also got the nice glowing feeling of being part of viable employment for a vulnerable group of people who otherwise may struggle to find work. An absolute bargain.
Our final treat in Kampot was dinner at the Rusty Nail – a local institution known for its ribs. I’m not a huge fan of ribs normally (much like crab, the work involved/meat obtained ratio is too off for my liking) but these could have come from a dinosaur – they were enormous, meaty and cooked to perfection. I think Craig liked them too…