18 Feb 2014

A Cambodian Countryside Tour By Tuk Tuk

Our next stop after Phnom Penh was about five hours minibus ride south to the small coastal town of Kampot, which is famous for producing Kampot pepper. If you've ever eaten dinner with Vicky you’ll know she puts puts black pepper on everything, so we were both intrigued and looking forward to a taste of the worlds best! Plus, just under 30km along the coast is the quaint seaside village of Kep, the fresh crab here is proclaimed locally as the best in Asia! As we love our food, we were easily sold on a one day tuk tuk tour around Kampot and Kep.

kampot kep cambodia countryside tuk tuk tour

We used the uber cheap ($15/night) Ny Ny Hotel in Kampot as our base for our brief two night stay and organised a tuk tuk driver/guide for a countryside tour from the travel agency next door for about $35. Our guide Sumo was excellent - very friendly, knowledgable and he spoke very good English. We were sad to learn that he used to be a teacher in one of the local villages we passed through but he had to give it up because teacher salaries are so low at around $45 a month (ridiculous!), unsurprisingly there are many protests in Cambodia from teachers demanding more money.

a sea salt farm in kampot cambodia

Our first stop was to a sea salt farm which was very interesting, we learnt that farming sea salt is quite a simple process of drying out seawater in the fields over a period of few weeks before they  scrape the salt into piles ready to be iodised for consumer use. The price of salt fluctuates a lot throughout the year, unfortunately at the time we visited it was very low and the workers were only earning about a $1.50 for a 4 hour morning shift. The storage shed was also piled full of salt that they were waiting to sell, we were shocked that the farmer sells one big sack of sea salt for just $5. 

kampot countryside cambodia

Next we headed to Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, a set of caves harbouring some ancient temples and an opportunity to clamber about on the dark, wet rocks inside. We opted out of the extreme goonies-style route due to our flip flops, intimidating six foot drops and the fact our guide wasn’t exactly sure how to get to the exit.   

Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple Kampot Cambodia
"Hey you guys!"

Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple Kampot Cambodia
"Cow face."

The land around Kampot is very fertile and they farm many types of food from rice to peanuts, and pepper to sea salt. During our tour we visited Starling Farm pepper farm to learn how Kampot pepper is produced. Here they produce three types: white, black and red, and each type comes from the same type of peppercorn which starts off green. 

green peppercorns kampot cambodia

For white pepper they pick the peppercorn when its green (unripe) and peel it revealing the white seed inside, for black they also pick it when its green but leave the skin on and for red they do not pick it until the peppercorns are mature and have turned red which takes about nine months. All of the peppercorns are sun-dried (without a machine) until they crisp up to the desired colour. The peppercorns are grown on four metre high pepper plants which only produce peppercorns for two years, after this time they have to be replaced and start the growing process again, the farm we visited had over 300 pepper plants. After our quick peppercorn demonstration we headed up to the farm shop for a taste of the different types of pepper and bought some very spicy organic red peppercorns which were our favourite.  

kampot pepper farm cambodia

The Cambodian countryside is one of the most picturesque we’ve ever scene, its fairly flat and the colours are very vivid: red earth, lush green vegetation and a bright blue sky. It’s also very dusty so a face mask was essential when bumping along the dirt tracks between villages. The children we met were very excitable and sweet with conversational English, there is usually a school for them to attend daily (except Sunday) within a fifteen minute cycle ride of their home but not all children attend school as they can make money ‘working’, often as novice ‘guides’ at the touristy sights so just be wary of this, if you decide to use them you’re making them think they can do better without school. 

kampot countryside cambodia
"So colourful!"

The farm part of tour was really enjoyable for us as we knew very little about the processes involved. Who knew that peanuts grew underground?!

kep crab cambodia
"Welcome to Kep, I'll be your erm... lunch."

For lunch we headed to Kep’s famous crab market for a much anticipated seafood lunch, there are a row of 'crab shacks' along the seafront on stilts over the sea and we chose the oldest, most established Kimly restaurant. They serve the crab over 30 ways so we had a tough time choosing between dishes. 

kimly restaurant kep crab cambodia

After much deliberating we opted for Grilled Crab with Kampot Pepper and Stir Fried Crab with Lemongrass and Chilli - both were incredible, the crab meat was soft and delicious, easily falling out of the shell. Lunch was definitely worth the hype, so if you’re ever in the area and love crab don’t miss out!

fresh crab kep cambodia
"Grilled Kep crab with Kampot black pepper. Divine!"

Next we went to the small, sandy beach in Kep but didn’t stay long as it was 'under maintenance’, people were actually hand sifting the sand through sieves, no idea idea what was going on there! Instead we took a drive along the coast and saw the lots of families enjoying picnics, they don’t use picnic benches here its more like a one room beach hut without walls or a bamboo cabana. Cambodians love a good picnic so there are loads of huts along the promenade.

Our last stop on the way back to Kampot was a tiny fishing village and we got back to our hotel mid afternoon. Our tuk tuk tour was a fun and interesting way to learn more about Cambodian life in the countryside with plenty of delicious food along the way so we definitely recommend it. 

kampot fishing village cambodia

Evenings in Kampot are pretty tame and the town is a popular tour stop for organised groups of silver-haired tourists, we were definitely helping to bring the average age down! Restaurant options were not that inspiring and bordering on awful although the Epic Arts cafe which helps deaf, blind and disabled staff run the cafe is  a nice spot for brunch/lunch whilst supporting a good cause. 

The Kampot region also proudly grows excellent fruit including coconuts and mangos but they are most proud of their Durian fruit. If you’re not familiar with Durian, its the grossest smelling fruit with a spiky shell about the size of a watermelon, in Kampot the locals love it so much they have built a giant statue of one in the middle of a roundabout in the centre of town! Many hotels in Thailand will fine you if you dare to take one into your room as the smell is so pungent, we actually haven’t tasted one but we’ve definitely smelt it which is as far as we’re willing to go...

No comments:

Post a Comment