After a little over a week in the city, we decided we were ready for a little getaway to explore this new country we call home. Adam was also starting work the following week so we wanted to take advantage of the free time we both had. We decided to make our way to Kep which is a “sleepy” coastal town about 3 hours south of PP (the expat lingo for Phnom Penh). We had heard from Adam’s high school friend back in Illinois that they had a great time there and it had one of their favorite resorts.
With a little bit of research on different places, we decided to go on the cheap (and in the 8 point Booking.com rating range) and snagged what we thought was a pretty good deal for $40/night. Adam’s boss recommended a good “taxi” company (essentially a Toyota Camry) for about 40 dollars one way and with one phone call to our new go-to taxi guy named Vuthy, we were on our way.
With our green juices in hand (who knew they would be so plentiful here?!?), we managed to claw our way out of the city, despite the traffic. Once out of PP, all of the roads in the country are two-lane with no shoulder (think rural US farm roads) but in Cambodia there are motorcycles riding on the outside white lines going both ways and large trucks, sedans, and buses jockeying for position on the inside “two lanes” that can sometimes turn into 3 lanes. For me, the open road brings with it a peaceful curiosity and a chance to feel the freedom of evolving sights and sounds. After about 2.5 hours versus 3 (Taxi drivers take pride in early arrivals), we were at the hotel.
I will admit that on arrival Kep was not the crystal blue water tropical paradise you might be envisioning… The town was more a dilapidated mix of shells of old hotels, charming shacks on stilts and little local restaurants with hammocks for seating everywhere. We had to dig in a little bit to romanticize a sense of nostalgia at what this town once was, a getaway spot for the Cambodian elite before the Khmer Rouge came in and purposely destroyed everything.
Our little hotel spot was decent at face value but when you are greeted by an owner who sarcastically “welcomes” you and curses the cheap Cambodian owners in the first minute of your exchange, your sense of adventure slowly starts fading away to doubt. The hotel wasn’t too bad (Jax was being optimistic but Adam was thinking about no hot water, smelly towels, broken door, stains on the walls) but not necessarily a great starter to the romantic beach weekend we had envisioned. The rainy overcast day did not help either. Nonetheless, we were in a new place in the middle of SE Asia. Nothing could stop us from hopping on a moped and whizzing off in search of a sunset experience, whether it was a rainy one or not.
We buzzed around to check out Knai Bang Chatt, the place our friends had recommended. It was quite a gem! A look around that place + researching this ridiculously awesome new spot (with the help of this blog) + me attempting a moped for the first time and wah lah our spirits were restored. It’s interesting how sometimes even the smallest things like a hotel room can tarnish your view of some place new IF you let it. Day 2 we checked into the glorious new Veranda Resort and giddily soaked up the free 10 minute foot massage and multiple beautiful (and vacant) pools.
Here is our frolicking session once we figured out the bounty of our find.
The rest of the 3 day trip was a blur of food from the Holy Crab (the Crab Amok was divine!) and soaking up the rays.
On the way home, our Sorya minivan broke down. The driver (maybe 20 years old at most) started removing what Adam would call belts from the engine, hosing the engine down (presumably to cool it off) and tinkering with the engine. He finally found a mechanic shop and we sat around for 2 hours while two other guys (maaaybe 18 years old each) tried to get different belts to fit into the engine.. So, naturally, we opted to hitchhike home and for just another $5 each, we were back on the road in a large A/C bus and laughing with our new Austrian friends (a badass mom and daughter duo who had just traversed there way through Thailand and Cambodia).
Lesson #1 learned: always follow other travelers transport advice and lesson #2: Don’t let first impressions screw you out of a great adventure.
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” -Alain de Botton