I hate to say it, but Cambodia was not my favorite country. On a scale from 1 to 10, it was barely a 6. Not great, not bad. Just okay. Some countries just don’t appeal to me, for whatever reason. Southern Cambodia was really the only part I enjoyed. The rest of Cambodia was lackluster for me, and to be honest, I could have spent less than a week there instead of the two weeks that I idled around. Maybe it was the food, the culture, the people… who knows. But Cambodia as a whole didn’t have enough ‘oomph’ for me. Luckily the south was my saving grace.
Kep, a small fishing town in the south, was a pleasant surprise. I was staying in Kampot, a town which was really giving me nothing, and decided to take escape to Kep, about 30 minutes away. The only thing I knew about the area was its crab speciality, so after wandering around looking at French ruins and the beach, I made my way over to the crab market. This was definitely the liveliest part of town, with people everywhere grabbing at squids, shrimp, and octopi for sale. Huge bags of salt, pepper, and dried shrimp sat around. The smells were overwhelming— in a good way. I was really hungry, but had no idea how to even make a purchase or get some cooked crab for myself. Noticing my confusion, a local woman pointed at a huge crate of crabs that’s being emptied out, making an eating motion with her hands. I nod excitedly. She says “1 liter,” and I say yes, not even knowing how much crab that exactly it is. It’s a lot.
One of the women starts dragging a crate full of crabs from the ocean to the dock. That is exactly how fresh these crabs are. I trade her about $8 for my liter of crab and take it the next woman, who cleans them up for me. Then on to the next lady, who cuts them all up.
My crab finally makes its way over to a man who takes care of the final step. In a huge wok, he steams up the crab, throwing in green onions, tons of local Kep pepper, and pounds of this amazing red sauce. I can’t describe to you how good this crab was. The entire experience contributed to how wonderful it was— from ocean to table, in less than 10 minutes. The whole farm to table concept back home has nothing on this.
I was nearly late for my bus back to Kampot from Kep because I was still eating (nothing new), so I run over to the bus stop, only to find the bus hasn’t arrived yet. Instead are a ton of Cambodian tuk tuk drivers sitting around listening to loud American hip hop. I am so into this, and I sit in the tuk tuk with them, chatting them up and taking selfies. By the time the bus arrives about an hour later, I’ve learned all about their favorite songs, children’s names, and life stories. I say this over and over again, but things always work out. It’s always a better experience when the bus doesn’t show up.
Koh Rong Samolem
I had heard terrible things about Sihanoukville in Cambodia, so I decided to just skip the grimey town and head straight for the islands. Multiple people advised me to just go to the small island, Koh Rong Samolem, instead of the party island, Koh Rong. Seeking isolation and relaxation instead, I heed their advice, arriving on the island hoping to find a place to stay. Initially I was looking for a hostel, but this island really had nothing. I run into an Australian guy working at the end of the island called Dolphin Bay, who convinces me to just camp on the beach. I think why not, camping on the beach in Cambodia sounds like an experience. Luckily, I’m not disappointed!
I’ll be honest, one of my reasons for coming to Koh Rong Samolem was to find bioluminescent plankton. I’d seen them once before in Point Reyes in the sand, but I’d never seen them in the water. I wanted to swim and be surrounded by glowing sparkling light! At night, I head into the water with my friend until we find an area that is isolated from the light. We plop down into the water, waving our hands around making as much motion as possible. At first, there’s nothing, and then it’s everywhere. There’s something about light up organisms that makes you feel like a kid again. It’s just pure magic. We sit there for an hour, stupidly splashing around, completely entranced in the sparkles of light.
The island was the perfect place to get away from it all and just detox for a bit. No wifi, no people, no noise. Just the stars and the ocean. The people at Dolphin Bay were remarkable, and in the 4 days I spent there it felt like we had become a little family. I can see why for some people days turn into weeks, and weeks into months. It’s hard to leave the slow and easy island life. Puppies, babies, cocktails, the softest sand, and a tent on the beach. What else do you need?