March 2nd, 2019
My first impressions of Cambodia are quite simple: it is hot, it is dusty and the people are incredibly friendly. After crossing the border, I immediately find myself on a regional highway. It is flanked on both sides by dry, empty fields. To one side I see some hilltops in the distance, to the other only the horizon. That side is where the ocean is. I take a wrong turn and am delighted that it takes me past the grounds of a temple. I pause and admire the carvings, so different to the temples in Vietnam. I ride past a few rice paddies (the only bit of green I will see for a while) and as my engine roars, the buffalo in the paddy look up and swish their tails.
My first stop is a place called Kep. It is a seaside town that my friend used to make weekend trips to from Phnom Penh. He says it is lovely, and I have decided that lovely is just what I need. Having gotten so used to long riding days in Vietnam, this ride is almost hilariously short. Kep is only 23 kilometers from the border crossing station. The whole ride takes all of 45 minutes.
I check myself into a hostel and head straight to the Sailing Club to have a drink and watch the sunset. It is here that I learn an additional thing about Cambodia: it is expensive. Now, let me be clear here and say that it is all relative, and most things still don’t cost more than a few dollars. But as a backpacker on a budget who is used to spending as little as $1 on a bowl of pho, spending multiple dollars on a food item comes as a shock. Ok, moving on: Everything is priced in US dollars, with the Cambodian Riel being used mainly as change, so transactions suddenly include a little more math.
In spite of the prices, I decide to splurge this evening. I order a glass of wine, I eat an appetizer and a main dish. I order another glass of wine. Altogether I think I must spend about $30 that evening and though it is more than I’ve spent in a long time, I spend my time there happily, staring out at the sea while the sun sets.
After dinner, I wander around Kep a bit and find that though it is endearing enough, there is nothing about it that makes me want to stay any longer. I call it a night quite early and head back to my private room at the hostel to have a look at Google Maps and decide what my plans are.
The next logical place to stop is Kampot, and as a few people have mentioned it to me before, I decide to have a look at hostels there. And that’s when I find it: Yellow Sun Hostel Kampot. It is set alongside a river and looks to be a beautiful wooden construction. It has dorm rooms, private bungalows overlooking the river and a jetty with a bar and common area. I picture myself spending lazy days there, swimming in the river and watching sunsets. I book a room and decide that in the morning I will drive around Kep and then drive on over to Kampot.
Hilariously, the drive will take me only 35 minutes.