It is low season in Southeast Asia. I thought I wanted to escape before then, before the torrential rains. It is a particularly dry year though, so it only rains for a few hours a day and not every day. Bad for the rice harvest, good for me. The low season does mean that business owners have a lot less customers and a lot more time to chat. For some reason, in Kampot that meant about twice a day I got asked “you are traveling alone?” It was nice to not be asked if and why was I not married for once, but this felt just as isolating. A small talk killer about three sentences in. At one riverfront restaurant I got approached by two separate waitresses who incredulously asked if I was alone before removing more plates from my table. They later giggled in a group behind me. Even some tourists looked at me funny, but I think that may have been my enthusiasm at eating the crab I had.
My experiences in this otherwise sleepy riverside and near ocean town quickly snapped me out of any self pity at my plight. I’ve had a ravenous sweet tooth that has been insatiable even when I’ve found tasty western style desserts. It led me to find the Epic Arts Cafe, an NGO run cafe staffed by deaf members of the community. The NGO also runs a community center that makes the special ed programs in my public schools growing up look unpolished. To have such great help for people with such things as down syndrome out here was not something I expected. The city is also full of blind massage parlors, which unlike my experience in China, actually appear to be staffed with blind people. I visited Srey Chan massage, run by a delightful old woman named Srey Chan out of her house. I wondered about the futility of changing behind a screen if my masseuse was blind, but the whole operation did face the street. I still find Cambodian massages a tad soft even if she was proud of how strong I had asked for, and it was a tad much on the butt and breast massages. However it was pleasant and relaxing, and she seemed like the nicest old lady. Encountering others with disabilities certainly puts a few bored locals constantly killing conversations by asking if you are alone into perspective.
Everywhere I’ve been in Cambodia has been near a waterfront of some sort and I greatly enjoy hanging out in the evenings watching the locals come out of sun hiding.
Locals and expats approach me to practice or get to use their English. Although scams exist along these lines in bigger cities, it’s usually just conversation. In this particular town I got scoped out by a young looking girl. It turns out she had just moved back from Malaysia, where she was a babysitter. Ah this is where cheap foreign help comes from. Her mother was sick and she wanted to be near her if she passed. The starting of a scam like story but luckily not. She at some point even told me never to give money to anyone in Cambodia who asks, she’s been mugged before like that. This is the second time on this trip a local girl has told me she’s been robbed or mugged places I’ve hung out, stop harassing young ladies bad guys! Although she spoke decent if spotty English she told me her lack of writing skills meant she was having trouble finding employment with high enough salary to buy her mother medicine. I hope this girl finds work soon, she sure was motivated. I handed her my entirely useless to me Lonely Planet Southeast Asia phrasebook and hope it helps her more than the little it’s helped me.
The nearby Bokor national park was a bust as my guesthouse staff had not warned me to take enough gasoline in the scooter, so I did not have enough to explore. The pouring rain and rampant foreign development put a dampener on things as well. What used to be rutted roads to see foggy ruins is now beautiful paved up to a garish Chinese casino and completely rebuilt structures. Luckily the rest of Kampot with it’s lovely slow pace was enough to relax me for days. They had great fruit shakes and friendly hardworking locals. The proximity to the deliciousness of Kep helps as well. I highly recommend the Kampot Pie and Ice Cream Palace (and guesthouse), run by a lovely Khmer lady who opened up without knowing how to bake and managed to have one Dutch visitor teach her everything she knows in a matter of two weeks. She learns fast because she has objectively great brownies and the best pies with homemade ice cream I’ve had in Asia. It is not a thrilling destination for those doing a rush tour of Cambodia but Kampot is a lovely place to be for those with a few days of relaxation in mind.