giovedì 31 ottobre 2013

Kep, the southern jewel

Happy Halloween everyone! There's never been a year when I felt the Halloween spirit less than this year... Oh well, it's not such a big loss, especially considering what I'm getting in exchange.
Today was my first day of actual Cambodian tour. Now, since I need to save every penny for my upcoming scuba instructor course, I will be living this experience in the cheapest way possible. Luckily it won't be the last time I'll be in the country, and the next time I'll have a job too, so for now I'll take this journey as a challenge to do and see as much as possible while spending close to zero.
It'll also give me a chance to understand where it's actually worth it to spend a couple extra bucks for some added comfort... First off: not tuk tuks.  They're stupidly expensive (at least they are expensive for my pockets, I guess they'd be cheap if someone is used to using taxis), and they take out all the fun from the actual journey  I'd much rather rent a bicycle for the day and enjoy the road (while also doing some cardio). That is, of course, if your destination is not on the opposite side of the province. In that case, your could consider renting a motorbike (still cheaper than a tuk tuk, even counting gas).
Anyhow, let's skip the rest of this endless preface and get to the facts: woke up, walked to the bus station (45mins, saved 2-3$), and took a bus to Keep. After 5 hours of a super (and I mean super) bumpy ride on a partially dug out dirt road, I got to my destination: a beautiful small town on the south coast of Cambodia, probably just under 30mins away from the Vietnamese border. Before Sohanoukville took over, this once was the preferred beach destination of many rich families in Phnom Penh and the rest of the inner parts of the country. The town itself is developed mainly along a single road which follows the perimeter of a small peninsula with a 263m high hill on the centre. All around the hill, almost all the way down to the sea you can find the primal forest of Kep's National Park, which I will visit later during the afternoon. But first I want to tell you  about the guesthouse I'm staying in.
I got off the bus in the central roundabout and got mobbed by tuk tuk drivers as usual. After I fought my way out I started walking towards my guesthouse, in the me, developing part of town. The road was longer than advertised on my guide but at least it wasn't boring, especially since I was accompanied by a group of monkeys for a bit :-P
After a half hour I finally got there: tree top bungalows. Now don't let the name fool you like I did... There are bungalows on tree tops, but those are the super fancy VIP 25$ a night ones... Not the lowly 4$ ones I went for. Those are plane and simple bamboo and straw bungalows on the ground. Still, the place is amazing, immersed in green and all built with natural materials... Not a trace of cement. After checking in and freshening up a little I rented a bike and went to the national park. The main circular trail was about 8-9km long and wide enough to travel easily by bike; from there, the occasional smaller, steeper and barely wide enough to walk on trails detached, some going towards the sea, while others going towards the hill summit. I still hadn't had lunch so I first stopped for a sandwich at a little bar at the beginning of the trail, called "Led Zep Cafe". There, I discovered that they're the founders of the Squirrel association (Squirrel ass. In short, lol), who cleared, opened and maintained most of the trails in the park. All along the trails they put up informative signs with interesting facts and numbers about the park, asking with maps, directions, distances, etc. A very well done job.
Following one of the smaller trails I found myself in front of a humongous carved tree with a shrine to Buddha on the inside. It looked like it hadn't been used for a while, judging from the rainwater in the offering bowls and the wet candles/incense sticks, but in a corner I found a plastic Tupperware with dry ones and a lighter. I lit a couple candles and an incense and made my way back to the main trail and my bike. By the time I finished visiting the park out was almost sundown so I went for a quick photographic tour of the coastline statues (giant crab, women looking into the horizon, etc) and went to the crab market area for dinner. I forgot to tell you before (or maybe I did in a previous post), but Kep is the city of crabs and, along with Kampot, of black pepper. 
I am now sitting in a seaside restaurant waiting for my plate of crabs with rice and black pepper sauce. I'm starving and I just can't wait for it to get here so I can devour it.

Until tomorrow...
Hugs

PS: first time blogging from my cellphone... this takes forever... Next posts will be shorter for sure!