Well…. Winter quarter ended a few weeks ago, and after turning in most of what I was supposed to, I jetted to Colorado to use the days at Mt. Crested Butte on my Stevens Pass season pass. I got to hang out with one of my best friends from high school, and ski on Rocky Mountain powder for the first time in years… It was a confusing trip since I had convinced myself that I loved the PNW, but it helped me remember that Colorado is my heartplace, and there is no comparison.
March 23rd I took off for Phnom Penh to spend the term with professor Ben Spencer of the University of Washington, and five other graduate students in landscape architecture (more about that later). After landing, and going through the oddly casual Cambodian visa and customs procedure, I dropped most of my baggage at the professor’s house and hit the road with two other students for Kampot on the Preaek Tuek Chhu River. It is a more rural city and province known for their pepper farming! So, to clarify, I went from this:
Not a bad time…. But a stark transition nonetheless. We stayed in the beautiful Makk Hotel, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The service was impeccable and accommodating and the place was designed by the owner, who is an architect trained in Phnom Penh.
We bopped around town for the first evening, and quickly realized that this sleepy town had a beachy vibe which was attributable to the many Western travelers that had passed through and simply made it their permanent vacation, opening bars, coffee shops, restaurants and even climbing operations to eek out a living. We booked a climbing/caving excursion, rented motorbikes, and took off early the next morning.
I know… I’m the coolest….
Vicious moto gang
After hanging a left from the main road (paved by Chinese investors in the last few years), we drove for about 20 minutes on dusty dirt roads to the climbing spot. Russ and Grayson suited up and did some intense climbs inside limestone chimneys while local guides berated them to climb harder, faster, and to ‘kiss the metal!’. I screwed up my feet skiing and wasn’t in any position to cram them into climbing shoes, so I elected for the mellower ‘cave exploration’.
Grayson, communing with nature
After climbing up a less-steep face, a Norwegian, two Swedes and I, did a little abseiling down into the cave.
View from the top of the climb…. All this used to be jungle, but unfortunately because of Cambodia’s lack of regulation (or stable government after being subject to decades of violence and instability) it was logged and exported.
This is my ‘seriously dude, quit telling me to smile’ face after the guide hassled me while I was trying to concentrate on not falling into the abyss.
We clambered around in the caves and popped up for air every so often…
We got to hang out at this cheery cave temple honoring a happy sleeping Buddha for a moment; view from the temple below:
After climbing for a little longer (the boys were tuckered since the guides were so enthusiastic), we hopped back on the bikes and rode out to Secret Lake. We saw a sign for Khmer Roots Cafe, a seemingly father-son eco-farm/cooking school/bungalow operation. We had some Kampot pepper chicken, iced coffees, and cocktails while lounging in hammocks in their thatch-roof hut. It was an awesome afternoon.
Secret Lake… Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
Later, Grayson had a religious experience with some ribs at the Rusty Keyhole in town. We got a little tipsy and wandered around some more. The next day Grayson and I went to Kep! It is a laidback and beautiful beach town known for their crab. After spending way too long cracking open said crab (in a Kampot pepper sauce, or course) we splayed our pasty Seattleite bodies on the beach and got the first of many sunburns.
Back in town, we grabbed some more drinks while enjoying an incredible sunset over the river, before jumping on a ‘firefly’ cruise. They should have called it a mosquito cruise because I wound up with a dozen bites, and hopefully not malaria? The bartender on the boat was French and did not speak English, even though the captain and his fellow bartender did not speak French. So needless to say he was great at customer service.
2 for 1 cocktails make Grays a happy dude
Kampot crew before the mosquito cruise
Until next time… More from Phnom Penh and our engagement with the Informal Urban Communities Initiative!