5 hours southwest of Phnom Penh life is a beach. I just wanted to relax, take a swim and enjoy the pleasures of a coastal town. Sihanoukville was my place! People told me about it as Cambodia’s fun town. But it was not at all similar to Mallorca or Lloret de Mar. Still laid back, with not more than a handful tourists and a pleasant atmosphere. I stayed in Swissgarden Guesthouse.
The owners Monika Lienert and Peter Kruesi are from Switzerland. “I always had the feeling for leaving”, said Monika. “To a place without snow and only nice weather.” When she met Peter, her future husband, they both decided to leave their home country.
“We had the same dream”, said Monika, “the only difference had been that I wanted to go to South Africa, Peter preferred Asia.” After 6 weeks holidays in South East Asia they decided for Cambodia. “Our experiences with the country and the people have been very positive.” They looked for a place at the seaside: Sihanoukville! Even Swiss TV came for a movie about their new lives.
The town of Sihanoukville is rather charmless and the visitors remain at the 4 beaches ringing the headland. Named in honour of the then-king, the town was hacked out of the jungle in the late 1950s to create the country’s first and only deep-water port. With the overthrow of King Sihanouk in 1970, the town’s name was changed to Kompong Som until 1993. Till today Cambodians refer to the place by both names.
I spent my days at the beach, went to “Dr. Fish” where I tried for the first time a fish-feet-massage, how stunning!
Heading east in a crowded mini bus to Kampot. I discovered a charming place with a French architectural legacy and a relaxed atmosphere. Just strolling around the narrow streets and admiring the old fashioned houses.
Along the large waterfront of the Kampot river I tried the food in colonial styled restaurants and enjoyed drinks in one of the bars.
I stayed at the Natural Bungalows in a comfortable room with a great view to the river.
For a daytrip I drove to nearby Kep. The seaside resort called once Kep-sur-Mer and was founded as a colonial retreat for the French elite in 1908. The war damaged the town and now it is slowly recovering. What wasn’t destroyed by the Khmer Rouge was looted by the Vietnamese army or by locals selling materials to the Vietnamese in order to survive the 1979-1980 famine. Here is also one of King Sihanouk’s many palaces. Kep was one of his favourite spots in Cambodia.
Today the town is well known for its seafood restaurants. There are numerous bamboo shacks along the waterfront and it is one of the cheapest places in the country to indulge in fresh crab.
With all the local and international tourists Kep seems to be rising from the ashes, but still today it is only a little more than a shadow of its former beauty.
Back to the market in Kampot I didn’t forget to buy the famous pepper grown in the region. In the years before war took its toll, no self-respecting French restaurant worth its salt in Paris would be without Kampot pepper on the table.
Next destination: Vietnam!
Foto-Collage Titel: Nicola Mesken (www.nicola-mesken.com)
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