Kampot and Kep, sleepy towns in the south of Cambodia

The dynamic changes once you leave Phnom Penh, roads that were chaotic scenes of daily Cambodian city life gradually diminish in intensity as the lovely tarmac road begins to disappear into a bumpy potholed mess.

Bus travel is the main option here, there used to be a good train to Sihanoukville but that line is still haunted by the memories of three backpackers captured and later killed by the Khmer Rouge back in the early nineties. Horror stories of the atrocities abound and it is hard to reconcile that with the bucolic air that surrounds the region. The madness men do unto men will continue to astound me.

The old creaky bus bumped and cajoled me as it sped through villages in a blur, pausing just briefly halfway to get a cup of delicious coffee and a bun. The land is mostly flat here with the occasional hill until you finally in arrive in the far south close to the Bokor national park and eventually the gulf of Thailand.

waterways between kampot and Kep

I had been interested in Kep for a long time; the appeal of fresh fried crab in the local Kampot peppers was too much of a mouth-watering draw.
Continue reading Kampot and Kep, sleepy towns in the south of Cambodia

Island hopping in the Andaman Sea

One of the great frustrations about getting around the islands of the deep south of Thailand used to be the lack of island to island ferries, timetables were erratic and many times moving base entailed getting back to the mainland. These days it has all changed, destinations that were once really off the beaten track like Koh Lipe have become almost mainstream with many other islands sporting full service resorts and prices to match.

thai beach house ko lanta

On my journey south I had decided to head off from Phuket and head to Ko Lanta, avoiding the much hyped Phi Phi Island in favour of more laid back surroundings. Boats head off from the main port close to Phuket Town but nearly all tickets include a pickup from your hotel. You should still haggle on the price and do buy tickets for each step individually as they will end up much cheaper than buying connecting tickets. On Phi Phi for example vendors will outbid each other!

Passing the ever beautiful Phi Phi Ley I wondered if I would be as entranced with the islands to come.

sunset on koh mook

It was only a short hour long journey to Ko Lanta but boy what a difference in pace, even the hustler hassle at the port was subdued. An easy way to simplify your arrival is to accept one of the hotel touts on the boat or at the pier and go for a look at their resort. I managed to get an AC room at a bungalow operation with two swimming pools for 500 baht, a steal even at the end of the main season.

Ko Lanta is a fairly large island and with all the beaches on the western side so I chose to hire a motorbike to get around. Deals for 200 baht a day are normal and the roads are pretty quiet and well maintained, although care should be taken at all times but especially after a rainstorm as the oil builds up on the surface.

snorkeling at ko hai

With the wind in my face I meandered up and down the west coast, stopping at the occasional beach bar for a coke and a chance to reflect on the beautiful beach scenes. The first beach on the island is mostly dedicated to Scandinavian families and not of much interest to backpackers. Long beach is next up and has a real variation of accommodations that everyone will be happy with even those on a miniscule budget. The scene though tends to be of a Koh Samui vibe and that may not be to everyone’s taste.

shacks on the sea Old Lanta

I moved on to the lower beach of Klong Nin and found a real gem. The beach itself is not too long, a kilometre or so, and easily walkable the whole length. The restaurants here all back on to the sea and the bars have a much more relaxed individual traveller vibe without trying to be pretentious. Sunsets are spectacular of course and the general feel is of island tranquillity without being removed from all the amenities.

Making full use of my motorbike I crossed over the hump of the island, with a terrific viewpoint, and headed to the small town of Old Lanta. This place was very different, with a Chinese/Malay feel to it, views to the mainland with limestone karst cliffs and a bucolic sense of timelessness. It is a real find and a great antidote to the resorts of the western beaches.

local girls Old Lanta

Digging myself out of a coma in Ko Lanta I jumped on a ferry doing the four island tour and booked passage to Ko Mook off the coast of Trang. These boats cater primarily to tourists on one day trips but also serve as a ferry to the local islands. One advantage is that although they take a while to get to each island you get to snorkel at some great places on route.

A highlight of the area, and usually a bonus on the ferry, is a stop at the Emerald Cave on Koh Mook. This entails a swim though a cave; pitch black for ten of its eighty metres until you emerge at an enlarged chimney of a spot with a white sand beach, tropical vegetation and sheer limestone cliffs. Once a possible pirate cave and revered for its spiritual location this place draws tourists by the boat load. I avoided the lifejacket snake team and swam through with my group emerging victorious and finding a bit of calm at Emerald Cave beach.

beach scene ko lanta

The Island of Ko Mook is known for its white beach and the dominance of Charlie’s Resort, literally sprawling almost the whole of the beach. That is not to say it’s not a good place to stay, it is as long as you can get a deal. Use of the swimming pool with a swim up bar are a plus as is the beach bar with a perfect spot to watch the sunset. The food was overpriced and awful however but luckily I found a small Thai family restaurant just outside the resort with the best food I have had in a long time along with huge portions and ice cold beer Chang….awesome.

After whiling away a few days on Ko Mook it was time to head back to Ko Lanta so bags packed in reception I strode off to the end of the beach to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Hat Farang restaurant. I had just about finished my omelette when I could see a frantic looking Thai receptionist from Charlie’s Resort lugging my bag to the beach and waiving the longtail boat back to collect it. I broke the sand speed record to the bag and boat and realized that my ferry had come early, oh well.

beach at the emerald cave ko mook

We headed across the bay to the next island Ko Kradan, probably the quietest of all the four on the trip but with the most spectacular beach I had yet seen. Fresh fruit and a Thai lunch was served and even though I only had passage they crew let me dig in too. A bargain for 300 Baht back to Ko Lanta.

Alas after a few snorkelling stops we arrived back in Ko Lanta which now seemed so busy compared to my first impression, truly the islands to the south offer a measure of calmness that is only appreciated once you arrive back in civilisation.

Travellers in search of paradise will surely find it; they will not be alone however but can take comfort in a cold beer and a fan.

Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples

For most travellers here, unless you fly into Siem Reap, at least one part of your anatomy is going to suffer on the long bus journey from Vietnam, Thailand or Laos! My journey, seven hours from Phnom Penh after a six hour connecting bus from Ho Chi Minh City was not exceptional. Many do the buses here by night in sleepers, I chose the day to see the countryside and at that level it paid off.

Crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia is pretty straightforward nowadays and even getting a visa at the border is painless and swift. The bus however, seems to cover the distance at a mind numbingly slow pace and the constant karaoke will take its toll unless you have earplugs or an Ipod to save you. Having said that, the service on the Mekong Express bus was exceptional and the free pastries and water were welcome.

local transportation
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