Caves, Lakes, and Pepper Farms

by Andrew Stein

After arriving in Kampot and making my way to the RikiTikiTavi Guest House, I put on comfortable clothes, settle in, and go to the house’s attached restaurant for dinner. While eating a very westernized burger, fries and shake, I meet Joanne from Ireland. She is having dinner by herself, I am about to have dinner alone, and I ask if she would like some company. After conversing over the basics, I learn she has already rented a motorbike, and we set up a plan to meet the following day and explore Kampot.

The next day, we acquire a rough map and set off towards near-by caves. Before we get to the true touristy caves discussed in Lonely Planet and the like, we run across another explorer who is on bicycle and he informs us of a larger, less crowded cave on the way. We pick up two more, Jesper and Matilda from Sweden, en route, find a spot to park our motorbikes, and meet a handful of local teenagers eager to show us around the cave. The cave is the site of an old ruined temple, which we confirm by the many statues and broken staircases throughout. We feel our way through passages of complete darkness and try to fit in others that are much to small. We find bats as we attempt to climb up a wall using a hanging vine. All the while, we play with the exposure settings on our cameras as we have to fight the intense contrast caused by thin streaks of light sneaking in between trapped boulders. After this positive caving experience, Joanna, Jesper, Matilda, and I decide to forgo the more touristy one, and continue on to the appropriately named Secret Lake.

Caves near Kampot

Cave climbing in Kampot

This lake may not be a secret to the locals, but for the four of us, finding the lake is an adventure as we bump along dirt paths through local villages. Every couple meters, a young high-pitched voice yells “hello” at us and we all respond with another “hello” in chorus. And at every junction, we stop, assess the options, and eventually attempt to ask someone the way. I enjoy the path to the lake just as much as the lake itself. While the other three find tubes and go swimming, I play with two local kids and make myself comfortable in a hammock. I even doze off for a moment as I enjoy my shady spot.

Cambodian countryside

Kids near Secret Lake

For the next activity on the day’s agenda, we take a 30 minute ride to a pepper farm. Kampot is apparently well-known for its pepper, and we were interested in learning more about all the hype. We find a small farm, where a father and his son show us around with the son doing most of the talking because he could speak better English. We learn about pepper as well as other local fruits, which they are also growing on the same site. To complete the tour, they cut up some fresh fruit for us, and we enjoy the new tastes with some cold drinks.

The last stop of the day is Kep beach.  On the way, we stop for gas, which means that we pull over to a village hut, find gasoline in old pepsi bottles and ask for either one or two liters worth.  Kep beach is relatively quiet with some tourists, some locals, and a handful of monks all there for an afternoon swim. I sip on a Coca Cola to combat the warm sun as we wander up and down the beach taking in the sights, sounds, and smells.  After a while, I realize that I am wearing a similar color to the monks and ask some to take a fun photograph with me.  As the sun starts to go down, we realize it is time to head back so that we do not end up riding in the dark. In the evening, the four of us meet up one last time for dinner and drinks before heading our separate ways hoping that one day we would see other again.

Matching with the monks