Kampot to Takeo via Kiri Sela Cave and Temple

Having conquered the almighty Bokor Mountain yesterday we took the morning off to rest our legs and sort and re-pack our gear at the hostel.

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It has been great camping there by the river and after a huge breakfast with fresh rolls (and real butter!) we said our goodbyes and headed to the old market in Kampot to stock up on provisions for the next few days. 

The bike was looking and feeling great after the good clean we gave it last night and despite it turning into a very hot day we felt confident about our 40km cycle to Kiri Sela in Kampong Trach.

The food market was incredible – a bustling hive of activity, with hundreds of makeshift stalls selling every sea food imaginable all packed in under a low, drooping corrregated iron roof.
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We got what we needed (we’re generally living off green tea, nuts (peanuts not cashews as they are ridiculously expensive here!) noodles, rice, veg and eggs when we camp) and at around noon headed south along the same road we had come from the Vietnamese border 4 days ago.

Right from the off the first stretch was a real slog. Yesterday’s ‘victory climb’ was soon forgotten as a combination of the midday sun and a strong head wind resulted in us both feeling pretty grumpy. We didnt even have the distraction of cycling a new stretch of road to help pass the time. We agreed to stop for lunch early, taking solace in a little grove of trees down a side track. 

Fuled with food we got going again and we managed to arrive in Kampong Trach at around 4.15pm. Having cycled through the town we took a left turn down towards the temple and came across this beauty of a camping spot. After some deliberation we decided it was safe to camp. 

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We made friends with a passing farmer who was collecting his grazing cattle from the spot and made him tea. He and his little boy seemed pretty chilled when we showed him our tent, he was more interested in our stove and blow up mattresses so we assumed we were ok. 

We covered up from the midges and got cooking. We ate as the moon was coming up over the hill followed by an episode of The West Wing before we went to bed. Feeling pretty satisfied we turned over and it was then that I noticed Paddy’s back… Covered in bites… Yikes!

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Not wanting to worry too much we took an antihistamine each and turned the light off.

We woke at first light, wanting to get going towards Takeo after a quick tour of the nearby caves. While I was packing down the tent I hear a loud exclamation from Paddy. Ants everywhere, in our shoes, in our food bag…. Everywhere! It transpires we had managed to camp directly on an ant highway. 

It took a long time to shake the bags and tent free of the little buggers, but we celebrated with fried tatties and scrambled egg and finally cycled around the corner to Kiri Sela where we were immediately met by a chorus of kids wanting to be our guide. These two got the job:

  
and immediately treated us to what we later called a ‘guide off’ – interupting eachother with the same pre-learned tour script which mainly involved showing us rocks which vaguely resmbled different animals. They also showed Paddy how to make a red beak out of a plant. Needless to say we tipped them each a dollar for entertainment value. 

  
The tunnels and caves were incredible with a reclining buddah shrine in the middle. We also saw some monkeys and a spooky colony of hanging bats.

   
 
Onwards to Takeo which is approx 75km ride away. 

Bokor Hill Station

Bokor Maintain looms over Kampot and is the must see day trip on a moped out of the town. It rises up from sea level to 1048m, taller than anything in Ireland or England, but slightly less than Snowden, we’d heard from Ukrainian Kate that she cycled up there so we had to take on the challenge…

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The main climb is for 20km with an average 5% gradient, we were interested to see how the tandem was on such a climb. We did unload and pack light for the round trip… In the future we might have to take on something like this loaded up… but not yet!

We climbed steadily through the jungle road which the French built in their hey day. It was spectacular. On stops we were surrounded by jungle sounds including Gibbons and saw a huge toucan like bird which Annie identified later as a great hornbill. We didnt get the right camera lens on in time to take a close up but think we saw the same bird later on the climb.

  
The French built this road through remote and pristine jungle so they could have a casino at the top and a little church beside it: you lose all your money, walk out and choose between the altar and the sheer cliff face. It cost 1000 lives to build the road at the time but then, they did put a church up there…

Near the top there is also a huge painted buddah. We soon wished we packed more clothes for the summit! It was pretty misty and cool!

  
Now the Chinese have moved in (the summit was sold to them for $10m) and built a new bigger casino and hotel which is going to be coupled with a cruise berth in Kampot that will ferry idiots up there to gamble. The Japanese also had a base there during the war and it was on the frontline when the Vietnamese invaded in the 70s… Basically the top of the mountain is a huge and unnessary clusterf##k.

We did enjoy the view and 3 plates of local noodles however. It took us about 3.5hours with stops to get to the summit. Annie had a little sleep before we took off back down the road…

   

 

40 mins back to the start of the climb another 20mins back to our tent, a swim, beer and relax by the river by 4pm.

We decided the bike needed some tlc in the evening so we got the rags and toothbrushes out and gave her a good scrub down (the stove kerosene cane in handy for soaking the chains), then a few more beers and bed after a satisfying day.

Cambodia Day 1 – Around Kampot – Phnom Chhnork and Secret Lake

Having woken up after a good night sleep in our tent we prepared breakfast and got ready to explore the surrounding area of Kampot. We headed south into the countryside where we experienced our first glimses of rural Cambodia. We both have a good feeling about Cambodia, it feels more relaxed than Vietnam (and just as friendly) and we get a sense that wildcamping will be a lot easier over the next month. This is a good thing as its been quite a bit more expensive (Cambodia imports most things) but it’ll be interesting to see if this continues away from the touristy areas. Before we got here we heard so many reports that Cambodia was so much poorer than Thailand or Vietnam but we havent really seen this yet.

We’ve already passed lots of Wats or temples but we’ve also seen quite a number of Mosques and we even heard the callto prayer yesterday lunchtime. 
We took some air out the tires once we turned onto the dirt red track. It was good to explore without all our gear and we were soon rolling through the harvested rice fields. It’s still incredibly flat and fertile but the country here is less intesely farmed than Vietnam and there are a lot more cattle – the cows all have humps and huge flaps of skin on their necks!! We stopped at a village party (well it might have been the morning after actually) where they were playing live music. 

Our first stop were some natural caves at Phnom Chhnork which have housed a temple since the 7th Century. We were quite surprised when our guide led us through a hidden, pitch black passageway on the way out. 

 We followed a small canal for a few km until we reached a huge reservoire locally called ‘secret lake’. 

  
We chose our waterside spot and cooked up our lunch. The helinox chairs again coming into their own! 

  

  
  This dragonfly fly kept us company throughout our stop.

 
 After a quick dip to cool off we headed back completing our 45k circle, finishing the evening with a few beers and a game of chess.

Tomorrow we tackle the 1080m climb up Bokor Mountain…