Peppercorns, Paddyfieds and PaengSeptember 6, 2008
Two weekends ago saw one of our many jaunts down to Kampot province, and with a little cajoling, Mr. DR decided to let me tag along. Sadly I would have to leave my new baby, a Honda CRF230, at home this time, as my biking skills weren’t quite on a par with the speed and conditions the boys had planned… 2-up it would have to be, much to Paeng’s disappointment, as he’d been hoping to have a nice play around with the other woman in his life, a Yamaha WR250. But hey at least he’d have someone to help him carry his tool bag…
We started out near Pochentong, riding parallel to road number 4, a nice little detour along the train tracks and below the electricity pylons towards Phnom Baset and Road 51…usually very soft sand during the dry season, but with the rains, it had become a little less technical than usual but still plenty of fun. After avoiding the typical suicidal cows, we finally joined up with Road 51 and Kbal Thnol, where we turned Southwest onto road number 134.
Gone are the days when this was a slippery, muddy and sandy mess.. the first section of this road is already laid with gravel; the remainder is smooth red dirt with a number of new bridges being built. It does remain to be seen though how it will all bear up with 3 months of monsoon rain and trucks.
Past the halfway point, there were a few interesting bridge construction detours, but the road is for the most part very straightforward.
Kampot has been my favourite province of Cambodia since I first visited in early 2000. Back then, I found a fisherwoman near Kep market whose sons took me out on a boat to Rabbit Island (not a hut or person to be seen on the north side of the island then) and a mototaxi to drive me along what was a rolling, dipping road to Phnom Kompong Trach and pagoda. It was a few months later, as I was showing my then new-boyfriend Paeng photos of my early travels in Cambodia, that he pointed to a photo of Kompong Trach and said ‘that’s my hometown’. It must have been fate…..
The closer we got to Kampot the more beautiful the scenery became. And this wasn’t just Kampot; this was Kampot in the rainy season. And even better than Kampot in the rainy season? Kampot pre-thunderstorm.
Eventually, as we saw the sheets of water closing in on us, we decided to pull into a small shop and sit it out. Right on cue, on turned the taps. We sat there for a while, supping red bull and having the typical discussions with the shop-owners about pointy noses, how many times a day barangs eat, whether we know ‘how to’ eat rice, and everything else that the Cambodian man on the street, well, in the rice field, wants to know.
As quickly as the rains had started, they stopped, and it was time for us to hit the last few klicks to Kampot.
It wasn’t long before we were pulling into to Rusty Keyhole. I must admit I had been looking forward to a crab feast in Kep, but when a quick telephone call discovered these were all out, I decided to go with the next best thing…. the meat-fest which is RK’s famous BBQ ribs. Mmmmm…. RIIBBBSSSSSSS…….
All ribbed up, it was back on the bikes for the final stretch to Kep… sunset… shower… drinks and sleep….
Up the next morning and we formulated our plan. Despite rumours that Bokor may be open to 2 wheels for the ploughing ceremony holiday, a call from our man in Kampot confirmed that unfortunately no, that wouldn’t be possible, so Plan B was put into action. We would head in the direction of Kampot to Phnom Chhngok, and from there explore some of the various farm trails towards Kompong Trach. After the boys had had their fill of dirt and enduro, we would take the tar back to Phnom Penh from Kompong Trach in the late afternoon.
Then for the fun part. Leaving Phnom Chhngok, Paeng did what he does best, picked a seemingly random oxcart track, and off we went.
Much of this area is notorious for its reputation as a KR stronghold. Many of the families living around here are ex KR, and like everyone else, are getting on with their lives post-war. As Paeng chats with them in his broadest Kampot accent, there would be no reason for an observer to think that this is any different to any other part of the country. But riding through lush green fields, a clearing with a 360 degree panorama virtually enclosed on all sides by hills, it is easy to see why they chose this spot.
Kampot is dirtbiking heaven. Once you head away from the main roads, the area near Kampot, Kep and Kompong Trach (between roads 3, 31 and 33 on the gecko map) is criss-crossed with literally hundreds of trails to explore, from easy red dirt, to grassy trails, to sand, clay and rocks, to boggy rice fields, to paths which have become streams, to narrow tracks flanked by thick vegetation, to tyre-width and shin high ridges… Paeng was in his element, and loving it.
There was literally a bit of everything, including the obligatory flooded bike incident ….. (of course Paeng does this every trip just to show off his skills).