18 January 2012
Big fat breakfast at Oasis Bar. After eating and caffeinating, I go two doors down to the jeweller and sell all my remaining Vietnamese currency for US dollars, the de facto currency of Cambodia.
The border's five or six kilometres away. I munch them easily and eagerly. There's no bribes or difficulty at the Vietnam exit post, though the guy whose job it is to every day competently handle passports manages to drop mine on the floor. For a passport that's only a few months old it's looking well worn-in.
The Cambodian side is a bit mixed up, with the visa on arrival application bureau on the Cambodia side of the entry post. It takes more time than expected, but it works out; US$25 for the visa.
Past the border area, I'm straight onto dirt road. As dirt roads go, it's a very good one, and I cruise in the low twenties with a little help from the wind. Tarmac soon appears. I have 25 kilometres on the clock when I hit route 33, which will take me west towards Kampot.
Six kilometres or so further, I make a diversion. I could go straight on for three or four kilometres, but I take a left to add in a loop through Kep. This place sounded too colourful to pass up. A high-end resort established back in the day by the French, it fell into disrepair during the war years and the jungle is now claiming back the old villas, while a nascent modern era tourist industry grows up alongside.
Kep is sleepy, peaceful, breezy, relaxed. There's a road along the shore that passes right by the crab market.
Nigel, Kunming crab aficionado extraordinaire, has requested a crustacean-related story, and this may well be the time for it.
I choose a shady shoreside shack in which to snack. A breeze blows in from the sea. Boats put out bound for fishing grounds, kids splash in the sunny shallows, hefty crab pots are dragged around and stacked by hefty crabbers.
The local specialty is crab fried with green pepper. I order a plate. A pile of bifurcated crustacean arrives, maybe three crabs in all. The shell is glowing embers orange, with blurred white spots dappling the surface for a marine feline effect. The crabs seem to have a lot of spindly leg in proportion to body.
Green pepper is one of my favourite seasonings, but a crab expert I am not. I find it a messy business, but it doesn't take me long to set up a production line that produces white crab meat and discarded shell. There's no brown meat like I expected. The crab tastes as fresh as any I've ever had. It's likely been caught within hours. We're by the sea, you see.
The green pepper provides a little spice, together with that pop of fresh green taste. A small dish of another sauce is tangy - lime juice and ground black pepper, it seems. This is great to finish the rice with.
The rest of the cycling is easy and short. Though the roads are narrow, traffic is much lighter than in Vietnam, and the vistas are much less cluttered with buildings, traffic, wires, businesses, signs.
In Kampot, it takes me a few tries to find a room. The barman at the first place does a great sales job on the dessert pies and informs me that 25 minutes of happy hour remain. I'm back there 17 minutes later for a chocolate fudge pie with vanilla ice cream, washed down with a beer. I chat with Scottie from Wolverhampton, who plans to open a bar in Sihanoukville, and a couple of other travellers.
After a shower, I head out for dinner. Kampot reminds me of Thakhek or Savannakhet - a French colonial town rebooting into tourist mode for the present day. It's just further down the development path than those places. Town square, shophouses, riverside promenade. It's all very pleasant, civilised and relaxed.
I stumble across a book shop. I stroll in, trying to recall the Umberto Eco title that had floated through my head earlier: Foucault's Pendulum. It's right there on the end of the shelf. I see it as a sign, and ask the shop owner to hold it for me whilst I retrieve the two books I want to exchange. For my two books, he knocks 60% off the price, which seems very reasonable given the poor exchange terms I've seen so far.
Right, food. Andy in Ha Tien recommended the barbecued ribs at the Rusty Keyhole pub. I wouldn't usually order ribs on grounds of faffiness, but having tackled the crab earlier, I reckon I'm up to it. I order a half rack. It's a culinary epiphany - this is some really good eating. Tender meat, baked spuds, tasty smoky spicy sauce, coleslaw. I heft the forgotten but familiar weight of a pint, The Verve play Lucky Man, eleven ceiling fans churn the air. Behind the bar, geckos cling to a union flag.
66km, 20.1km/h, 3hr18min, 4405km