Relaxing by the River: A Guide to Kampot

After a multi-day trek through the Cambodian jungle, my friends and I spent four wonderful days resting and relaxing in Kampot. Kampot, the capital of Kampot Province in southern Cambodia, has a reputation as a sleepy, laid-back town. I planned to stay for only two days, imagining that I would quickly grow bored with the lack of activity. Instead, I doubled the length of my stay and spent several days eating terrific food, dining at cute cafes, watching movies at the cinema, chilling by the river, and exploring the 19th century French colonial architecture. Below are my accommodation, dining, and entertainment recommendations for Kampot.

Kampot (4).JPG
Colonial Kampot

The River (10)
Park overlooking the river

Samon’s Village
Samon’s Village may be the best place I’ve stayed so far on my travels through Southeast Asia. The ‘Village’ features adorable bungalows and a restaurant dock overlooking the river. We reclined in hammocks and did yoga on the dock, swam and kayaked in the river, and enjoyed a smorgasbord of foods from the restaurant. The kayak which we rented from the Village was old with wooden oars which were too short to render them truly useful, but which nonetheless led to an adventurous river excursion. The restaurant consistently served some of the best food I’ve eaten in Cambodia, although the service was terribly slow – 80 minutes for a salad, stir fry, and fried shrimp seems excessive, even in Asia! Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and highly recommend Samon’s Village.

Photos of Samon’s Village restaurant and bungalows

Wonderland
Stopping by Wonderland for a nightly treat became a tradition for my friends and I while we were in Kampot. Wonderland, operated by French expats, serves Belgian ice cream and homemade popsicles made with fresh fruit and sugar (perfect for vegans!). My friend adored the coconut popsicle with a hint of lime, while I relished the passion fruit popsicle and yogurt with Khmer fruits popsicle. I’m usually not a big popsicle fan, but Wonderland’s homemade popsicles are simply irresistible!

wonderland-ice-cream
Photo of Wonderland courtesy of TripAdvisor

Epic Arts Café
My friend and I spent a lovely lazy afternoon reading, napping, and snacking at Epic Arts Café. The second floor made me feel at home with its variety of comfortable chairs and bright windows overlooking the street. We shared the carrot cake and a bagel with cream cheese and vegetables. The carrot cake was a tad dry, but the cream cheese frosting was nice. The bagel was not the best bagel I’ve ever eaten (I am a native New Yorker after all). Still, it was warm, fresh, and filled with tasty roasted vegetables, and a welcome New York staple in Asia. I did not have a chance to eat breakfast at Epic Arts Café, but the salads and the eggs florentine with spinach looked tasty. Another reason to visit the café is it employs underprivileged and disabled people. In fact, it gives you a sheet on which to mark your order since most of its cooks and servers are deaf.

Eunice at Epic Arts Cafe (3)

Bagel 2Photo of bagel with cream cheese and roasted vegetables by Penny via Captain of the Back Seat

L’Epi D’or Bakery & Café
With fresh bread on sale for $1 and pastries available for only $0.35, L’Epi D’or Bakery & Café is cheap and delicious! I tried the olive bread and a chocolate croissant, and was wowed by the croissant’s flaky crust and chocolate filling which reminded me of French bakeries back home.

Deva Café
Vegans, vegetarians, and raw food lovers, rejoice! Deva Café, the small eatery attached to Banteay Srey Women’s Spa, serves fresh juices, smoothies, lassis (Indian yogurt-based drinks), and Mediterranean tapas with local and nutritious ingredients, such as moringa, kale, jicama, morning glory, mango, and papaya. We tried the Hummus Wrap with Morning Glory Flatbread, the Zucchini Noodles with Raw Pesto, the Smoked Eggplant Crostini, and the Chilled Creamy Avocado Soup among other dishes. Each dish was bursting with flavor. The Sweet Basil Lassi likewise was outstanding. Because the portions are small your meal may land up being on the more expensive side (for Cambodia that is), but you can rest easy knowing that the proceeds from your food purchases go towards the Banteay Srey Project, a social enterprise which provides young Cambodian women with vocational training and a safe space.

Photos of juices and tapas via TripAdvisor (1)

Ecran Noodle and Dumpling House (Hand-Pulled Noodles and Vegetable Dumplings)
My friend and I relished the hand-pulled noodles and homemade vegetable dumplings at Ecran Noodle and Dumpling House. In true Chinese-Cambodian fashion, a vinegar and soy sauce accompanied the dumplings while the noodles had a slightly sweet taste. Hand-pulled noodles and homemade vegetable dumplings for only $2 each? Sounds like a perfect meal!

Photos of hand-pulled noodles and vegetable dumplings via Kampot, Cambodia

Ecran Movie House
For the traveler missing watching movies at home, Ecran also operates a cinema with comfortable wicker chairs, couches, and beds with pillows. For $2.50 you can watch one of the three movies the theater shows daily or for $3 you can buy a day pass to watch all three movies. If you’re interested in learning more about Cambodian history, Ecran screens The Killing Fields at least once a week. When I was in Kampot, the theater was celebrating the Oscars fever by playing all of the Oscar-nominated films. Ecran also has private movie room rentals for $3.50 per person where you can choose a film from a selection more than 1,000 movies and watch it on a large plasma TV with a small group of friends.

Photos of Ecran Cinema & Movie House and Ecran Noodle Shop via Kampot, Cambodia

I hope you have a restful and relaxing stay in Kampot, my favorite place to visit in Cambodia!

The River (5)
Fishing boats returning at the end of the day

The River (26)
Sunset over the river

 

(1) Photo credit (clockwise): photo of watermelon and carrot juices via TripAdvisor, photo of smoked eggplant crostinis via TripAdvisor, photo of chilled creamy avocado soup via TripAdvisor, photo of raw pesto pasta via TripAdvisor, and photo of baba ghanoush and tzatziki dips via TripAdvisor

Advertisements

Weekly Vegetarian Find: I Love Salad

In my opinion, Koh Tao has the worst food in all of Thailand. The fruit shakes contain mountains of ice with scarcely any fruit, the curries are seasoned with too few spices, and the Pad Thai noodles have the same saccharine flavor as Heinz ketchup. To top it all off, most dishes are exorbitantly priced by Thai standards (“You charge 120 baht for a watery mango shake? You have got to be kidding me!”).

img_8956
Photo of I Love Salad by Daisy via I Love Health.

Located in Chalok Bay, the southern calmer enclave of the island perfect for travelers looking for a few quiet days of island time or a reprieve from the nightly partying in Sairee Beach, I Love Salad offers a selection of natural meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free foods to keep most vegans, vegetarians, and healthy eaters happy. Vegan and vegetarian options include preset and made-to-order salads, spinach and cheese pasta, pesto pasta, a beetroot burger, a vegan chickpea burger, and toasties (open-faced sandwiches). In addition, the restaurant has fresh juices and shakes, vegan desserts, and an all-day breakfast menu featuring poached eggs and omelets served with a helping of greens and vegetables, and one of my favorite dishes from home, banana pancakes.

ilovesalads
Photo of I Love Salad menu by Amélie via Mostly Amelie.

On both of my visits to Koh Tao, I visited I Love Salad nearly every day to order a custom-made salad or the grilled beetroot burger along with the juice of the day. I could not contain my delight the first time I saw the plateful of greens tossed with onion, tomato, carrot, cucumber, broccoli, avocado, grilled tofu, mango, and a homemade sesame dressing (in Southeast Asia, salad is a rare treat). It was everything I hoped for and more.

vegan-salaatti
Photo of custom-made salad with mango, tofu, and avocado by Reissausta Ja Ruokaa via Koh Taon Kasvisruokatarjonta.

I normally associate burgers with greasy fast food, but I Love Salad serves much more healthful options. As its name suggests, the grilled beetroot burger features a patty made out of beets topped with feta cheese and sweet tomato-mango chutney, and is served with a side salad and seaweed chips. The daily juice consists of a wholesome combination of fruits and vegetables, for example green apple, cucumber, pineapple, and coconut water.

Burger
Photo of Grilled Beetroot Burger via KohTao.asia.

The one slight disappointment was the toastie, which I found to be rather unremarkable (it is a sign of how unimpressed I was that I can’t remember which one I ordered). However, the veggie burgers and sizable salads were more than enough of a reason to visit I Love Salad multiple times during my stays in Koh Tao. If you go to Koh Tao, make sure to stop by this vegetarian gem!

 

 

Off the Beaten Path in Cambodia

About Chi Pat
Chi Pat refers to the Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) project in Chi Pat village, located amidst the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong Province, Cambodia. Started in 2007 by the Wildlife Alliance, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization supporting conservation programs in Southeast Asia, CBET aims to protect the Cardamom rainforest and provide inhabitants income-generating opportunities by transforming former loggers and wildlife poachers into tour guides, guest house owners, and taxi drivers. CBET offers travelers trekking, mountain-biking, kayaking, and camping expeditions through the jungle, as well as opportunities to stay at homestays in Chi Pat village.

IMG_0019
Chi Pat Village

Getting to Chi Pat
When you try to book a bus ticket to Chi Pat, don’t be surprised if the travel agent appears lost. Chi Pat has not yet become a mainstream tourist attraction, but not to worry, you can reach it by making a stop along the well-traveled route between Phnom Penh and Koh Kong. If you’re traveling from Phnom Penh, ask the bus driver to let you off in Anduong Tuek, a town about an hour before Koh Kong. From Anduong Tuek you can travel to Chi Pat by motorbike taxi or taxi boat (if you make a reservation in advance of your arrival, Chi Pat will even have a taxi waiting for you!).

The journey by motorbike is for the hardiest traveler. As your driver speeds through country dirt roads, you’ll pray that you don’t topple from running into one of the many sand or stone hazards. Adventure junkies, enjoy the ride! If a laidback excursion is more your pace, meander down the Preak Piphot River on a taxi boat. The boat ride takes twice as long as the motorbike ride (two hours as compared to 45 minutes), but it is a perfect opportunity to admire the surrounding scenery.

IMG_9971
House on the Preak Piphot River

Adventures in Chi Pat
Once you arrive in Chi Pat, you can choose from numerous activities including trekking, mountain-biking, kayaking, lobster fishing, and Khmer cooking classes. Activities range from a few hours to several days and from the more relaxed to the more adventurous. We opted for a four-day trek with three days of sleeping in the jungle and stops along the way to see a bat cave, ancient burial jars, and waterfalls.

IMG_0083

IMG_0123

During the four days, we walked for more than 60 kilometers through jungle pathways and on country roads, swam in waterfalls, slept in hammocks, jumped off cliffs, ate freshly caught fish, and exercised on a veritable jungle gym. Our guide, Rath, amused us with his terrible English puns and childish pranks, most of which involved poking me with a stick from behind or making animal noises to scare me (Rath, if one day you wake up with a snake in your bed or shaving cream all over your face, you’ll know that I’ve come for my revenge!).

IMG_0066
Rath, our guide, with my friend Eunice

While we marched through the jungle, our cook, Pro, rode his motorcycle loaded with cooking supplies and foodstuffs to the campsites to prepare our meals. We couldn’t stop marveling watching him drive his small bike over waterfalls and through the jungle. At night, we competed with our guide and cook to see who could sing classics from their home country louder. I never imagined that I would belt out the songs from “Frozen,” “Rent,” or Queen in the jungle!

IMG_0193.jpg
Pro, our cook, riding his motorcycle through the jungle

On our return from the jungle, Pro cooked one last meal for us which he invited us to eat at his house. Eating in his yard, among his family members, the chickens, and the animals reminded me of my time spent living in rural Paraguay, as did squatting on the ground and washing my clothes by hand at the guesthouse later that afternoon.

IMG_0332
Rural Cambodian house
IMG_0352
Water buffalo in the fields

We spent our last night in Chi Pat enjoying cocktails/mocktails with Rath and Pro, and eating the most delicious Khmer meal I’ve had in Cambodia at Dantara Cooking School, located a few doors down from CBET (make sure to try the Amok and the Tom Yum soup with freshly caught lobsters).

Review of Chi Pat
My experience in Chi Pat was not at all what I anticipated in terms of the logistics, transportation, and adventure activities.

Regarding logistics, its website is well-organized, but CBET’s functioning is a little more haphazard in person. CBET asked my housing and meal preferences ahead of time via the online reservation system, and again when I checked in. Despite requesting vegetarian meals for the three of us, the only accommodation the center made was including scrambled eggs in their dinner buffet; the two vegetable dishes they served both contained meat. For this simple meal of rice and eggs they charged $3.50 a person, not an inconsiderable sum for a meal in Cambodia. I cannot imagine what they would have prepared if one of us had requested a vegan option! My misgivings about that first dinner in the village aside, our cook prepared several tasty vegetarian and pescatarian meals for us in the jungle. Payment was also a great source of irritation as the CBET office repeatedly tried charging me for my friend Michael’s activities, meals, and accommodation. That being said, revise and pay your bill the night before you check out, and eat meals outside of the CBET center and you will be fine.

IMG_0087
Pro cooking a tasty vegetarian meal for us while atop a waterfall
11363863_1674947289431142_317580596_n
Eating lunch in the jungle

Where CBET excelled in coordination was transportation. I was pleasantly surprised when CBET arranged to have a taxi boat pick me up at Anduong Tuek. I was even more impressed with its response when our return taxi boat couldn’t start due to engine problems. CBET assembled a caravan of motorbike taxis to ensure that all 14 passengers caught their buses to other destinations. The taxis dropped us off a small restaurant in Anduong Tuek with enough time to spare for lunch before our buses arrived.

IMG_0380
The view while waiting for the motorcycle taxis to arrive

In terms of its social mission, CBET has received a number of awards for its ecotourist activities. For this reason, I was understandably disappointed when I saw trash littered on the trails and near the campsites. I further disapproved of its distributing plastic water bottles to tourists for the jungle treks instead of filling reusable bottles with boiled or filtered water. If CBET aims to be truly environmentally sustainable, it should take more actions to clean up the forests it aims to protect and prevent the creation of further waste.

IMG_0293
Cambodian countryside

As for the adventure activities, active travelers accustomed to arduous treks such as those found in Peru and Nepal may not find the trekking offered by CBET to pose enough of a challenge. Notwithstanding the distance, our trek felt more like a long walk. We hiked for nearly six hours on both the first and second days, but for only two to three hours on the third and fourth days, ending the days’ activities by 12 PM and 11 AM, respectively. Of the four days, we only spent two hiking through the jungle; the other two we walked through the countryside. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the expedition. The days walking through the fields and past houses offered opportunities to observe rural Cambodian life and people. Swimming in waterfalls was a delight after hours of hiking in the heat and sun. It’s not often that a trek offers a daily opportunity to bathe in a stream!

IMG_0300
Walking through farms and the countryside
IMG_0176
Stream near our first campsite in which we swam and bathed

If you’re looking for technically challenging trails through remote wilderness, there are other destinations in Southeast Asia. However, if you’d like to experience the “real Cambodia,” strolling through farms, living with locals, playing with children, and chatting with villagers, then Chi Pat is the destination for you!

12826286_1224846770876223_1982877966_n
Village children on the way to school
12826054_1704460499832833_1055221055_n
Pro with his daughter

 

Five Lessons I Learned Traveling

1. Sometimes the places most worth visiting are the hardest to reach.

Years ago I took a three-day boat trip down the Amazon River from Yurimaguas to Iquitos in Peru. Finding Iquitos too frenzied for my tastes, I journeyed 12 hours further into the heart of the Amazon jungle where the only inhabitants for miles around were five families, my guide, and myself. The journey was long, hot, and uncomfortable, but my Amazon adventure came to be one of the highlights of my South America trip.

How often do we delay doing something we want to do or visiting a place we want to visit because traveling there seems like a hassle? Time and time again I’ve taken a bus to a boat to a van back to a boat to reach one destination or another, and time and time again I’ve asked myself whether the attraction justified the expedition. More often than not, it did, and the voyage was an adventure in and of itself. We can make excuses or we can journey on through jungles and over mountains to find our greatest adventures.

IMG_0370.jpg
Motorcycle taxi taking a ferry across the river

2. When reality differs from expectations, go with the flow.

Many of us schedule all of our activities ahead of time, from the professional to the personal. We plan our lives down to the minute, and make few allowances for change. When we travel, we realize that we can’t plan for everything. Our plane may arrive late, our car may break down, a thunderstorm or a typhoon may prevent our boat from sailing. The sights we have been looking forward to may disappoint us.

I planned to visit Boracay for five days and Thailand for two months. Instead, I fell in love with the Philippines and stayed in Boracay for a month. My first week there a typhoon struck the island, preventing me from enjoying the white sand or beautiful water. The clouds after the rain, however, yielded the most spectacular sunset of my travels thus far. Delight in the twists and turns your journey takes. Surrender control and accept that everything will work out in the end. Let the wonders of the world astound you.

Ready for the typhoon
Turning trash bags into fashionable typhoon wear

3. Enjoy the simple things in life.

During a recent excursion into the Cambodian countryside, I spent my mornings collecting water from nearby streams and afternoons washing my clothes by hand. I could have complained about having to carry out these chores, but the truth is that I enjoyed having the time to do them. The performance of these tasks became a sort of meditation, an opportunity to observe the present moment, the water glistening as it ran in rivulets down rocks and into rivers, the sun shining down on my arms and the back of my neck, the fallen leaves crunching under my feet.

Many of us spend our lives rushing from activity to activity, whether the activity is a work meeting or a dinner with friends. We plan our lives down to the minute and then complain that we have no time. The beauty of travel is that it allows us to make time for ourselves. Instead of rushing, we can remember that there is nowhere that we have to be and enjoy the present moment.

Me jumping in the sunset
Enjoying a beautiful sunset

 4. Don’t discount discomfort.

As a result of the smartphone revolution, many of us have come to expect the immediate fulfillment of every desire in our lives from communication to food to transportation to entertainment. As the convenience economy grows so does our need for instant gratification. We pay extra to avoid leaving our houses, sitting in uncomfortable airplane seats, or waiting for any length of time.

As a traveler, it is hard to avoid discomfort, the stress of rushing to catch a train or a plane, the exasperation caused by cultural misunderstandings, the hassle of having to unpack and repack a suitcase, the irritation at being ripped off. Instead of running from discomfort, we should learn to embrace the adventures it brings. Discomfort reminds us to cherish the small joys of traveling, whether it’s reading in a park, people watching at a café, making conversation with a complete stranger while waiting hours for the bus to arrive, playing cards with travelers from around the globe because the power went out, or racing through the countryside as part of a 14-person caravan of motorbikes after the taxi boat broke down. Stop discounting discomfort – miss the bus, wait around, enjoy the adventure.

Molinar-ing maiz.jpg
Grinding corn by hand (because ready-made cornflour is unavailable) takes some time but is a great arm workout!

5. Don’t let “I can’t” or “I never” define you.

Most of us place limitations on ourselves in our daily lives. How often have I heard a friend say, “I can’t take a personal day because I may miss something important at work,” “I can’t go out tomorrow night because I have to get up early the next morning,” or “I can’t go to brunch on Sunday because I have to do my laundry?” Often as we age we create even more restrictions for our actions, telling ourselves, “I’ll never be able to do that. Even if I could, I’m too old to learn how.”

Travel is an opportunity to escape our limitations, to conquer our fears, to move away from the pressures of our day-to-day lives and step outside of our comfort zones. I recently faced my fears of not being able to breathe underwater by taking scuba diving lessons. My friend overcame her fear of water by cliff jumping from a three-story-high rock into a lake. Stop limiting yourself. Decide what you want to do and do it no matter how much it scares you.

Tadasana
The sky is the limit!

 

 

 

Weekly Witticism: Why I Love Traveling

A typical conversation back home in Washington D.C. inviting a friend to join me for an outing:
Me: “Let’s grab a coffee.”
Friend: “Sure! When?”
Me: “Sunday?”
Friend: “My book club meets Sunday afternoons. How about next Thursday?”
Me: “I can’t Thursday. I have a yoga class after work. Would the following Tuesday work for you?”
Friend: “I’m out of town on business travel that week.”

A month later…
Me: “Hey! Want to grab that coffee?”
Friend: “This month isn’t looking too good for me. What are you doing next month?”

A typical conversation while traveling inviting another traveler I just met to join me for an outing:
Me: “Instead of going to your end destination, want to hop off the bus in the middle of nowhere and come with me to an ecotourism spot I heard about?”
Traveler: “Are people going to pick us up?”
Me: “They may have a boat taxi waiting, but if not we may have to wait a few hours for the next taxi or look for a motorbike taxi to drive us through the jungle.”
Traveler: “Where will we stay? What will we do there?”
Me: “I’m not sure. I guess we can figure it out when we get there. Want to come?”
Traveler: “Sure!” as she hops off the bus.

You may glean from the conversations above that what I love about traveling is the spontaneity. As I roam the globe, I am constantly amazed by travelers’ adaptability, endurance, and openness to new experiences.

The Yoga of Scuba Diving

Having recently completed my PADI Open Water Diver Certification at Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga in Koh Tao, Thailand, I was amazed by the parallels between scuba diving and yoga. As part of the Open Water course, students must practice flooding and detaching their masks, removing and retrieving their regulators (the mouthpiece through which they breathe), and sharing their air with a buddy. All of these skills seemed like a piece of cake during the classroom portion of the course. It was a completely different story the moment I entered the water.

I panicked when I had to remove my mask and regulator. A voice in my head said, “Water is going to flood your nose! You’re not going to be able to hold your breath long enough! You’re going to drown!!!” At the same time, another voice assured me, “You can still breathe. Inhale through the air source in your mouth and exhale through your nose.” This brings me to the yoga of scuba diving.

During my yoga teacher training, we referred to the second voice as prana, meaning the “life force” and “primal energy.” Prana also signifies “inward moving energy” because it refers to the circulation of air through the body, i.e. the breath. Since prana flows inward, practice of pranayama (breathing techniques to extend the breath) helps one develop inner awareness. For this reason, yoga teachers often encourage their students to focus on their breath. The opposite of prana is apana, “outward moving energy,” or downward-moving airs which eliminate waste products from the body. Apana pulls the energy outside of the body, directing one’s focus on the external world. Apana was the first voice which valued survival of the physical body above all else. One needs both prana and apana to sustain one’s body and function in the world. Through the practice of yoga, pranayama in particular, these energies flow together allowing the practitioner to achieve self-consciousness.

A benefit of taking the Open Water course at a school that teaches both scuba diving and yoga is having dive instructors who are familiar with yoga and pranayama. When I entered the water a second time and felt the terror rising in my chest, my diving instructor reminded me to breathe. “Inhale,” he signaled. “Exhale.” We inhaled and exhaled together for several breaths, in the same way as my students and I practice pranayama together during yoga classes. As I continued to focus on my breathing, the apana subsided and the prana rose. With the increase in prana came the realization that everything would be alright; there would be enough air in my tank and in my lungs as long as I continued to inhale and exhale. During my next four dives, the apana emerged again and again, but each time I took a few deep breaths, re-centered myself, and had fun!

What is the yoga of scuba diving? “Remember to breathe.”

P.S. Since completing the Open Water Diver Certification, I returned to Koh Tao to complete my Advanced Open Water Diver Certification with Ocean Sound Dive & Fitness (see my review of Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga). I still feel afraid every time I enter the ocean, but as I continue to bring my attention to my breath the worries fade and are replaced by excitement and wonder.

Photo credit: Marta Nowak