Given the excitement of my first few weeks back in Cambodia, time with visitors and unplanned accidents, I was ready for some R&R in Kampot, oh wait I was meant to be working. Still, I had a place to unpack my bag, make new friends, reconnect with the old and settle myself, at least for the time being. My settling was taking place at Banteay Srey Women's Spa where I'd be the new resident Yoga/English teacher, sound perfect? You're right.
I already gushed about the amazing girls I worked alongside, taught English to and quickly became friends with, so I won't get into that. Instead, this post is all about Kampot, the city I called 'home' for two months. Kampot is notoriously known as one of those places you get stuck in, so go ahead and plan to stay longer than expected.
Kampot is a black hole – life moves so slowly here that you get caught in its gravitational pull and find that your two day trip has suddenly turned into six. It’s hard to leave. ~ Matt from NomadicMatt
I heard this last year before I ventured into the city for the first time and sure enough, my four day visit turned into a week, with plans to return (hi). As I met other travelers throughout Asia, we'd had the "Where've you been, what's your favorite place, blah blah blah" conversation and I often found myself mentioning this little town. Everyone asks's "What is there to do in Kampot?" but that's the beauty of this city, you don't do anything. It's a place to relax, recollect yourself, forget about your next destination, booking flights or coordinating tours; it's a place to just be.
Knowing all of this, I was perfectly content with unpacking my bags and calling Kampot home for a little while. My only concern was that things had changed in the short time I'd been away, although it hadn't even been a year I knew Kampot was a prime target for rapid tourist development infestation. Thankfully, as I re-entered town the only major difference I found was that I was on the back of Sa Ry's motorbike, upgrade from the bicycle we shared last year. Bonus to slow, solo travel: making friends, having them remember you, beg you to come back to their city and then pick you up from the bus terminal when you do. I love the look on tuk-tuk, motorbike or taxi drivers faces when I tell them my friend is coming to get me, no way do they believe the white girl has friends in town.
As the days and weeks went by I found myself quickly settling into the hum of life in Kampot, aside from that one incident, things were going great. I vowed to use my vacation days to get out and explore (Kep, Bokor Mountain, Sihanoukeville) but that never really happened. Instead, the simplicity of Kampot encouraged me to stay put, day trips to the rapids, bike rides around town and visits to the numerous restaurants the city has to offer were enough for me.
Although the city didn't appear to have suffered any drastic changes there were a few things I began to notice, the most obvious being the tourists - both the numbers and type. It didn't take long to realize the cause, Mad Monkey, one of the chain guesthouses in Cambodia recently opened up shop. In all honesty, this is a great guesthouse and had I not been living in Kampot I may have considered staying, it's just the type of people that stay there are more of the booze cruise, beer pong playing type versus the chilled out, lay by the river vibe Kampot is used to. The increase in numbers is great for the tourism industry in Kampot, I just hope that it doesn't slowly turn into the next Shianoukville, lord knows we only need one of those. I guess I should be thankful for the increase in numbers as it seemed to boost the attendance in my yoga classes, including that day I got to teach 5 beefy Australian boys.
There were a few instances during my 2+ month stay in Kampot that I felt as if I were ready to move on, see something new, or get lost in a bigger city, but those were easily overshadowed by the time I spent blissed out in this little corner of the world. The growth I experienced in this town was exponential, not only was my yoga practice evolving but I was learning a lot about myself. I entered the city on a low note healing recent injuries, was soon after robbed, thrown into a new environment with high expectations and not always compatible co-workers, but each of these situations only proved to strengthen me.
Although there were many people who touched my heart during my stay in Kampot my stay would have been entirely different if it weren't for my friend Sa Ry. Although we had some ups and downs, and our relationship may not have played out exactly as he had wished I'm grateful for every moment we had together and the support he provided me. From picking me up at the bus terminal on my very first day, taking me to have my stitches removed, photocopying important documents and offering support, empathy and a hug I wanted to melt into when my bag was stolen, he was a pillar of strength I was happy to lean on when times were tough.
Of course, times weren't always tough in Kampot, we had our fair share of fun as well. Sa Ry put up with my hanger when we couldn't decide where to have dinner, spent hours driving around, sitting by the river, and eating 25 cent ice cream cones and of course sharing a few beers. I also visited Sa Ry while he bar-tended at Naga House (conveniently close to Banteay Srey), let him tag along on my days off, and bought him Birthday Brownies to help celebrate his 27th. Relationships are hard to begin with but when you throw in cultural differences, short time frames and thousands of miles you've got a real mindfuck. Friends? Girlfriend? This differentiation only mattered to one of us, but for me, I was just happy to have someone to turn to, fight with, depend on, or argue with, whatever the situation called for.
Time moves slowly in Kampot giving one time to really live, to soak in the first rays of the morning sun, breath in the crisp humid air, and feel at peace as days come to an end. As much as my feet want to step on new earth, eyes want to see new sights, and soul wants to make new friends I know my heart will draw me back to the places and people I know. I left Kampot with teary eyes and many 'See you later' instead of 'Goodbyes', knowing that this wouldn't be my last time in the sleepy, captivating city.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.