Our second time in Cambodia only stood to reinforce what we thought the last time we visited (which you can read about here, here, and here); We love this country. We love the people, the countryside, the beer. We love the food. Fresh flavours, less aromatic and more hearty than that of their Thai neighbours.
We covered a lot of ground in a short time, a grand sweep bringing us in from the Thai border in the North West of the country, right around the southern coast, and out again from the North East into Laos.
Roads in Cambodia aren’t great. The better, sealed roads, are still made up of single lanes of traffic catering to cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles, buses and farm machinery. With multiple overtaking happening simeltaneously, progress is slow. The bad roads hardly exist anymore, instead traffic eases its way steadily along something more resembling muddy swamps. We spent many hours on buses, eating on the road. Pork rice by the bus station in Phnom Pehn, eaten hastily between buses and washed down with iced tea. Pineapple cut into chunks with quick heavy blows and eaten with a skewer from a plastic bag. Fat steamed dumplings, piping hot and deliciously savoury, filled with pork, egg and chives.
We watched the produce change as we moved through the country. The bright green oranges of Battambang towards the North, corn cobs and sugar cane juice in the south, gourds and pumpkins towards the Laos border. Everywhere rice. Bright green fields rippling in the breeze. Women bent double harvesting the fields, cutting the crop into fat bundles. In a little village near the Bamboo Railway children clamour over one another to show us around the rice factory. Grabbing handfuls of rice from sacks they show us the different grades of grain; this one for cooking, this one for the pigs, this one for chicken and fish. Passing through villages we glimpse what else is on offer. Crusty bauguettes, a legacy of the French, are pilled high in every village. Eaten as they are, or spilt open and filled with meats, pates and fresh herbs. Long strings of dried sausages, strung across a pole, hung in a thick curtain in the sun. Shallow wicker baskets filled with deep fried spiders, a speciality of the town of Skone. Needless to say we declined these little treats.
Reaching the south of the country we headed for Kampot, a sleepy town sitting on the river. We took a tuk tuk out through lush rice fields and sugar cane plantations into the surrounding countryside. On the way children stopped to call out hello. We visited the Starling Pepper farm. Kampot is famous for its pepper, once the only product to grace the most fashionable tables in Paris. Pepper plants grew in endless rows up brick stacks. The crop was green pepper, harvested before maturity and eaten fresh. We pulled some from the vines to try, and chewed on the mild, citrusy spice.
In Kep, famous for crab, we tucked into seafood. A bustling crab market is set up by the waterfront. In the evenings women wade out to pull in the baskets from the sea, the sun setting behind them casting an orange glow across the waves. The sort through the baskets, pulling out dozens of blue legged crabs. The air is thick with the smell of charcoal grills and barbecued seafood. Fat fish are lashed to sticks, their skins crackling and splitting. Lines of crab turn from grey to vivid red over the heat, squid in every size sizzle and hiss. Crab shacks line the seafront, cooking up the catch of the day.