The hardest thing to explain when planning a trip like this one is that this is not a vacation, this is travelling. Travelling is about connecting with people in a way that makes you see the world just a little bit differently. Today we met three people who did just that.
Wanting to explore a bit further afield, we opted to take a two-hour crab shuttle from Kampot to Kep. Kep was one of Camobodia’s prized seaside destinations until decades of civil war under the Khmer Rouge and ensuing war with Vietnam destroyed the area.
Today tourism is making a comeback. New hotels are cropping up among the ruins of French colonial architecture. The crab fishery is reputed to be the best tasting in Cambodia, which has given rise to many seaside restaurants and a sizeable crab market at the end of the pier.
The captain of our crab shuttle was Jerome, a Dutch national of Korean heritage whose brother now lives in North Vancouver. Jerome took the time to explain everything we were seeing along the Kampong Bay River to Kep through the eyes of an expat.
One of our fellow passengers was Anthony from BeeKeeper, an Australian social enterprise designed to improve the life of average Cambodians.
BeeKeeper employs locals to make backpacks out of recycled clothing. Fair trade principles are applied, meaning decent working conditions for employees and no negative environmental impacts.
Proceeds from BeeKeeper are used to build schools, send teachers for proper training, and fund tuition for students. While just a concept in 2012, the organization is already award-winning a mere three years later and four schools have been built. If you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift, they ship internationally!
The third interesting person we met today was Dy, our tuktuk driver who helped us explore Kep. He explained a bit of Cambodia’s painful history, and showed us the ruins of French colonial villas that were stripped to the bone by the Khmer Rouge, a retreating Vietnamese army, and Cambodians themselves who had been forced out of Kep and were starving upon their return.
I’m pretty sure most of these villas would be condemned by even Cambodian standards, but several of them were occupied. Dy explained the families have no place else to go.
Dy also took us to the the king’s palace, which had been a grand estate in its heyday. Today bullet marks from Vietnamese artillery riddle the outside, but it is still considered a national treasure.
Cambodia has a long ways to go to catch up to even Vietnam’s standards. It’s hopeful to see the number of expats in the area working to raise the standard of living.
Cambodians are a friendly people happy to receive foreigners. We received many waves and smiles on our tuktuk ride back to the hotel. Hopefully the fledgling tourist industry will bring money to the region and eventually contribute to a better life for its citizens.