Kampot Evac

3 01 2009

Kampot, Cambodia

Since the coast of Cambodia appeared to be more our style than the rest of the country, we decided to just keep sliding down the coast until our visa ran out. The next stop down the line was Kampot, a lovely little town on the banks of the Teuk Chhou River. Our minibus dropped us on the outskirts of town and I called our guesthouse owner Thary, a sweet Cambodian woman who spent the last several years with her husband in Belgium and Switzerland, before returning with him and their adorable son to run a guesthouse in her hometown. We tromped off to the local taxi stand where we were set to rendezvous with Thary. We fended off the regular shouted offers from moto drivers and tuk tuks as we walked. Getting closer to the taxi stand, cars started pulling over and shouting at us from their windows, “Phnom Penh?” “Sihanouk?” It slowly dawned on me that these regular looking cars were supposed to be the local taxis and they were assuming that the two white kids with packs on were looking for a ride. Just as three taxi drivers were literally running for us, Thary pulled up in her pickup truck like a knight in shining red steel, and drove us to her little oasis, the Hang Guesthouse. Hang is just a few meters off the map of Kampot, but years in Belgium have given the hoteliers a healthy respect for bicycles which they lend to guests for free, making everything in Kampot easy to reach. Being off the map just means that Hang guests can enjoy quiet seclusion.

The road from Hang Guesthouse

The road from Hang Guesthouse

That night we decided to grab the bikes and check out the cuisine at a place called Moon’s Guesthouse. It’s description in the local guidebook said that it had a great rooftop view of Kampot as well as a pretty garden. We pulled in and were greeted by a nice Khmer guy. We said we were there for dinner and he asked if we wanted to sit down in the garden or if we wanted to check out the rooftop. We opted for the roof and climbed several flights of stairs only to find an empty roof with a great view. Hmmm. Slight miscommunication, we guessed. So in an effort to save face (more ours than his) we decided to relax and enjoy the view before heading back downstairs and ordering dinner. Looking over the skyline of Kampot is similar to what you would find in any other Cambodian city, an amalgam of French villas with stately balconies alongside tin roofed houses, some on stilts with banana leaf walls, and all surrounded by narrow dirt roads that can barely fit a car. Its one of those scenes that makes you realize that your not in Kansas anymore while simultaneously causing one to hum “If They Could See Me Now.” After the required 15 minutes went by, we headed downstairs and sat at a table. We were asked by one guy if we were vegetarian. Odd question, but no. Then when Gage asked for a menu he was told, “Oh no, dinner’s all taken care of.” We were obviously confused, but decided that it was one of those shut-up-and-go-along-with-it moments. Besides, we were already five minutes into a lovely conversation with a sweet Dutch guy named Edward. It turned out that he was in Kampot with his friend, Art, visiting their mutual friend Zee, who was the proprietor of the place. Just as if she were summoned, Zee then appeared with two plates of grilled pork and onions in a pepper sauce with chopped fried sweet potatoes and a side of shredded carrot, cashew, raisin salad with some sort of citrusy dressing. Compliments to the chef came between mouthfuls and groans of appreciation. Upon learning that we had been to Holland but hadn’t tried a Dutch pancake, Zee even went back into the kitchen to make us one for dessert. At about 11pm we managed to tear ourselves away from the great conversation and company, glad that we had arrived and vowing to come back for more.

The next day we rolled ourselves out of bed and grabbed the bikes again. We decided to brunch at Akashi Cafe on the north side of town. The proprietors here were from Japan and England and served up some delicious and creative fare. For instance I munched on a pumpkin, feta, rosemary quiche while Gage deliberated on whether to special order an entire Guinness chocolate cake. Don’t worry, I talked him down. How ironic to come to Cambodia and find such amazing and unique western fare. Not that we were complaining. The owners of Akashi cafe gave us some suggestions on where we might want to bike around outside the city and we took off to the north.

The very noticeable Akashi Cafe

The very noticeable Akashi Cafe

Following the river road, we gave ourselves a lovely case of whiplash, constantly looking down to avoid the potholes-cum-bathtubs in the road, while trying to look up every second we could in order to take in the surroundings. We had seen stilted houses and thatched roofs before, but this time it was different. We were on bikes, not behind windows. Kids shouted and waved to us and we smiled and Hello’ed back. We peeked in small shops where men shouted at football games on TV. Gage made some gruff old ladies grin wildly when he greeted them in Khmer. Being on bikes made us more exposed and the people around us more receptive. It was a lovely long ride.

By the time we got home our butts were sore and our legs were jelly. We ordered some beef sour soup (a delicious Khmer dish) at our hotel and decided to call it a night. While we ate Gage complained that his neck was sore, possibly from all the looking around during our bike ride. By 9:00 that night his sore neck had developed into a bad headache and he was starting to get feverish. By midnight he had gone through three paracetamols and was sweating through his sheets. I dug through every book I had on travel sicknesses, as wells as getting the night security guard to start up the computer for me so that I could do internet searches on Gage’s symptoms. Everything I read on illnesses in Cambodia said the same thing, “If your in Cambodia, don’t get sick.” Great. By 1:00 am I was chatting with a nice American doctor in Phnom Penh who was taken being woken up in the middle of the night quite well. His guess was dengue fever, but he said that if things got worse, we would need to get Gage to Phnom Penh, as there was no competent medical facility in any other city. And if it was really bad, we’d have to ship him off to Bangkok or Singapore. Watching the person you love suffer a painful illness is bad. Watching a person suffer a painful illness when you’re three hours from decent health services is tantamount to torture.

The next morning I had made the decision to cut our coastal exploration short and get to Phnom Penh. I explained the situation to Thary’s brother and he called a taxi to pick us up. I grabbed a bike and ran out to the only pharmacy in town and stocked up on paracetamol and oral rehydration salts. I woke up Gage with the news that we were leaving and packed up our stuff. Gage shuffled out to the taxi and Thary gave him an ice pack for his sore neck. She was so concerned she asked me to write her to let her know if Gage was OK. Three bumpy hours later we were in Phnom Penh. We visited the American Medical Clinic in the swank Cambodiana Hotel where the doctor there agreed with the earlier prognosis, dengue fever. It’s a nasty little virus brought on by equally nasty little mosquitoes. All that we could really do was keep him comfortable and hydrated. Luckily Gage was healthy and strong when he got it and so it only lasted about five days. Some cases last weeks. Some require blood transfusions. We got lucky. We may have missed a lot of Kampot and all of Kep (which would have been the next stop), but I was glad to have a healthy husband and peace of mind.

For more pictures from Kampot, click here.

Suggestions:

  • As you can imagine, I implore anyone interested in traveling abroad to carry evacuation insurance. Your employers insurance policy may cover you medically, but in case you’re in real trouble you will need to be evacuated and the costs can be astronomical. It’s worth the money. We use World Nomads; they are wonderful, always available, and specialize in world travelers.
  • Always carry rehydration salts with you. They are wonderful for any kind of illness or if it’s just a hot day and you’ve been sweating a lot. Anytime I have a headache or feel tired from a long day of walking, one of these little packets makes me feel better. Just make sure you follow the instructions exactly. You can find these in virtually any pharmacy in the world.
  • Don’t blame Kampot for Dengue Fever. Usually the disease sits inside of you for weeks before you develop symptoms. We have no idea where Gage got the disease, but we do know that dengue is much more common in urban areas. So rural areas have malaria and urban areas have dengue. Take your pick.
  • If you do make it out to Kampot, I definitely recommend the Hang Guesthouse. Thary and her family are wonderful. They have mastered the little details that make a big difference like toothbrushes in the bathroom, inexpensive internet access, bottles of wine, and headlights on the bikes (which saved us on the way back from Moon’s Guesthouse).
  • We didn’t make it there, but some ethical eats can be had at the Epic Arts Cafe which is run by the handicapped and disadvantaged in the community.
  • There are not a lot of sights in Kampot, but there is quite a bit to do volunteer-wise. Check out Kampot Interact for ways you can make a difference with you time.
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3 responses

3 01 2009
Zex

Hi..hope your husband is okay now but you have to be on alert if it might come again. So for your next stop during when you sleep please use or ask your hotel to provide anti mosquito net or anything to prevent mosquito.

It take only 1 mosquito bite to cause dengue. Mostly during dawn and dusk must be careful when there is a mosquito. I always remind my family to stay inside house or make sure there is no mosquito bite during this time. I dont know the situation in Cambodia but in Borneo here when we authority discover one case they will apply smoky the are suspected with this mosquito.

Zex
Borneo

4 01 2009
dad

I’m sorry but you two will not be allowed to stop your travels at any time in the near future. It’s been decided that hearing about them and seeing the pictures is just too fascinating for us slugs back here in reality. You will therefore have to continue to live exceptionally interesting lives for some time to come. However, neither of you is allowed to get any more sick than Gage recently was and (sorry Jen), you have to take turns so that (as you did so well Jen) one of you is available to take care of the other.

That’s it. Those are the new rules. Live with it. We all wish we could.

15 01 2009
Christy McCarthy

Just dropping in to say hello! Thanks for the nice words about World Nomads…. we’re also travellers (not just insurance people!), and try and target our products and service accordingly.
Stay safe and happy travels,
Christy

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