Kampot shophousesKampot in Cambodia’s south is a Sunday afternoon kind of town. The broad Kampong Bay River runs through it, outpacing everything else. Many of the locals still ride bicycles around the town’s decorative roundabouts, and little horse-drawn carts park alongside the market.

It reminds me and Roo of Mekong River towns in southern Laos like Thakek and Savannakhet, fifteen years ago.

At the town’s centre is a broad strip of green, more traffic island than parkland, lined with French colonial and Chinese shophouses. In amongst these shophouses off a colonade is a cafe run by Epic Arts, a NGO committed to challenging perceptions of disability in Cambodia. Most of the staff are hearing impaired and the menu includes instructions in sign language. The Lao coffee is excellent.

Bars, restaurants and guest houses occupy some of the prettiest real estate on the riverfront, but the town is a long way from being overwhelmed by tourism. There are few internet cafes, and the key local form of advertising appears to be training minah birds to sing out ‘Come and eat rice’ (in Khmer, of course) from their cages in front of foodstalls.

We stay at the Kampot Guesthouse (adequate but uninspiring) and hang out in the garden of the appropriately named Blissful Guest House nearby.

When Roo gets the chance to take a tour to Bokor National Park, Tash and I meet up with ‘Teacher Laureen’ and two of her Cambodian charges, Srey Mey and Kim Lien, from the Seametrey school to go to Tekchhou Zoo.

Tiger cubThis privately owned zoo 8 km outside Kampot is a guilty pleasure. Different standards from Australian zoos, or even from the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Takeo, mean being able to get up-close and personal with the animals. Despite less than ideal conditions, three tiger cubs and a lion have been born to the zoo in recent times.

The highlights for me are: hearing a leopard purr; being less than a metre from the baby tigers and lion; patting an elephant’s trunk; being followed by a lonely otter; and the cage full of pythons playing host to an unsuspecting duck.

'Cheeky monkey take Tash's hat'Tash’s highlights are: playing with a puppy by the elephant enclosure; riding a plane on a rust old merry-go-round that I push until it gets up enough momentum to spin around (Srey Mey and Kim Lien on horses); climbing a concrete lion; and nearly having her hat stolen by a gibbon. A week later, she’s still talking about ‘cheeky monkey take Tash’s hat’.

Merry-go-roundFrom the zoo we visit Tekchhou rapids. Muddy water, dusty riverbank, not much to see (though Tash goes swimming). But we have a great lunch in true Khmer style, hiring a picnic platform and ordering too much food.

Tash comes down with a fever later that afternoon due to an infected sore under her left arm. We meet up with Roo at the wonderful Bokor Mountain Lodge on the riverfront for a drink. But as the sun starts to set, I know I’ll be running low on options if she takes a turn for the worse in the night. The Bokor Lodge proprietor comes to the rescue, organising a tuk-tuk to take us to the town’s best clinic where Tash is prescribed antibiotics and paracetemol. Blanche DuBois didn’t know half of it: try relying on the kindness of strangers with a sick kid in a country where you don’t speak the language in a town you’ve never been before to learn just how kind strangers can be.

We take the bus back to Phnom Penh the next day and Tash, though still feverish, is delightful. She sits on my knee rattling off the names of all the animals she sees through the window: cows, chickens, roosters, pigs, ducks, horses, even a monkey.

It keeps her occupied for hours and makes me realise how kid-friendly travel in rural southeast Asia can be.

For more photos from Tekchhou Zoo, click here.


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One Response to “Kampot”

  1. Ken McAlpine Says:

    Dear All

    Don’t you just love those dodgier asian zoos. “Guilty pleasure” is a good description. Our kids loved the Mysore zoo – last updated in 1912.

    There was a penguin “enclosure” with a small pool and and about 60 sq cm of shade in which 2 lone penguins were trying to shelter at noon.


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