On farmland near the small fishing town of Kampot, dusty paths ran poker straight around the edges of fields like grouting in between bright green bathroom tiles.
After my twelve hour beeline south on buses the previous day, peddling my bike without purpose felt satisfying. I had no destination and no timelines to meet. Just an afternoon of exploring Cambodia’s countryside on little roads that led to nowhere in particular. In fact I had more than one afternoon.
For three days I had lingered on the south coast, ignoring the cocktail bars and white sands of Sihanoukville and turning to the smaller fishing villages of Kep and Kampot.
Kep was the gateway to Rabbit Island. A tiny full stop on the map at the end of Cambodia’s border line with Vietnam. I caught a fishing boat to the island and walked its fringes for a few hours. Palms fell into mangroves to form a lattice of vegetation that eventually became impenetrable. When I couldn’t walk further on land, I turned into the water and stumbled upon a room with a view: An empty double bed on a bamboo jetty that stood over the glassy sea. I wondered if anyone had stayed there and if they had, how they had known about it. A little enclave of the globe that was surely best kept secret?
An overnight in Kep meant only one thing (according to the Lonely Planet) Soft shell crab. My god the culinary delight that is soft shell crab. How had I turned 26 years old without sampling the sweet crunch of this unique seafood? The scene of my awakening was a small restaurant over Kep Bay. As if to make sure that its crab was the star of the show, dim lighting and red plastic chairs blurred into the background of creosoted wood. The dark water, like oil in a petrol can, lapped thick and slow below my table.
Kampot, slightly further along the coast, felt like a metropolis in comparison and a dingy hostel choice threw me into another day of exploring. Bikes were the transport of choice and as a new friend and I picked up speed, the desire to go completely off-grid overtook us. We peddled out of town onto a road that quickly became dirt track. Lean cattle flicked their ears and threw us disinterested glances as we wheeled past. Birds of prey swooped from electricity pylons into the crops below. The humid day didn’t stop the rusty soil from kicking up against our back wheels.
On my whistle stop tour of South East Asia, I was pleased that I hadn’t completely abandoned its remote corners for the draw of its urban sprawls. Every path I walked or cycled along Cambodia’s coast in those few days seemed to lead to nowhere. And that was exactly the point.
In a journey so focused on the next stop, I had found memorable experiences by travelling to nowhere in particular. And that soft shell crab…