With a few hectic weeks of social engagements behind us I decided it was time for a trip down the coast again. I told Leakhana the primary reason I wanted to go south was because I wanted to get some fence posts happening on our block in Kep and she was keen to get out of town so we made a plan to leave Friday afternoon. It was not long before Leakhana demurely asks “Sweetheart can Phalla come ?” which of course I was expecting ( I never know which family members will tag along but I know there are going to be extras each and every time we go anywhere…. Solo escape is futile) and to which of course I agreed. However I firmly say NO MORE and it was not long before Leakhana is saying “Sweetheart..Phalla want to bring her nanny”. Jesus H Fucking Christ. Sigh. “Ok….sure.” Actually I like the nanny ( she was supposed to be our nanny before she was stolen but that is another story ) and she will be helpful . When I get home Phalla’s car is parked in our house and I ask Leakhana “er….if Phalla has the car why doesn’t she drive down so we have enough space in the car ?”. Answer; “ oh….the petrol is too expensive”. Right….I see. So Leakhana,Grace ,Phalla,Vichea, Souea,Karma and I jam into the truck and head out of Phnom Penh around 2pm. An uneventful trip other than a rain storm outside Kampong Trach which borders on a hurricane. I have to slow down to 5kph as rain pelts sideways and wind threatens to deliver us to Kansas. It lasts about 20 minutes and we drive through a curtain and it stops immediately with almost clear skies! Bizarre.
On arrival in Kep we check in to Vanna Bungalows and I spend several trips hauling bags, baby seats, ice boxes etc etc up the steep shitty old log stairs. By the time I finish I am sweating like a NSW copper facing the Woods Royal Commission ( go Underbelly !! ). Karma takes one look at the stairs and freaks out completely. They really are very steep and with a thin film of rain on them they are slippery as well. I eventually have to coax her up but she can only do the first set and I carry her rest of the way. We claim our respective bungalows and I crack a cold beer to celebrate the official finish of choredom. We are all starving so we head straight down to Kim Ly Seafood for a very early dinner and Karma does me proud by riding in the back of the truck down to the crab shacks. As I drive very very slowly she hangs out the side with her tongue hanging out and is a natural. What a dog! Dinner is hectic with kids tearing off in all directions and mongrel dogs trying to rape / kill and torture Karma. With dinner behind us we head back to the bungalows for some cards and Leakhana and I finally teach Phalla how to play poker using toothpicks as chips. Karma has now found a new friend in a lovely young male brown dog and he teaches her to go up and down the stairs with ease.
The next morning I escape down to Vanna’s restaurant for a thick coffee and some fruit pancakes while the clan up top shower and fuss and do whatever the hell it is they all do every morning. I am totally focused on getting my fence posts happening and really just want to take off and get busy but “Sweetheart – we want to eat Khmer breakfast” gets in the way so I drive everyone down to a Khmer café on the beach and while they eat I head off to buy an axe ( I had left mine in Phnom Penh ) so I can cut some markers for the boundary. There are only three shops in Kep that sell “hardware” and none of them had any axes left ! Extraordinary in an area that is cutting down trees and building houses at the rate of one every minute. I pick the family up and we drop Vichea and his nanny off back at the bungalow as I am determined to thin the travelling circus and Leakhana, Grace,Phalla,Karma and I head in to Kampot. On the way we stop at the White Horse market and they sell axe heads but not with handles! WTF! Seriously this axe hunt is like having trouble buying an AK47 in Afghanistan.
On arrival in Kampot I am busting for a piss and in dire need of a cup of tea so I head for the Rusty Keyhole but the sign at the main road says it is shut (damn you Kris!). I ring Simon from Rogue Music hoping we can visit him and he is not at home either. So we head for the market and I finally get an axe and a string line and after a visit to our Aunt’s house we head over to the concrete yard and it turns out they are old family friends as their business is right next to Mum’s block of land in Kampot. I tell them I want 2.6 – 3.0m long concrete posts at 200mmx200mm . They think I am crazy when I tell them I intend on sinking the posts 600mm into the ground and indicate with their hands I only need to sink them a about 300mm. I laugh and say “yeah that’s why all your country fences are fucked” and assert the fact again. I WANT 3.0M tall posts with steel in them! We settle on 2.6om which will mean we can then have a 2m tall wall and I am happy with that. Whilst they are necessary here in Cambodia, I generally do not like the impossibly tall walls many people build around their country land here as it blocks views and impeded air flow etc. The 10 posts we order are $20 each ( I am just going to do the corners and a few mid markers first as I want to see how good these posts are ) and will be ready in a week and they tell us they can deliver and organise a crew to put them in. I plop down $40 deposit, no receipt asked for or offered and we jump back into the car and head out to the land.
We cruise through the gloriously green rice fields and are met by the usual greeting party of village kids, stray dogs, chickens and locals. After three years of ownership and many visits we now know everyone in the immediate vicinity. Gracie has her little friends who she runs off with, Karma finds a few young dogs to get fluke worm off and Juntha soon arrives with his usual cruisey walk and happy smile. We greet each other and chitter chatter about this and that and he then asks me if I am interested in buying a slab of land that adjoins the back of our boundary. I contain the excitement as Leakhana and I have always said we would love to buy the adjoining back block which is about the same size as our current one (900m2). Juntha takes me to the rear of our block and says “they want to sell 10mx 25m for $2000” and paces out to a palm tree that they are saying is the corner marker. I then get my 50m tape out and it is actually 16m long and when I tell Juntha this it makes no difference to the price. So this would effectively give us an extra 400m2 taking us to 1300m2 or a block that is 25.5m wide and 51m long. A great sized block for everything we would ever need. House (or two), pool, garden and pig and chicken pens.
By the time we walk back to our neighbors’ house for an iced coffee the price has dropped $250. I tell everyone we will think about it and I ask Juntha to get the owners to peg out the boundary so we can look at it next week when we return. But basically……WE WANT IT! Phalla loves the block and says she would love to buy one too. In fact, everyone who has ever seen the block has loved it and I am still so glad we jumped in when we did. I am sure someone else would have bought it if we had hesitated. Apart from the fact it has great mountain and rice paddy views and was cheap, it is elevated about a meter above the main road at the front and it also has a 3m lane running down one side boundary. So we have control over two sides, nice neighbors on the third and nothing out the back nor is there ever likely to be as there is no real access! We just need power to come along the road and we are laughing. In the end I could not be arsed marking out pegs in the heat of the afternoon so we said our goodbyes.
Back to Kep we go and while the family head down to the beach front to eat crab, I head up to Kep Lodge for a Swiss German Rosti feast and a chat to Dan. There is only so much seafood I can handle and I know we are going to Kim Ly again that night. Dan show me his new luxury bungalow which is bloody nice and over a beer I ask him if he knows of any houses for rent in Kep as I am still keen on a weekender to rent and share with some others . As it turns out he happens to know of a house and we are soon on a very gnarly road heading up a hill in the middle of the town. When we get there I instantly get that WOW feeling and when we make it to the top of the stairs and I step onto the front deck, I am blown away. With expansive ocean views, a cooling breeze blowing, jungle everywhere and fully furnished inside with a nice mix of Khmer and French antiques, the house is just perfect. It comes with two staff and would make for an amazing city retreat. Stay tuned……..
More of the same that night with crabs at Kim Ly and poker afterwards and when everyone crashed out I stayed up and as Karma cuddled up next to me I sat on the top step drinking cold beer and reflecting on life until about 1am. There are so many things going through my mind now. Another baby on the way, an increasingly strong desire to divest my Australian house and build something simple but functional in Kep. I am not getting any younger and would love all the kids to have the same rural retreat to grow up holidaying on that I had in Australia when I was young. Phnom Penh is just so brutally lacking in space for leisure activities and Kep is just a fantastic place to unwind with its slow pace and seaside holiday atmosphere. I have visions of the kids running around in the garden or riding their bikes down the safe country road or playing with the local kids for hours on end while I fiddle around in a shed and Leakhana raises her ducks and chickens. BBQs at night and parties when something special comes around. A Bunk room full of kids at night and parents and guests sitting around chatting till late and then fresh eggs and coffee in the morning before heading off to the beach or whatever.
Sunday rolled around after breakfast we headed up to Kep Lodge for a swim. There were only a few people around the poo an thankfully they all seemed to be very child and dog friendly. Karma had a bit of a scare when one of Dan’s bitches who had only recently had puppies gave her a bit of a “don’t fuck with my space” mauling and she jumped into the pool to escape! . The kids had a ball splashing around and I ended up fried to a crisp. After lunch we headed back to Phnom Penh in drizzling rain and whilst everyone else went to sleep I soldiered on. It seemed like a bloody long drive and I was very happy to finally pull into our driveway. So that was our Clayton’s Fencing weekend. Next weekend we will return to hopefully get the posts in but this time it is Leakhana and I only. I hope.