Posts Tagged 'kep'

Naked Like That (Kep Bungalow)

Tonight I miss America
at night.

Tonight I miss tambourines and harmonicas.
I miss the low whistle
of a train through the dark.
I miss fog-soggy sidewalks
and boys with stubbly beards
smoking cigarettes,
windshield shards
glittering beneath their sneakers
like that:
stars.

I miss driving home—
Bay Bridge jaundice,
hungry tunnel howling,
ears ringing
and headlights
like a lonesome pair of eyes.

I missed cracked windows
and cup holders,
the arch of 580
to 24,
the moment before
the highways touch

And I miss that city
laid out beneath me
and glittering

For one still moment

Like that
Like how I miss that—
Something I could almost touch
At night.

Tonight I’ve got the jungle.
Tonight I’ve got
Cambodia’s muggy black
of birds crying and geckos belching,
the low drone of insects
trying to get in.
Tonight I’ve got the world
behind a mosquito net
and the sea somewhere—
I can hear it.

I’ve got sheets and the shape
of some still body;
I’ve got a lonesome pair of eyes
probing in the dark
and all the goddamn stars in the world,
glittering like that

Naked like that

Like how I’ve always been—
Splayed and waiting

And breathing in the dark.

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National Geographic Moment: Gecko Vs. Praying Mantis, Bungalow Porch

Alicia got the shot; I can't take credit.

So I love traveling sola. You know that by now. But one of the great things about traveling with friends—and fucking cool friends at that—is that they open your eyes to things you’d normally never notice. You end up, say, in a towel at 11pm on the porch of your bungalow in the Kep hillside, watching a gecko and a praying mantis the size on your middle finger in a life-and-death stare-off amid the rafters.

My best friend Alicia is a science lady. She’s a taxidermist and has a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of animals and insects. I know shit about science, skirted through classes in high school with charm and wandering eyes. All bird calls kind of sound the same to me, but Alicia will pause, listen, then tell you all about the species that made the noise, usually some cool anecdote to go along with it. It’s kind of like having your own personal nature guide.

So when she stopped in her tracks along a dirt road outside one of the Angkor temples, I knew it had to be something good. She brushed off a frenzied pile of ants, stared at the dead body that had caused the swarming excitement. “Oh, rad!” she exclaimed, carefully picking up the insect, an unhatched cicada. She explained the reasons behind its rarity while sliding it gently into used film canister. She was bringing it back for a co-worker at Academy of Science.

And so when she tapped gently on the door to my bungalow as I was stepping out of the shower, I knew I’d better open it. “Hey,” she whispered in the glow of the porch light, “check it out.”

It was the biggest praying mantis I’d ever seen. Which isn’t saying much, since I’d only seen my first a few hours earlier. But it was big, is the point. It was near-frozen, its head bobbing gently as it stared at a small moth.

“Look,” Alicia pointed to a green head peeking out behind the rafter. It was one of the big geckos, the kind that makes the belly noise you hear in the night all over this region. I’d never have seen a big one before.

“A stare down?” I asked.

Alicia nodded. “They’re both ambush predators, so they’re waiting for someone to come close.” The praying mantis was waiting for the moth, unaware that the gecko was waiting for him. “They could sit like that all night.”

I shrugged, clutching the towel around me. “I’ll give it a few minutes.” We stared, surrounded by the buzzing blackness of a tropical evening.

Suddenly, a huge moth swooped by. The praying mantis forgot the tinier moth sleeping on the rafter, which darted away, and lunged towards the larger moth. They danced like that for a few flurried seconds—nimble bright green chasing a flurry of grey and black wings. “Oh damn!” we exclaimed. It was like a nature show, gone live.

The praying mantis leapt toward the mammoth moth, not realizing it was landing within reach of the gecko, who’d held still throughout the chase. One swift dive, and the mantis became nothing more than thin green neon hanging out of the mouth of a darker, reptilian green.

The gecko slunk behind the rafter to consume its prize. Both moths had disappeared into the night.

“Well,” I said, nodding, “that was fucking cool. Thanks for the heads up, dude.”

“No problem,” Alicia laughed. “Little excitement for your evening.”

We said good-night and disappeared behind adjoining doors.

Photo Essay: Kep’s Abandoned Mansions

Before the war, beach-side Kep was a fashionable get-away for Phnom Penh’s well-heeled. Opulent homes were built into the cicada-buzzing green slopes, washed in the smell of salt and seafood. They were all abandoned, of course, in 1975; as the war reached on into the 90s, the facades crumbled and the green grew up in the cracks. It’s pretty much stayed that way since.

Kep is on track to regain its by-gone glory. For better or worse, bulldozers lumber across construction lots where crisp new buildings arch up behind shotty scaffolding. For now, Kep is a mellow mix of vacationing Cambodian families and independent Western travelers. Fishermen reel their nets, women season crab in fresh Kampot pepper and their adolescent children serve you at beach-side shack restaurants. You can hop on a boat and cruise out to Rabbit Island, where hammocks and coconuts and ramshackle bungalows will lure you away from any noble ambitions to trek to the top of the jungle-y island.

And of course, you can traipse through the remains of Kep’s past.

Makes my heart flutter

The squat toilet shall never die

The tile survives

View from the former second-story balcony

Peeking out: view from the street

Looking up

Looking out

Between the trees

Rising up

The walls of some of the buildings were covered, not in traditional graffiti, but children’s scribbles: faces, indiscernible Khmer, dirty drawings of women. It somehow made it sweeter, lent an innocence to the rubble that made you think of it, not as a relic of war and the country’s painstakingly slow march towards recovery, but instead as a child’s play place, a fantasy land, safe and hidden.

It’s hard to know what to say about Kep. The urban explorer in me was pretty stoked to traipse through abandoned building after abandoned building, surveying what was left and what was gone and what was growing up amid the crumble. But you couldn’t help but feel a sadness, adventuring around in this way you love, because you knew the reason for it was so heart-breaking.

It’s also hard to know what to say about the new development, the sure wave of resort tourism it will bring. It won’t be the same, that’s for sure, but will it actually go back to being something more similar to what it once was, before the war?

There’s no way to know right now. But I will say it’s a damn good place to hole of for a few days, eating crab and swimming in the ocean and climbing through ruins.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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