Kampot, home of the Giant Durian.
I come from the country that boasts the Big Banana, the Big Peanut and the Big Prawn, so I feel like I’ve seen as many giant, novelty foodstuff attractions as I’ll ever need to see. But I actually enjoyed the Durian. All the beauty of the fruit without the obnoxious smell.
Luckily, though, there’s more to Kampot than just big fruit. The town itself is quietly charismatic, with rolling hills lining the banks of a slow-flowing river. The streets are wide and peaceful, and there’s plenty of decrepit colonial charm.
I was visiting for a weekend to play a show at Madi’s Bar. For a small town, it seems like there are quite a few venues doing regular live music. Madi’s was recommended to me as the place to go. It’s a grungy, dimly-lit place with ‘tude and, like many venues in Cambodia, the power isn’t earthed so you get little electric shocks in your lips if you get too close to the mic. But the manager Chiet, who plays in popular local band the Kampot Playboys, provided a warm welcome and many delicious shots.
The next day I waded out through the mud on my bike. I had no map, but just decided to follow the river for an hour or so. The sky was heavy with an impending thunderstorm but I felt smugly safe in my new plastic poncho. Pride before the fall…
After my thorough soaking, I decided to find somewhere nice to dry out. I found Epic Arts Café. Epic Arts runs a bunch of programs for blind and deaf people and people with disabilities. One of them is this café, which is staffed by deaf people. Other projects include an Inclusive Arts Course: two years of training in Drama & Theatre, Creative Movement, Music, Film making and Visual Arts, alongside Khmer and English, for people with or without disabilities. This is so important in Cambodia, as only around 10% of children with a disability receive any kind of education. They present music and dance shows which aim to improve the self-esteem of students while also ‘encouraging people to see ability, not disability’. Sadly there was no show while I was in town, but I’m looking forward to finding out more when I head back soon to perform at the Kampot Reader’s and Writer’s Festival.
Stumbling upon this great organisation tucked away in a tiny, bucolic town, I began to get a sense of how much fabulous work in arts and social justice is quietly being achieved by so many different groups here in Cambodia. Epic Arts display this map on their wall, which begins to give you an idea…