Editors note: Ingrid van Ginkel has lived, worked, and traveled throughout Southeast Asia. She is now moving to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to be near her daughter, Debbie-Lee Van Ginkel, a beloved dancer and Nia teacher. Her Simply Ingrid blog is a photo/essay reflection of her experiences and musings. Her writing voice is tender, observant, candid, and full of love for her two daughters. She writes in British English that she learned in her South African homeland, and I have refrained from correcting the spelling and grammar to Standard English to retain her voice. I am delighted she was willing to share some of her writings and images with Magical Cambodia. Please read and learn more about Ingrid at the end of her article. – Jinx Davis
Khmer Kaleidoscope – Savouring Kampot
The heat was crushing that April in 2019. Siem Reap stood bravely beneath the scorching rays of the sun. Even the toughest of people withstood the heat to a point. Thereafter, grabbing any shady protection they could find. To hide away. But never to escape that heaviness April brings with her.
Each day we did our best to tick the things-to-do list. Waking at the ungodly hour of five in the morning to tackle any physical chores needed around the house. Each one proving to be a challenge in itself. By nine o’clock, the dark wooden shutters of the big house in the jungle, as I so lovingly call it, were pulled closed and secured. The gentle enveloping darkness of the interior offered little respite from the relentless heat and glare torturing the earth. A sense of serenity was created within the magnificent wooden house. Making it bearable to endure the wrath of April’s heat.
Wearing any form of make-up during that period resulted in sympathetic looks from passers-by. Our clothes and hair were constantly drenched with sweat. Leaving us looking quite pathetic. Hours spent in swimming pools did nothing to cool one down. The water was warm. The sun scorching. Sliced lemons floated in litres of iced water. Consumed throughout the days and nights too. Copious amounts of fresh coconut juice brought relief to our never-ending thirsts. Debbie transported the bulky fruits on the moto, balancing them in bags hanging from each handle. Some formed a pyramid between her feet. Others were gripped in my arms whilst my knees tightened their grip on Debbie’s thighs. The roads were riddled with potholes. Making the journey a challenge. Collapsing on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor, whilst gulping the cool liquid gold, made it all so worthwhile.
Heading down a dusty road on the moto, I gazed out at the dry, parched earth below the wheels. The rice paddies, once emerald green, now resembled burnt rice lying on the bottom of a blackened pot. A saddening sight. We decided to get out of the heat and to find coolness. It certainly wouldn’t be in Siem Reap. We needed to head elsewhere …
I mention savouring Kampot in the title of this post. The reason being, Kampot is famous for its high-quality salt and pepper, of all colours and strengths. The corns keep their colour when dried, creating a splendid gift. Providing pleasure to both look at and to sample. This Poivre d’Indochine was first grown in India almost eight centuries ago. It then spread to Southeast Asia. The region of Kampot has perfect conditions in which these peppercorns thrive. French colonials introduced this little marvel to the rest of the world. It enhanced the flavour and brought an added element of joy to each meal we had. I had no objection to even sprinkling black pepper over my French chocolate mousse. Or my Portuguese meal of Bacalhau. The Cambodian dishes too tasted better when under a blanket of Kampot pepper.
What has always touched me deeply in Cambodia is the fact that the people have endured an extremely brutal history. One of conflict, pain and suffering. However, they remain a most spiritual, caring and kind nation. During the years, 1771-1775, there were bloody battles taking place. For centuries thereafter, power struggles took place between the Vietnamese, Chinese and French. Kampot suffered injury and deep wounds from both the Vietnam War and the Cambodian Civil War. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of this town. Even the Anglo-Chinese traders from Singapore created their own Chinese area in Kampot. As recently as forty-eight years ago, the Cambodian government troops fought the Khmer Rouge for control of the riverside town.
I have stayed in hotels around the world. Of various cultures, designs and levels of hospitality. There is something quite exhilarating about stepping into a foyer and being transported into another era. The Columns Hotel in Kampot was no exception. The large ceiling fans, the chequered floor tiles, the odd piece of selective art, the vintage-style chairs and the ambience in general, transported me to the colonial era. We collapsed on comfortable beds in the coolness of the stylish bedroom. The four-hour journey from Phnom Penh had been a tough one due to roadworks. We shook to pieces in our van. Nevertheless, the scenery was interesting. Incredibly tall stilt-houses dotted the landscape. Odd little road-side stalls offered refreshments. However, due to the extremely bad condition of the road, we were not able to ever stop for fear of skidding in thick sand and deep corrugations.
That old familiar feeling of excitement flooded our souls. Exploring once again the unknown. The streets, the pavements, the people. All new to us. Each one reminding us of just how rich our lives are. Each and every step we took in the next week provided a platform on which Life could share her treasures with us. In return, we immersed ourselves in everything that is Kampot.
Evidence of French colonialism was everywhere. On every street corner. The magnificent buildings of the past stood tall and with dignity. Most of them now housed shops, museums or restaurants. The street café welcomed us with a heavenly selection of croissants, baguettes, macaroons and eclairs. We ate thereof whilst being fascinated by the array and number of war veterans driving around on two-stroke motorbikes. Dreadlocks blinding the young companions who were holding on tightly around each man’s waist. Their tight skirts exposing tanned legs.
The next few days passed with ease and a sense of simplicity. We walked and walked and walked. Stopping to make small purchases. One of which I remember well. It caused us to break into uncontrollable laughter whilst lying in bed that night trying to eat pâté de foie gras out of a bottle, with no cutlery in sight. That’s when the wonders of a toothbrush came to the fore.
The cool evenings were spent being adventurous in the culinary sense. Something we love to do. The selection of small eating places was varied. European and Asian Fusion Cuisine was prevalent. We delved into most and walked out feeling deliciously satisfied. Truly one of the wonders of our world is experiencing foods from other cultures. It adds so much richness to one’s life and brings understanding of others.
As in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, rivers play an important part in daily life. In the existence of the people. I have always loved rivers. Their sheer beauty. Their immense power. Givers of life they are. The Praek Tuek Chhu River flowing through Kampot is no exception. It is a collection of rivers coming together. Depending on the tide, they flow in both directions to a certain point. Another incredible fact is that the river can be salty at times. And then not.
This fascinating river is beautiful. It navigates the intricate waterways through thick jungle. It plays host to a vast selection of bird life. And much to our joy, not to crocodiles. This was enough reason to explore further afield. To move out of town and onto the banks of the river. To Sabay Beach. A resort located on the banks of The Praek Tuek Chhu River.
Climbing into the tuk-tuk, we had no idea of just how extremely challenging the drive ahead of us would be. It was only about six kilometres. A short drive to paradise. Our knuckles were white on arrival at Sabay Beach. Our knees were bruised from banging into the safety rail. Our nerves were shot. The idea of rolling in a tuk-tuk due to the thick sand and deep corrugations on the road was foremost in our minds as we tackled the journey. We jolted. We laughed out loud. We shrieked with fear. The dust was so thick at times that oncoming vehicles could not be seen. And neither were we visible. We almost choked to death. Our eyes streamed. Eventually the measly sign appeared in the dust. We were relieved to be alive on arrival. Thoughts of how we would ever return to Kampot played havoc in my mind. Was walking the distance an option?
When developing the site that is now Sabay Beach, not a single tree was cut down. In fact, two hundred additional trees and plants were planted to create this haven. There is great emphasis on caring for the environment. It is evident everywhere. There is no sign of chemicals or plastic being used. The foods served, are all locally resourced. The actual beach is tiny. But quite big enough. Creating a somewhat secluded environment. We loved it.
The beach below our room made itself visible to us through the branches of a bougainvillea. It was that wonderful time of the day when the world slows down. The beings and creatures too slow down. Sunset. With cold craft Cambodian beers in hand, we relaxed in huge bamboo chairs strategically placed on a wooden deck. One which stood on stilts high above the river. It was in these two chairs that we enjoyed breakfasts and dinners over the next few days. The location was bliss. We needed nothing more than to be there. Curled up in those chairs. Looking out across the water. The sunsets were spectacular. Each one more incredible than the evening before. Shades of pinks and golds created palettes of wonder.
Breakfast was simple and delicious. Coffee, fruit and yoghurt. Scrambled eggs encased in crepes too. We would sit for ages in our chairs, taking time to absorb the incredible beauty which greeted us each morning.
The reflections in the river were extraordinary. They captured an enchanting world and held it long enough for us to experience. To appreciate. They were surreal. Showcasing exactly where heaven and earth met. Two copies of nature’s finest perfection on display. Throwing magnificent views of the Bokor National Park across the water to us. With full bellies and contented souls, Debbie and I would force ourselves to get up and out of those chairs. To savour more of what that river could offer.
We took a small boat down the river. Our captain kept us amused with tales of his life spent on the river. The water was pure and clean enough to swim. We chose to remain on the boat. Generous embraces of the sun held us captive, whilst the crisp freshness of river water sprayed us. Reeds and mangroves lined the banks.
Here and there the odd wooden and bamboo huts could be seen. Fishermen preparing for the day’s outing made their way to small, simple boats. Children waved from the banks. Sailing along the river was a surreal experience. We had it to ourselves. I felt nurtured and at one with Mother Nature. She certainly was presenting to us some of her finest jewels. Each scene pristine and authentic. Each one available to us as humans. To care for and to respect.
One day when temperatures were climbing, we sailed upriver to an area which housed a private home offering spa facilities. This form of luxury has always appealed to us. The body massages were of another level in terms of luxury and wellbeing. Two beds stood side by side under a thatch gazebo. The light net curtains on three sides danced with the gentle breeze. In front of us, the river lay sleeping. There was absolutely nothing, bar two meters of riverbank, between us and that mighty river. The massages were done in complete silence. Allowing us to connect with our surroundings on every level.
We stepped into the sauna. Sweat pouring from our relaxed bodies. From there, we plunged into the icy waters of the river. After repeating this routine a couple of times, we were starving. Freshly caught fish served us well. At the end of each day, we would sit on the beach before heading to our chairs. Only to stare out across the river. It was almost too much to grasp. Our appreciation of where we were deepened with each hour. Our faces reflected a certain glow. One of gratitude and happiness.
As she always does, wherever we find ourselves in the world, Debbie celebrated the closing of each day by dancing with the sunset. Together in unison.
Ingrid van Ginkel: I am not famous. Nor do I wish to be. I am simply Ingrid. I believe in myself and have a deep insight into the world around me, a strong sense of awareness, and a keen sense of humour – three wonderful gifts bestowed upon me.
I am a nurturer of note. I care deeply for people and love to tuck visitors in, make the hot water bottles, and prepare their favourite meals. There exists this deep-seated desire within my character, to always try to improve things, to make things better. It certainly doesn’t always work, and that has been a hard lesson learned and accepted by myself. I am the one who walks into a bathroom and wipes away someone else’s hair in the basin. However, to be honest, that is an unforgiving attribute and one that has clearly withered away whilst living in various exciting countries. One gets seriously tired of dirty basins!
Friends of my daughters call me Mom. What a compliment that is. Being a mother to two incredible daughters continues to be the most enriching, rewarding experience ever. We have grown together. They are my best teachers. My best friends. They share with me. They laugh and cry with me. They are just always there, at my side, no matter the distance between us. They are Life itself.
Being a sister, an aunt, a daughter, and even a mother-in-law are gifts that I value every day. And now, I hold the most treasured title that there is – “Ingi.” There are no words to describe the meaning and the value of being a gran.
Good, sincere friends mean the world to me. They share my joy. My fears and my concerns. They know me. They walk beside me.
Besides all those treasures in my life, I have a passion for good food, red wine, and of course, coffee. You will notice that in a lot of my travels, the first thing I do is to find the nearest coffee shop. That then becomes my home-base within the unknown surroundings.
As a child, my mom instilled in my sister and me, a deep sense of appreciation for that which is Life. She taught us how to value what we have, whether it be material, financial or, most importantly, spiritual. Mom taught us the value of acceptance – when all goes belly-up – how to reflect upon the situation, assess the damage and carry on, making the most of the present.
I was introduced to the wonder of travel and the gift of exploring and accepting other cultures early in life. My spirit of adventure, my dislike for complacency, and the courage to be aware of different thinking processes have equipped me to experience and deal with what Life has offered. The happiness, the sense of belonging and of love, and even the pain and the loss that I have experienced on my journey is priceless. For this reason, I regard myself as one of the richest people on earth.
Walk beside me now as my journey through Life continues. Share with me. Talk to me. Life is fascinating. You never know who you will meet along the way …
Visit Simply Ingrid.