WHAT IS IT?
The Kampot Kamikaze Run is a fantastic four-day Kampot tour organised by the Mad Monkey Hostel. The first of its kind took place in September 2015, and happened to coincide with a massive tropical storm that flooded the town and made many of the roads impassable.
Instead of ruining the experience, it turned out to be an incredible adventure. We got lost on multiple occasions, braved torrential rain almost constantly, narrowly avoided a petrol canister that came flying off the back of a lorry, picked up a hookworm, slipped and fell in mud, missed out on a few of the tour’s highlights, and finished up on a bar crawl to venues that were largely submerged. But, by the end, we felt like a family of seriously satisfied travellers and tour guides, united through the camaraderie of having shared such a unique experience.
REASONS THIS TOUR WAS LEGENDARY
1. GIANT TUK TUK
Unless you get involved with the Mad Monkey day trip to Kep, which is included as part of the Kamikaze tour, you probably won’t ever get to experience a super-tuk tuk. This monster comfortably seats 14 people, two inflatable reindeer, speakers and a huge bucket of ice and beer, and is the perfect way to tour the local crab markets, beach and animal sanctuary.
Kep is famous for its crab markets and part of the day tour involves stopping off at a restaurant on stilts overlooking the ocean to sample prawn, calamari, fish and crab dishes. Help is at hand if you don’t know how to go about cracking the crustaceans’ exoskeletons. You’ll also have a brief moment to swing in a hammock or hanging chair before the tuk tuk continues onto the beach.
3. KHMER CHILDREN
Local children in Cambodia are some of the most inquisitive and friendly you’ll ever meet. They love to scream ‘hello’ and give you a wave as you pass by on your scooter. On the way to the Gibbon Valley sanctuary near Kep, small children crowded around our tuk tuk, eagerly awaiting the chance to race our reindeer up and down the road, and at the cave temples on day two, children guided us one-on-one, hilariously echoing the exact same information despite being feet away from each other.
4. GIBBON PLAY TIME
Gibbon Valley is a forest retreat that rescues poorly treated gibbons and other animals. The gibbons love to interact with everyone and everything they can find, and sometimes they get a little too excitable. Usually, they’re free to roam around the extensive grounds, but for their own protection, they’re sometimes kept on a lead when a lot of visitors stop by. If you go near, they’ll jump on your head, pull at your hair or try to steal any loose belongings, so you shouldn’t approach them unless you’re empty handed.
5. GIBBON VALLEY WALK
The Gibbon Valley property is surprisingly large and really interesting to explore. There are forest footpaths, disused pools and abandoned pianos. Bear in mind, if you fancy a swim, that the water in the pools has probably been stagnating for a long time. We think this was where our hookworm friend joined the party.
6. OVERCROWDED TRANSPORT
Just when we thought the locals were crazy for riding four to a bike, we farang managed to beat them at their own game by fitting 15 humans and a monkey in one small truck for the last part of the ride to Gibbon Valley. This is a good time to free up your beer hand and cling onto something/someone.
7. COMICAL BEER DRINKING TECHNIQUES
Apparently, after a few cans of beer, boys get bored with the usual ring pull mechanism and feel the need to combine head butting with sculling from the razor sharp cracks that result. Each to their own…
8. GORGEOUS SCENERY
It’s amazing how much the scenery can vary in such a short space of time. From mountainous forests to beaches, rice paddies, rocky outcrops and caves, you’ll never get bored with the scenery as you shoot by on your scooter. On a clear day, on the way up to the top of Bokor Mountain, you even have a chance of viewing parts of Vietnam.
9. SALT AND PEPPER FARMS
Kampot supplies salt and pepper around the world and two of the stop offs on this tour are salt fields and a pepper farm. You can learn more about the production process, taste samples and learn what gives each its unique flavour. We had the pleasure of being shown around by a Mancunian pepper enthusiast who we suspect talks to the plants when noone’s looking.
10. GETTING MUDDY
When rain starts to mess up your plans, you can either be really disappointed, or you can make the most of it. The road to the cave temples is especially potholed, leading to some unpredictably sized mud holes. The ride back turned into a competition of who could create the most spectacular mud splash. Turns out you’re never too old to play in puddles.
11. TEMPLE CAVES
The Kampong Trach temple caves are really close to the border with Vietnam. You can explore the first on foot, and the local children will show you how the rocks resemble animals and mythical creatures. As well as a place of worship, this cave was a filming location for one of the Batman movies and one of the last remaining strongholds of the Khmer Rouge. The second cave has refreshing water inside and makes for a fun place to swim and rock jump.
12. OUR GUIDES (BRIAN, DANIEL AND GREG)
Brian is the General Manager of Mad Monkey Kampot and he somehow manages to juggle great responsibility with virtually constant participation in tours and socialising at the hostel. His Khmer is impressive and he really makes the most out of every situation. When parts of the tour were disrupted due to the weather he was quick to offer a free cocktail as a compromise, or an alternative plan that turned out to be just as fun (if not more!) than the original.
Ex-Army boy Daniel is exactly the kind of employee every hostel should recruit and cling onto. He’s got a natural talent for convincing people to join tours, stay at the hostel longer, or have a couple more drinks, and he’s always the life and soul of the party no matter how many days in a row he’s been at it.
On the Mad Monkey website, there’s a bit of background on each of the main team members and the title above Greg’s section is ‘Greg gets sober’. Evidence from this four-day tour would suggest otherwise, but we loved him for it. A particular highlight was teasing him for making a ‘Greg decision’ (ie, the wrong one) at every single fork in the path to the waterfall. I guess we’ll never know if this was down to the complex and changeable network of footpaths, or the six cans of beer he’d swigged on his way up…
13. UNIQUE SWIMMING OPPORTUNITIES
Two of the boys in our group made it their mission to swim in a new place every day. By day three, they’d already ticked off the hostel pool, the sea, a cave and a disused pool. With a ’waterfall hike and swim’ on the agenda, it should have been easy, but raging river water at the last crossing meant that, when we eventually found the waterfall, we couldn’t quite reach it. Luckily, the footpath was turning into a river of its own so they didn’t miss out on their daily dip.
14. WEIRDEST BAR CRAWL EVER
By the fourth and final day of our tour, Kampot was completely flooded and the roads were too treacherous for our scooters, so Brian suggested a bar crawl. The resilience of those who’d been affected by the flooding was incredible. Bars would simply tip a fridge on its side, rest it on top of a few bar stools and continue business as usual. It’s unlikely that any bar crawl in history has involved so much paddling and splashing about in canoes.
15. SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY
The Mad Monkey enterprise isn’t just focused on providing fun experiences for travellers. It’s also committed to responsible tourism. It provides an incredible amount of support to local communities, through education projects, employment opportunities and the provision of safe drinking water. If you sign up to the Mad Monkey Kampot Kamikaze Run, $14.50 of your $149 fee goes straight towards building a water filter for a poor family in Cambodia, leaving you with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
OTHER STUFF YOU NEED TO KNOW
This tour includes accommodation in a hostel dorm at the Mad Monkey Kampot for four nights, as well as some of your meals and a decent amount of alcohol. While there’s no age limit, it’s geared towards people in the 18-35 bracket who enjoy a party in addition to appreciating the importance of supporting the community, learning about Cambodia’s history and culture and meeting locals as well as fellow travellers. You need to have a valid certificate of travel insurance to join the tour.
The weather in Cambodia is really unpredictable. Mad Monkey states clearly on its website that the tour could be changed or cancelled for this reason. As the first ever tour demonstrated, this can and will happen – although usually not to such extremes! The most important thing we learned from our tropical storm experience is that a really good tour isn’t defined by how closely it matches the advertised itinerary, but by the adaptability of the tour guides and the willingness of everyone to take each day as it comes and have fun no matter what.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Mad Monkey Hostels. While they covered the cost of my tour, they did not request a favourable review and all of the opinions included in this article are my own.