Salt Flats, Kep, Cambodia

Originally written for Roam Magazine and featured on Lonely Planet.

Kep, Cambodia is a desolate sleepy seaside town taken by the grasp of the Khmer Rouge in the seventies. Little remains here, life is slow. It was once a town of grandeur now crumbling to the ground yet some charm still remains.

One misty morning we jump on our bikes as sunlight made its appearance to explore the surrounding area. The vast roads are eerily silent for what should have been a busy time for the morning commute. We rode for almost an hour barely seeing a soul. Off the unfinished highway we came across a red dirt road leading to nowhere. Intrigued, we turn down to see where we would end up.

Past the fields and shacks of local farmers, we came across an unfamiliar sight of brown flat land, which seemed to be a dried up lake. Looking further on, we see endless pools of water as far as the eye can see; we realise we have stumbled across salt flats.

We jump off our bikes and set off walking towards the pools. We stick to the very edges, careful not to tread in the shallow waters. From the distance we hear a friendly ‘Hello’ and see the workers waving us over to join them. In broken English they explain the salt is created by letting sea water flow into their shallow ponds then left in the heat until the water evaporates.

We sit on the edge of the man-made folds, watching on, engaged as the workers use a wooden broom to rake up the salt beneath a few inches of water into triangular cones. Handful by handful it’s scooped up into beautiful woven baskets and balanced between a pole on their shoulders, moved into the hand built warehouse and carefully placed on top of the existing crystals, piled up as high as the roof.

As time passes, the sun burns through the morning mist, a gentle prelude to the bright, warm day ahead. Reflections of the clouds above bounce onto the layers of salt, flickering particles glisten from the shards of sunlight. Salt flats. An unusual and intriguing sight.

Elizabeth Curtis