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The fireflies of Kampot

By: Skip Yetter Posted: June-01-2012 in
Skip Yetter

The waters of the Kampot River lapped at the sides of our long-tailed boat as we made our way north in search of one of nature's tiny nocturnal wonders.

The Kampot is full of fresh water in the river this time of year (in an interesting quirk of nature, the river running from Kep to Kampot and to the north is fresh water for six months, and salt water for the rest of the year), which means the phytoplankton aren't in the water to offer passersby a waterborne light show.

Not to worry. The fireflies are in charge of the night's entertainment.

They light on certain types of trees - literally thousands of them - blinking their mating dance in simultaneous magic. To the east, the moon offers a phosphorescent hint behind low clouds. Lightning blazes across the hot skies, adding to nature's show.

The boat skims the surface, and our driver kills the engine and we greet the stillness.

We drift towards shore, beneath the trees and the fireflies that adorn them. For the next hour, Gabi and I and three other guests of Les Manguiers Lodge in Kampot were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime show whose simple beauty left us all speechless.

At one point we exit the boat, sinking to our ankles in thick, silty mud, and muck our way ashore to stand beneath a firefly-festooned tree. They literally envelope us as we stand gazing up, cupping an errant insect here and there to witness their bright lights close to our faces.

It was like standing inside a Christmas tree.

Khmer music played softly from a riverside restaurant somewhere up river, but only the fireflies' light, the faint moonglow and the occasional bolt of lightning from afar interrupted the blackness where river met sky. As the moon rose, a faint grey glow illuminated the trees along the river, allowing one to distinguish the horizon from the river.

This experience topped a weekend full of wonders, as we took an extra day to savor the people, sights, sounds and food of Kep and Kampot. Just a four-hour bus ride south from Phnom Penh, this treasure trove of Cambodia offers easy access to sides of the country we'd not seen before.

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