Friday, February 20, 2009

Kampot break

This week I had a break from school (half term) and so went back to one of my favourite places to visit in Cambodia - Kampot.

Kampot is a beautiful small town with lots of character and lovely old colonial buildings. My first impression of Kampot, nearly a year ago left me unimpressed but the charm of the town has grown on me and now I think it is great!

The old bridge in Kampot was bombed and so what remains is 3 different bridges all put together.

It rained! - The first rain since the end of the wet season sometime in October
The main reason to go was to try (again) to get up Bokor Mountain. Bokor is a National Park with a deserted old hill station built by the French including ruins of a casino and a church. A large chunk of Bokor has however been sold to a developer and for a while access has been refused to tourists.

Last time I visited Kampot it was still possible to walk up but as it was a two day hike I didn't fancy it... This time I was prepared to hike but now the developer's security guards have stopped people even walking up to visit the ruins. No doubt when its open again it will have turned into a tacky resort rather than an "abandoned hill station".

So, with Bokor being impossible the alternatives were lazing about with a book, cycling through the nearby villages and a sunset river cruise.

The cycling was great. The sun however was scorching. I have forgotten how fierce the Cambodian sun can be because its the start of the hot season again and also because when I'm in Phnom Penh you are never outside for a long period of time.

The roads were not too dusty thanks to the strange rain but it was hot and rough in parts.

Over 2 days we cycled over rocky roads and into Muslim Communities (known as Cham in Khmer). "Hellohowareyouwhatisyourname!" was called at least every 10 metres by kids and adults alike. Most Cambodians in the rural areas do not know what this even means so (in true teacher format) I try to throw back the answer in Khmer hoping they might start to understand what they are saying! After 3 hours this gets a little waring though.

One group of kids were particularly amusing though. About 10 children returning from school screamed in joy when they saw foreigners. I spoke to them in broken Khmer and they looked at me as though I was an alien - to the extent that I wondered whether they spoke Khmer at all! Eventually there was a break through and then my camera was an object of delight for them.

Tort Roop? [photograph?]

We then came to the end of the road. The trucks carrying stone up to the new resort came thundering past over a bridge that looked like it might break any moment. Rocks perched high on the trucks looked like they could just plop off any second and flatten anyone nearby. Returning the way we came we came back to the school kids again who ran with the bikes holding hands (try cycling with 10 kids all wanting to grab you).

A welcome drink at this oddly placed roadside stall with the trucks hurtling past - The driver was very busy staring at the white people but he managed to keep it on the road

Later the cruise up the river, through the fishing village to the ocean. In order to get onto the boat we had to climb down a make shift ladder (a piece of wood with a few nails) onto the boat (ominously partially filled with water) Our driver then nearly caused us to crash into a moored police boat - never a good idea. He did not appear to understand the dynamics of a rudder.

My confidence was not increased by the fact that 5 minutes into the journey he let out a sound that "said" - "ohhh - how could I have been so foolish as to forget to put on my helmet!"... and then he picked up his motorcycle helmet and put it on - Yes, he put it on, without a hint that it was more than a little odd, even though we were on a boat in the middle of a river. Ummmm - After so long here you do just generally stop asking yourself the question "why?" when you see something strange but sometimes you just can't help but wonder!!

Anyway, the fishing village was interesting and we went out to a sand bank in the ocean and had a paddle before returning for sundowners.
Now where did I put my helmet?
Our boat with Bokor in the distance

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