Next stop was Kep - specifically Kep Lodge (again). I was really looking forward to some fresh prawns and crab in the famous Kampot pepper in the KimLy shack by the sea. I wasn't disappointed. Still as as delicious and cheap as ever. Worth the 4 hour bus journey!
After a few days of aimlessly wandering/cycling around Kep I decided to face the bus back to Phnom Penh. This meant that I could splurge on a trip to Bokor Mountain in Kampot. I have been trying to get up Bokor mountain ever since I arrived in Cambodia. The last time I tried the bribe was just too big. Bokor is is an abandoned French town was built as a resort to offer an escape from the heat of the capital city.
he focal point of the hill station resort was the grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino - Other ruins also remain - shops, a post office, a church....
The tour began in the traditional Khmer way - late. I was picked up in a tuk tuk which i thought would take me from Kep to Kampot to meet the others on the tour. Wrong. The tuk tuk took me to a shop/waiting place. Here I had my most successful Khmer conversation (with a stranger) to date! I managed to explain where I was from my job and so forth and even manged to explain that I was not involved in the Khmer Rouge Tribunals as he was suggesting (as he worked out I was a lawyer...). It kept me amused for a while. Then a mini bus turned up - this took me to Kampot.... I then was asked to get on a motorbike which took me to the foot of Bokor Mountain where the rest of the group were waiting. 3 modes of transport in an hour with no explanation about what on earth was happening! Patience required
About 15 of us were then herded into trucks which took us part of the way up the hill into the jungle. We then faced an hour and a half of walking in the jungle spotting strange creatures - snakes, beetles and moneys mainly.
Apparently the company developing the site would not let us go up all the way in the trucks because the road was not developed enough in the middle...seemed strange but I have long learnt to accept Cambodian logic. Basically, we could ride in the truck to the middle - get out walk for an hour and half in the baking heat and then ride the rest of the way in the truck. Ummmm - don't ask!
The tour guide was not impressed with my walking footwear - basically slip on pumps (now ruined by the torrent of rain later in the day). I didn't point out that the Ranger accompanying us with the gun was wearing flip flops....
The guide had a particular need to tell the worlds longest jokes. Did I tell you the one about the tourists who wouldn't pay because they were called monkeys by their tuk tuk driver? He also explained his view on a variety of different plants - including what we know as rattan/wicker - apparently the Cambodians eat this. I would imagine it is not very tasty but that said Cambodians do tend to eat everything which they can pick off any plant or tree!
After an hour and a half of walking we were back in the trucks taking us to the summit. Surrounded in mist we suddenly became aware we were actually up high and it was cold (!) outside (!) in Cambodia (!).
As we twisted our way up the mountain the development was apparent. The site is owned by the government but is now under 99–year lease to the Sokimex Group who have undertaken to repair the road and redevelop the site, repairing the old hotel and casino along with new buildings (mainly as casino/hotel). The road was very new and the cuttings at the side of the road were lined with new turf and were being mowed! - a strange thing in Cambodia! As we approached the ghost town we could see the foundations of the new building by Sokimex - It will completely destroy the atmosphere of Bokor and transform it from an adventure to a ghost city to a easy ride to a bling/eyesore of a hotel.
At least for the time being the abandoned buildings have been untouched. The abandoned buildings are truly amazing - Ignoring the DANGER sign and exploring the casino was a great experience - old bathrooms; orange moss growing on the building; cracked windows - a real air of the colonial French. Free to explore the building, which was clearly liable to collapse in part at any time, - Open access, that is what is great about Cambodian health and safety!
There were a number of spiral staircases which had just fallen apart sticking to the main stairs it was clear that in its prime the building would have been an amazing place. The view at the back of the building was utterly breathtaking and one of the best I had seen in Cambodia - the coast line looked beautiful sweeping below us.
While we were munching on a lunch of rice and vegetables trying to look around the casino the guide was intent on telling us a potted history of everything Cambodian in a completely incoherent way. He didn't seem to convey to the tour group that the organisation who was building on the site and who was granted the ability to rip apart the national park which Bokor is situated in is closely related to the governing party here in Cambodia.... basically they are in it together - I filled in a few blanks for the group. I often find it really surprising how unaware people are of the political situation in this country even if they have lived here for a while.
....I then asked if I could make my way to the abandoned church which was about a 10 minute walk away.
I don't think the guide understood why I could possibly want to go to see the church in the pouring rain. But I guess I couldn't understand why the guide thought that we all wanted to hear his ramblings (which would have been good if they were focused on the history of Bokor rather than the whole of Cambodian history) for 30 minutes when we only had 2 hours to explore (after about 4 hours of travel just to get there). Cultural differences eh!
The group followed over to the church and all too soon we were herded back into the back of the truck for the trip to the spot where we had to walk for an hour and a half again. By this point I wasn't sure whether this walking part was actually due to the limitations of the road as we were told or because the tour guides wanted to make the trip longer or what..... Anyway, one woman (wearing appropriate footwear I should point out) slipped and sprained her ankle - She had to ride down, all the way, in the truck. Turns out driving on the middle portion of the road can be purchased for an additional $1.... ha!
By this stage (a) people were complaining about how tough the walk was (b) the guide was still asking me over and over where my "sneakers" were. I had to stop myself from loudly expressing that: (a) this is a JUNGLE walk PEOPLE - Did you people expect it to have a concrete path? (b) I do not own sensible shoes and (c) if I did I would not be wearing them out of the house even in the jungle and (d) I didn't fall over. HUH!
The day rounded off with a boat trip down the river in kampot and a moto ride back to Kep. Phew!
More photos to come...