One of the many wonderful things about living and working in Cambodia is the large number of public holidays. This past weekend we have celebrated three, giving us the privilege of a five day weekend. Friday and Monday we celebrated King Sihamoni’s Birthday, and today is Visak Bochea which marks the birth, enlightenment and death to Nivarna of Buddha. We took advantage of the super long weekend to visit Irena who is based in Kampot, a small riverside town about a two and a half hour drive in a car from Phnom Penh.
The drive itself was a small adventure with five of us plus the driver in a sedan. Four of us shared the backseat bringing our friendship just that little bit closer. We arrived on Friday night and on Saturday morning (after an awkward incident where I thought I’d broken Irena’s toilet with my explosive bowel movements) we visited Bokor Mountain or Bokor Hill Station, the site of a casino and hotel from the French colonial period. During the bus ride to the mountain we were overtaken by a surly looking gentleman. At first we thought he was just an impatient driver, until he pulled in front of us and slowed right down. Out driver tried for a while to overtake him but he swerved in front of us each time we moved blocking our path. For a while I thought he was either a really bad driver or a particularly vile form of arsehole. Turns out he was a corrupt official demanding some form of road tax for tour bus operators and taxis. But we beat him in the end and we cheered as he finally gave up and shook his fist at us while we careened past him crossing our fingers in his direction (the Khmer version of the finger).
We weren’t really sure what the day entailed so we were a little ill prepared for the one and a half hour trek up part of the mountain. Wearing thongs and a fresh pedicure I thought I should give it a go, trusting that the gastro stop I’d taken earlier that day would protect me. About half way up I deeply regretted my decision to climb. I’m not a particularly fit person at the best of times and the slippery mud didn’t make it much better. But apart from some serious wheezing and a leech between two of my toes I made it to the top unscathed and very proud of myself.
The casino itself was particularly beautiful. Our tour guide told us that it is filled with the ghosts of failed gamblers who jumped off the mountain, as well as government and Khmer Rouge soldiers.
We also visited a church riddled with bullet holes from fighting with the Khmer Rouge. Inside it contained an ancient toilet which looked significantly cleaner than the one we’d been forced to use during lunch (using such toilets has led to some of the very few moments in life when I’ve wished I was a boy).
There are currently two massive hotels being built with plans for a big tourist town. You can see the plans here. Below is what it looks like at the moment. Everyone has their own opinions and definitions of development, personally I like the mountain as it is.
The tour ended up lasting ten hours to our surprise. We topped it off with a beautiful cruise along the Kampot River (see the first two photos).
The following day we visited Kep and Rabbit Island. But I will talk more about that tomorrow as with all the photos this post is quite long enough. I should say that I am aware I broke my promise to post on Friday. I got distracted at tips and toes getting a pedicure. Blame Elysse.