Published: March 3rd 2006February 24th 2006
Not as shy as he looks! Too cute.
Well, our Kampot leg of the journey had its good and bad points,mostly good and Bokor Hill Station was as eerie as promised. I'm writing this from Vietnam but that's a whole other entry! I'll stick with the topic at hand and begin with the getting there which, as always, had its ups and downs and not just on the bumpy roads...
We finally were able to tear ourselves away from the beach and organised to take a share taxi to Kampot which usually runs at 3 or 4 dollars each and they fill the camry sedan with up to 8 people. There's an art to putting 4 in the back seat, 2 in the front passenger seat and 2 on the drivers seat (including the driver of course). I'm surprised they don't get a couple of bungy cords and strap a few extra to the roof!
We got collected from Khin's Shack at 8:30 and were told they weren't able to find any others yet so we stopped at the taxi rank opposite the market to wait for a fare, while the driver gently but persistently tried to persuade us to pay $US20 for
Hmmmm, something fishy goin' on 'round here... Fish stall at the markets. Smells BAD.
the whole car so we could just go. We refused (since we are already over budget) and grabbed a coffee. 1hr later still nobody. We go for a browse in the market. 30min later still nobody and a little more prodding to rent the car. I told Jim if there was nobody else by the time I found, used and returned from the bathroom that we should just bite the bullet and he agreed.
By a stroke of luck a german girl was standing there ready to go when I got back and as we got in a kymer girl asked to join in. It happens like that in Cambodia. We had to pay 2 bucks extra each but only had 3 in the back so fair is fair I guess. I must admit part of me was dissapointed they didn't get 7passengers, it would have been interesting, albeit a tad uncomfortable.
The road was good for the most part so the trip went fast and without event until we were dropped at the Mealy Chenda Guesthouse. DON'T STAY THERE whatever you do. Now its time for my 'Why I Hate Mealy Chenda Rant in E Minor'.
Viewpoint from the hill
WHY I HATE MEALY CHENDA RANT IN E MINOR
They suck. Jim read a blog saying that they were, well, evil was the words the guy used. Unfortunately Jim forgot the name of the guesthouse until it was too late. Basically they have a chain of guesthouses in all major cities (one by the same name in Sihanoukville, one in Siem Reap and Phnom Pehn though I forget the names) and once they have you in there they stop caring and treat you very shabbily. The smiles that greeted you are quickly replaced by stony faces and complete lack of good service.
Our problem started when we realised that the fan didn't work properly and the mosquito netting on the uncloseable windows had more missing than it had intact. I had a dodgy stomach from a suspect spring roll at the beach, was feeling quite teary and sorry for myself and the heat and bugs buzzing me wasn't extactly helping. Jim went down and explained to the sullen glare the situation and enquired as to whether we could be moved to another room. "No." Jim then asked if we might then have another fan. "No. We
You be the judge. Am I right or am I right? Is this a public service announcement for safe sex?
don't have." Jim replies "ok, well we're going to have to go then."
They then proceed to chase him up the stairs and say "Ok, ok we have fan, we have fan." Well, this really just pissed Jim off more and he left, found another place and came back to get me. When we were leaving 2 men confronted us and demanded we pay for the room in full. Jim offered to pay half, a very heated argument ensued until we realised we were fighting over a couple of dollars, paid and left. Thank you and good night.
That's mostly the end of my rant except to say that when we went on the tour organised by them the next day there were a few things that many people were quite unhappy with and at least 2 other couples became embroiled in arguments with the establishment. No one received refunds, in fact some were made to pay extra and needless to say after the tour and a couple of drinks with almost all our fellow tourees we had well and trult bonded over the common loathing of Mealy Chenda.
In short, it seems that they play on
Carts of fruit brought to market. I'm stating the obvious, I know...
the fact that most people will put up with all kinds of shit and pay up anyway (under duress) then in a day they'll have left town and a new herd of cash cows will be in town ready for the slaughter. There are plenty of small family run guesthouses that struggle and will appreciate your business and treat you accordingly. I recommend going there instead.
By the way, some girls we met spoke highly of the brand new Long Villa Guesthouse (not in the guidebooks for this reason) and we ate there, it was tasty and cheap, nice area and friendly staff. The girls said their room was fine and it only cost $3.
Its hot and dusty and I was unwell but somehow I really liked it. There are far less westerners here and the locals are friendly. You can walk for blocks without being asked to take a moto, yet when you need one stand on a corner and look lost and it won't take long for one to find you. People are helpful not pushy and I didn't see one roaming vendor or beggar which was refreshing. There's quite a
Kids out of school
A million kids on bicycles were quite a sight.
few things such as caves and waterfalls and rapids to visit, as well as the famed Bokor Hill Station.
The market here is not, in my opinion, very good to visit because of the gutters criss-crossing through it full of stinking black sludge. Occassionally it was possible descern something, the half decomposed skin of a banana, for example, but that was it. Competing for best gross out in town award was the meat section where severed pig heads gazed at you. But hey, its an experience. Enter if you dare...
LUNCH WITH THE LOCALS
This was cool. Since there was nothing enticing for us at the markets we found a shack nearby doing traditional kymer noodles for 1000 riel (25 cents)a bowl. It was full of kymer men all watching the rock'n'roll wrestling. WWF is HUGE here - the sport not the environmental group. Kids make cardboard title belts and jump all over each other while the adult men are content with watching it on TV and laughing and yelling "OHHH!" in all the right places. They asked us if it was real. We said some parts are, some not (sorry to any 'believers' and die
The HAPPIEST cyclo driver in Kampot that day - we accidently paid him a dollar instead of 25cents (thats a big deal here)
hard fans out there). So then they started guessing out loud with us which bits were which. It was fun. Sadly I had to go home because I thought I was going to pewk. Damn spring roll...
These actually have a proper name that I forget. Anyhow,a cyclo is a bicycle that has a passenger seat attached to the front and a guy peddles you around normally for about the price of a moto. Reverse cyclo's have a little cart towed behind instead. Having never ridden in one we wandered over to the first we spotted and took the ride home. Before climbing in I had to hunt for a stick to draw a map in the dirt of where we wanted to go as he spoke no english. I love that sort of stuff. The simplest task, outing or enquiry can easily turn into a mini adventure. Then we were off!
We felt guilty to sit in relative comfort while he laboured under our weight and the scorching sun, but what can you do? When we got there he held up one finger to idicate the price and Jim gave him a
The road we took while trying to find our way back to town. Took us past a great little village but I didn't get any shots of that. Or the soccer game we stopped just by walking by...
dollar. He broke out into a huge smile and thanked us profusely in kymer and peddled off. I turned to Jim and said " I think he meant 1000 riel." Jim said "ohhh" (imagine the tone of realisation dawning) We look at him again and he is still grinning like the cat that got the canary as he rode away - FAST. He was probably in a hurry to get back and tell his mates. He'd made a whole days wage in about 7 minutes. Oh well, it was hot and he looked pretty old so I reckon he earnt it and, anyway, it was worth it to see how happy he was.
WE LOST OUR WAY BUT FOUND A VILLAGE
Later in the afternoon I felt a little better and it was some what cooler so we decided to take a wander to see what we could see. We found a gazzillion kids just let out of school all swarming towards us on their bikes. Very cool to see. We saw the funniest public service announcement for condoms ever (at least that's what I think it was - check the picture and you be the
While we were busy getting lost on foot we past this picturesque area.
judge), nearly got bitten by 2 dogs and then realised that the road we were on had led us way out of town and there appeared to be no crossroads to loop back on. We didn't want to turn back and face Kujo 1 and 2 again so we pressed on, coming across a dirt road as narrow as most sidewalks. We took it and came into a village (or an outer, outer 'suburb' at least).
Here we attracted giant smiles, big waves and "hello's" from kids and adults alike and from the nude toddlers shocked yet curious gawping. People on the doorsteps of grass huts called inside in kymer and people came out to see us. One hut had a grass roof, but no walls, it had a rough frame separating it into 2 rooms and had a wooden door inbetween those rooms. We guessed it was a renovation in progress. One hut had a satelite dish on the ground next to it that was nearly as big as the hut itself and another had a colour TV and massive speakers inside. Very surprising, but maybe it shouldn't be.
We felt a spectacle yet not like we
What a little poser!!
were intruding, we seemed quite the event actually. We had 2 kids run out wave and shout "Hello" about 5 times then run inside again. We walked on and when we were about 30mt away, hearing more frantic hello's, turned to look and saw a different child had run out to see. He was a little to late. I think it probably went something like this:
Late kid: "What were you yelling about?"
Other 2: "Ohh, didn't you see? There were white people walking past."
O2: " Yep."
LK: "You mean I missed out on saying hello? Shit! Shit! Shit!"
Then he ran out to try. We waved and yelled hello back. He smiled and seemed happy. We were as lost as ever but after several failed attempt of miming "How do we get back to town. please?" we got a helpful point in the right direction and made it home.
BOKOR HILL STATION
This place was cool although the actual tour missed out lots of things that were promised to be included (thanks again Mealy Chenda). In spite of that I enjoyed the day a lot. BHS
Jim at the church
The deserted church at Bokor Hill Station hasn't seen a sermon in a while.
is a bunch of decrepid, ruined buildings built in 1924 by the french as a compliment to the thriving beach town of Kep (now slowly reviving) and was the site of the kings holiday villa and one for his concubines too, a casino, church, a pagoda and the Royal Palace Hotel.
The drive up the mountain takes about 2hrs and it is rough as hell, makes the road from Poipet to Siem Reap look like plain sailing. you travel up slow, about 5 - 15km/hr and its a fun ride. I had the front seat inside on account of my dodgy back so it was very comfortable but the guys in the tray on the back of the 4x4 were thrown around like bags of potatoes and many were stretching A LOT when they got out. For experienced riders (which unfortunately we are not) hiring a dirt bike and touring yourself is a good option.
First stop were the villas then it was a 'trek' in the 'jungle'. We were told it was a 1hr trek also taking in a waterfall but it was really 15mins picking our way through low lying scrub then 10min in kinda jungle,
Royal Palace Hotel
This place has been described as the creepiest place in the world...
taking in a narrow, dried up creek bed. Oh well, plenty of time for trekking. It was funny though because our guide got lost. He kept pausing, looking around nervously, looking at the sun. Eventually he told us to wait while he found where we should be going. We did and took bets on whether he'd actually be able to make his way back to us. He did, we made it to the pagoda who had a friendly resident monkey. Someone gave him a cream biscuit (very bad for its health) but I was vaguely amused by the fact that he ate it exactly the way I would: pulling it apart, licking the cream off then devouring the biscuit part.
We had lunch (minus the promised soft drink and tofu that was meant to be in our curry, not to worry) and checked out the hotel which was very cool. Spooky as hell, its a multi-level maze of stairs, rooms and corridors. the Lonely Planet says it is "straight out of The Shining" and although I've never seen it (I was berated for this admission) was told it definitely is. We missed the casino, the promised visit to the
Our tour guide while he's lost and trying to find our way. It was also funny to hear what he had to tell us about the history of BHS. A nod and "1924" was the answer to any question you asked(the year all of it was built). He was nice enough, but I use the term 'tour guide' rather loosely.
pepper farm and headed to the river for the sunset cruise section. Everyone was dissapointed that we didn't get beer like it showed in all the pictures but can't say anyone was suprised. It was scenic, the sunset was beautiful and after we got dropped off near The Rusty Nail and as I mentioned previously bonded via a lengthy session of bitching about Mealy Chenda, sprinkled with lots of laughs. We somehow got onto the rather morbid subject of relating how pets had died. A guy, John, won hands down with the story of how his mother accidently washed his kitten in the washing machine when he was 7. Tragic tale, but everyone couldn't help laughing, including John.
We also met to british girls who had a share taxi rented to cross the border to Vietnam and nobody to share it so we joined them on that but that's the next entry, which I'll endeavour to do now. Playing catch ups. Hope wherever you are you have a smile on your dial. Til next time!
There are more photos below