Published: April 29th 2008February 26th 2008
Leaving Phnom Penh, we hired a longdistance taxi for the journey to Kampot. The distance is only about 150 km, but it took 3.5 hours due to the terrible state of the road despite its reputation as one of the best in Cambodia! Kampot is nice riverside town, some 12 km from the south China Sea, with lots of old French colonial buildings. Most of these buildings are in ruins as this area proved to be the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and then the Vietnamese army controlled the town for a further 10 years.
We stayed at a 4-room inn called Rikitikitavi constructed in former rice warehouse by a couple from England. Although one of the more expensive hotles in town at $30/night, we thought it a very good bargain. Rikkitavi has a wonderful bar/restaurant looking out over the river and the Cardamom mountains. We were really sick when we arrived with flu and sore throats. So pretty well stayed in our room, and slept the rest of the day and the next one as well. Think we caught a virus on the 5 hour local bus ride from Battambang to Phnom Penh on Feb 15, courtesy of the little darling who coughed all over us the entire way.
The inn has a western-trained chef and once we began to feel better we loaded up on identifiable food as we do not expect great snacks in Burma. Rikkitavi imports all of their cheese and meat so we had delicious Argentinian filet mignon and very tasty burritos.
On our third day in town we decided to travel up to the Bokor Plateau - a place with reputedly the "eeriest building" in Cambodia located on the 2nd highest mountain in Cambodia (1,080 meters - just springs up from Coastal plain). The building is an old 4-storey casino constructed in the 1920s and it is located a mere 7 meters from a 200 meter sheer drop cliff - very handy for gamblers who lost everything and could then toss themselves over (happened a number of times we were informed). Abandoned in the 1960s, the Casino was extensively shot up by various military factions during the 1970s to 1990s. The forest around the rock outcrop is home to a number of endangered species, some of which the locals used to poach. That stopped when an international wildlife organization hired the poachers to protect the animals and the environment, and to make a bit of extra money for themselves by serving a simple lunch to tourists. But that's going to end soon. The government wants to restore the casino and is about to cancel the permit of the wildlife organization. Can't have those animals getting in the way of development.
In order to reach the plateau, we werer picked up by a comfy truck with lengthwise seats in back and enough room for all 7 westerners plus our guide. This was not too last, however, as when we got to the base of Bokor Mountain we were forced to switch to a small crewcab pickup truck which had a driver, a very large Cambodian woman with a child and some other guy plus a load of food for a monastery on top of the mountain. Then we all crammed in!
Helen and one other small gal sat inside the miniscule crewcab with the driver and the other 3 Cambodians, but the other 6 of us scrunched into the small bed of the pick-up which was half filled with cases of food. Very uncomfortable, so I ended up standing and holding on to the roll bar which seemed to be held on with one loose screw as it rattled back and forth alarmingly. The dirt road up to the plateau is a potholed mess and 30 km long. It took 2 1/2 hours to get up to old casino and I stood in scorching sun all the way. More comfortable than sitting though. Reaching the top, we walked around and noticed two minefields that still have to be cleared. Later that afternoon we travelled half way down the mountain and then we hiked down the rest of way (making sure to stay on the trail as no land mines there) and took a leisurely boat down river to Kampot.
Helen had bit of a relapse the next day and rested while I rented a 125 cc motorbike and rode about the country side. Only 38+ degrees without a cloud in the sky. Visited a seaside town called Kep that has 3 ruined and shot-up villas for every reconstructed one along the seashore. I had to laugh when a long distance Camry taxi raced by at about 90 KM/hour with about 9 people crammed in and an open trunk where another 3 guys sat looking terrified. Also saw a number of old Hyundai mini vans which serve as taxi transport and are so overcrowded people enter and leave them through the windows; that is those who are not already seated on the roofs.
We had a nice day on Saturday when we charted a 9 meter boat fishing boat and travelled two hours down river and into the sea to a small island known as Rabbit Island. The island has a beautiful beach and wonderful snorkelling. As soon as we arrived on the beach we ordered both fried and grilled crab, all made with Kampot pepper and lime sauce. Delicious!! Once we ordered, one of the cooks swam into the sea and then pulled in a trap taking out 4 wiggling crabs for our lunch. Great meal washed down by cold Angkor beer. 'Tis the life.
On Sunday we booked a long distance taxi yesterday for the 150 km ride back to PP. Paid $35 for all the seats in the Camry but the driver still managed to sneak on ("OK mister, OK mister, Ok mister" - no other English) 2 Cambodian women who shared the front passenger bucket seat. Driver must be Formula 1 wannabe. We raced to PP in 2.5 hours over heavily potholed road weaving through ots of traffic - horsecarts, scooters carrying 4 to 5 people, overloaded trucks, water buffalo, etc. Bit of a rough ride and one of the Cambodian gals threw up twice. While driver did not slow down he did rub her back comfortingly as she heaved into paper bags - please keep both hands on the wheel!!
Reaching Phnom Penh in the late afternoon we decided to load up on chili con carne at the Freebird Bar and then packed our bags for our early morning flight to Burma.