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Published: January 14th 2008
The Catholic Church
Services could be held tomorrow.
Rabbit Island, Kep and Bokor Hill Station
A tour operator can really be valuable in seeing Vietnam. Even if you go on your own they can be a good source of information. Finding a good one is hard to do. I found myself in charge of a little pretour before the main Library Project of Vietnam’s main tour. I got no cooperation from our incountry representative so I had to hire a tour operator to get the job done. I hired the tour company right in our hotel. I asked him, we have this amount of time, can we see Perfume Pagoda, Bat Trang Pottery Village and Halong Bay? His answer yes. In hind sight, but I contend he should have had the foresight, it was too much. We had to leave Hanoi, drive across town, go to the Perfume Pagoda, and come back drive across town again where we got stuck in a traffic jam where we only moved 100 feet in one hour. We had to cut out Bat Trang and only got to Halong Bay late.
I contend that a good operator would say: “You might be able to do all of that but Hanoi’s traffic
is terrible. You would be better off going out of town to Bat Trang, having a pleasant time there and then going on to Halong Bay, getting there early and enjoying yourself.
I was hoping to go to a Leper Village in Danang and Bokor Hill Station in Cambodia on the Library Tour. Both times I was given bad advice by a tour operator. He told me I couldn’t cross the border at Ha Tien and I couldn’t get permission to go to the leper colony. He was wrong on both accounts. I just went to Bokor Hill Station and the crossing has been open for six months just as I thought. I have permission to visit the leper colony in March. The weather was too bad in December.
When I find a good tour operator I try to pass along that information. The tour operator I recommend is Tony of Ann’s Travel in HCMC. Tony speaks perfect English because he was raised in the United States. He was a baby in 1975 and on the last C-130 plane leaving Vietnam. He got to the United States with no parents. His Dad was in the army and was
killed in the Delta. His Mother was an important person in the South Vietnamese government and spent years in a consecration camp after the war. The United States government somehow found Tony’s elder Aunt who had made it to the United States. She raised Tony and the day he graduated from a California University he received a phone call: “Hello Tony, this is your Mother.” Tony and his Mother eventually went back to Vietnam and have a very successful travel business called Ann’s Travel. You can call Tony at 833-2564. Web at: www.anntours.com or go by his office at 58 D Ton That Tung. Lonely Planet guide classifies Ann Tours as mid range to top end. You probably get what you pay for.
Now, getting back to my travels. After my meeting with the Unification Library Board I traveled on south to Ha Tien. This is a great little town in the Southwest corner of Vietnam. The only thing further south is Phu Quoc Island. My purpose of going there was to cross the border into Cambodia and visit Bokor Hill Station. The Ha Tien border crossing has been open for 6th months and I have my motorbike/guide on
tape saying that.
I met this former South Vietnamese solder who agreed to take me to Kep for 10.00 on his motorbike. The whole thing was a piece of cake except for the Cambodia roads. They are as bad as described in Lonely Planet.
I stayed in a nice little, cheap resort on the ocean. Waiting to go to Bokor Hill Station the next day a Belgium couple and I rented a boat and went to Rabbit Island. It was a great place to get away from it all.
Then the next day I was taken to Kampot to join my tour to Bokor Hill Station. This place was developed by the French as a cool, secluded place to get away from the rest of sweltering Cambodia. They decided in 1917 to start building a road to this oasis on top of the mountain. They used a lot of indentured labors to do the job and I understand a lot of Cambodians lost their lives building the road. They did a great job. I don’t know how many bridges were constructed but plenty. The road is still there but in terrible shape. It took us 2 ½
hours to go up the mountain and for some reason 3 hours to come down. It was worth it. Everything there is ruined but yet built so well, I believe every building could be remodeled today. They were built so solid it is just unbelievable. The marble/granite stairway in the old casino looks like new. Yet, the place has seen several wars. The legacy of the French is they knew how to build to last.
The Bokor Palace Hotel/Casino was used in the film the “The Shining.” The water tower looks like something from the space age.
Prince Sihanouk also has several houses there that have been met the same fate as the others. Absolutely everything has been stripped from these buildings. Even the wiring has been dug out of the concrete walls. But all had concrete roofs so they still look somewhat like they did in their glory days.
The town of Kep has plenty of old French houses that have been abandoned, I see a few Cambodians have camped out in them but for the most part they are just sitting there empty.
Bokor Hill Station is a place to see. They are now
working on the roads. Hopefully if you go, the roads will be fixed.
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