Despite having misled Kamala and Samon’s Village about my motorbike riding skills, everything went just fine.
On Day #1 we drove up to Bokor National Park, home to the old French Bokor Hill Station.
The trip was incredibly beautiful and it was my first look at some real greenery in Cambodia. Rainy season doesn’t start until about May and most of Cambodia has been pretty dry so far.
Bokor Hill Station:
In the 1920s the population of French folks in Cambodia needed a way to escape the heat. They found Bokor Mountain to be nice and cool and lovely and built their own getaway at the top. One of the most standout aspects was a four-story casino called the “Bokor Palace.” There are all sorts of eery stories about men throwing themselves off the back of the casino (there’s a pretty steep drop off the mountain) after losing everything, but who knows. I didn’t see any bones.
The attraction of the Hill Station isn’t so much a working casino (though there is one that I will tell you about,) but the remnants of what was once there. In 1972 the Khmer Rouge came in and overtook the area and everything that was once a part of the Bokor Hill Station is now gone with only remants of the old buildings left behind.
I wish I’d taken more photos for you people! I didn’t. This is around the time when I decided that experiencing in the moment was more valuable than taking photos of it all. What you’re mainly missing photos of is the bizarre Chinese caisno resort that’s been built at the top of Bokor Mountain. They’ve also built a whole bunch of strange apartment complexes where absolutely nobody lives. We went into the casino to take a look and it was filled with Khmer women waiting for gamblers. But only 6 gamblers. I lost $5 playing roulette. Then we left. Apparently it’s been built to actually handle some sort of money laundering scheme, which would explain why nobody seemed all that alarmed that there were no actual patrons.
If you’re interested in visiting the casino yourself, I’m sure one visit to their website will give you all the information you need. It’s worth clicking even if you’ll never go just to see the photos of the happy couple with bicycles strolling behind the old French casino. I only spent a few hours there, but I can’t imagine anyone actually doing that. They’ve also got a photo of the casino with a VW bus cartooned in, along with a kayak. Not sure there’s much kayaking up there either. Leave it at home, I say.
The next few days involved motorbike rides with Kamala and her American expat friends, Jonothan and Cate. We went to a secret beach, which is really a “port” built by the Chinese for tankers and that sort of thing. I think it was built about three years ago and Chinese ships are yet to show up. There’s one old ship that appears to have been stuck and is now just a rusty old thing stuck in the water. We explored it a bit, but took no pictures. Just imagine a huge thing where people can probably get tetanus and you’ve got it.
There’s also a secret lake (also called “Tomnop Tek Krolar”) which is really an irrigation dam built during the Khmer Rouge reign. There are little bamboo platforms with the very-common SE Asian mats for people to lounge around and drink beer. Interestingly, lots of Khmer won’t come here since they believe it to hold bad spirits of the many people who died building it.
Motorbiking around Kampot was one of my favorite things in all of Cambodia. I just loved riding through tiny little dirt roads with children screaming HELLO while I passed.
Kampot is impossible to explain in just a few blog posts. It’s got charm and some of the most amazing sunsets I saw in all of Southeast Asia. If you’re headed this way, don’t miss Kampot.