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Kampot, Kep and Bokor National Park

February 7th, 2011 by

Heading east from Shianoukville we arrived in Kampot after a two hour mini-bus ride. Kampot’s a small town with a winding river down the middle and lots of leftover French colonial architecture. There is a small alley where most of the guesthouses and small eateries exist and thrive off Westerners.

The real jewel of this area, though, is Kep. Ahhhh, Kep. We hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us the 25 miles or so there and although you eat a lot of dirt and inhale noxious  petrol fumes, it was well worth the scenery along the way. More chickens, cows, children, large wooden houses built on stilts with hammocks swinging underneath (instant shade), dried out rice fields, motos, students on bikes. Road side stops with cold drinks and Pepsi bottles full of gasoline, should your moto run out.  We even saw some water buffalo ducking in the various muddy ponds and streams.

Kep is a seaside resort town that has re-established itself after the Khmer Rouge wrought nearly total destruction to the area. Apparently their hatred for the town was strong and they didn’t appreciate the wealthy elite who vacationed there.

It is now popular with Western and Cambodian vacationers. The main draw is the seafood. Crab in particular. Oh my GOD the crab. IMG_0645 Restaurant shacks line the waterfront and we chose one that our tuk tuk driver recommended. We completely gorged ourselves on a big crab smothered with oil, peanuts, lemongrass, chilis, Kampot pepper,  and veggies.

Two days later we took a tour of in  Bokor National Park, which by any official standpoints is closed. I’m just going to rip this right off the Lonely Planet website:

Long kept off the tourist map due to Khmer Rouge activity, Bokor National Park is still threatened by poaching and illegal logging, especially in the north, as well as by squatters, development and, in the southeast, the Kamchay hydropower project. In the 1990s there was talk of making the park a World Heritage site but, sadly, the government’s inability to protect the site put an end to the initiative.

Plans are underway to re-establish some sort of a luxury resort atop Phnom Bokor. Whether this huge project – being carried out by the well-connected fellow who owns all those Sokimex petrol stations and holds the entry-fee concession at Angkor – will contribute to preserving the national park or endanger its rainforest ecosystem remains to be seen.

The 9 KM road leading up to the old hill station, which used to be a French hotel and casino, is officially closed, but you can take a tour from Kampot. The guides seemed a little discombobulated at the entrance, and there were men in uniform standing around asking for money. I’m not sure what transpired but there were other groups going up that day as well.

We drove for a bit then got out and hiked for about an hour through the jungle. It was a nice well-maintained trail, and at one point you could hear monkeys! There are several threatened animals that make home in Bokor, including the Indian elephant, leopard, Asiatic black bear, but most of them are nocturnal or steer clear of humans so your chances of seeing them are low.  Although, our guide was talking about his friend who encountered a bear in the park. The friend was attacked by a bear and had the claw scratches to prove it, but supposedly he played dead and the bear went away. I think we were all supposed to take this as a lesson but instead we just stared at him with huge eyes. Act dead if we see a bear, ok. No worries.

The van picked us up again along the road and we wound our way up top. We saw lots of new construction going on. Who builds a theme park inside a national park? Ridiculous. Supposedly they even want to put a roller coaster and golf course up in this pristine location.

We arrived at the hill station and it is incredible. A crumbly, creepy tome to days gone by.IMG_0719 In the U.S. a building like this would be condemned and leveled but fortunately for us we got to walk around inside. You can almost envision this as a luxury hotel, but not quite with the crumbling brick and bullet holes in the walls.IMG_0704

We also toured an old church, King Shianouk’s former digs,  and what looked like a graveyard.IMG_0740 Okay I’m just getting picture happy now. BAM!IMG_0742All in all a very interesting tour and another good day in Cambodia. I’m determined to catch this blog up to our current location and keep the future blog posts short and simple. I dunno though, I do like to ramble…

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