Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Cambodia-Travelogue  |  Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Cambodia: Bokor National Park


Thursday, 3/25/04
Day 50, Bokor National Park

This morning, getting on the back of the dirtbike with my driver, Za was at once, intimidating and thrilling. Used to riding on little mopeds, the dirtbike seemed huge in comparison. It was rugged, loud, and Za was a 23 yr old typical male with a need to impress the ladies. Telling him this was my first dirtbike ride didn't stop Za from speeding through Kampot and onto the road that led to Bokor National Park. While I grabbed onto Za tightly, the wind was blowing fiercely through my hair and up my nose. Worn normally for protection against air-pollution, I brought out my little face-mask to save myself from breathing in any critters. Missing however was a helmet. "Trust me, it's okay. I am a good driver," Za repeatedly reassured me.

After paying $5 at the entrance gate, the road began to wind its way up the mountain. At points, it was wide enough only for one-way traffic, and I could only hope we would not hit any oncoming vehicles. The road was also crumbling and in ruins, leaving tons of potholes to be avoided. But, true to his word, Za was proving himself to be a reliable driver. Thus, my worries disappeared, allowing me to enjoy this thrill-ride.

Za (left) and Nop (right) our dirtbike drivers.

Za (left) and Nop (right) our dirtbike drivers.

As we ascended higher and higher, the scenery began to change dramatically. Now, jungle surrounded us on both sides and there was a mist rolling in making the temperature cool and the sky gray. I could hardly believe that we were still in Cambodia, for it seemed like we had driven ourselves into a completely different world.

Our first stop was the ruins of King Sihanouk's "Black" palace. The mist was too thick to appreciate the vantage point that on clear days, offered views of acres of jungle and the Cambodian coastline. No worries, Nop and Za told us, the hill-station where we were headed to is built on a summit offering the same scenery.

Two hours after leaving Kampot, we arrived at the summit. Here, the mist was growing thicker and a light sprinkle of rain was starting. We dropped off our stuff at the ranger station that also doubled as a dormitory. But, tonight Anna and I, and three Belgian men (whom all arrived via Camry, making me feel even more cool of my biker status), were to camp in tents. A Korean film was being produced at Bokor, and it's staff booked up the ranger station for a few months. Nap and Za forgot to mention this one little detail to us, but hey camping is fun, right?

Za then whipped up a fantastic meal, and having made some veggie dishes, I heartily indulged in his Cambodian cooking. Afterwards, Za led Anna, me, the three Belgians, on a tour of the once splendid playground of the rich and famous.


Established by the French in the early nineteenth century, the Bokor Hill resort quickly became popular for those seeking refuge from the capital's searing summer heat and humidity. In it's heyday, there was a huge Bokor Palace Hotel complete with a casino, another smaller hotel, post office, a church and other buildings; Bokor I learned, was truly a little full-functioning hill-top community. Abandoned since WWII, Bokor Hill Station remains in derelict condition after years of political and warfare.

Abandoned Church in Bokor.

Abandoned Church in Bokor.

Today, we could hardly make out where the buildings were; the mist was just too thick. Minutes into our walking tour, it started to rain harder and we had to hide-out in the abandoned church for half an hour. The church had a spooky feel to it and Za explained that some of the holes in the walls from bullets used during the Khmer Rouge's battles against the Vietnamese troops in '79. As we walked up to our next stop, the Bokor Palace Hotel, Anna and I were beginning to feel like we were entering into a scene straight from the Shining. The Korean film crew, also happened to be filming and the set complete with bloody rags, and a soldier's uniform only added to the strange ambience.

The Bokor hotel shrouded in mist.

The Bokor hotel shrouded in mist.

I was feeling like a kid going through a haunted house for the first time. This was just too much fun and I admitted to Anna, that I was enjoying Bokor more than Angkor. I think Angkor just comes with too many high expectations, and I had not even heard of Bokor until coming to Cambodia. Anyway, for the rest of the afternoon we happily strolled through the mist and discovered the other buildings in the complex.

When we got back to the ranger station, Mr. Yong, the Camry driver, was playing guitar while the off-duty park rangers were signing at the top of their lungs. They invited us to sit down and soon their infectious laughter and song put us all in even cheerier spirits. Oh, the whisky and coke, and the obligatory Cambodian joint shared by our circle, probably helped too .

Playing Khmer songs on the guitar.

Playing Khmer songs on the guitar.

Dinner showed-off Za's culinary skills once again, and after chowing down we resumed our signing and drinking. At one point, Anna offered some of her pot for a new joint, but Nop shook his head and pulled out a huge bag of the green stuff, making the Westerners burst out in laughter. We should have known better, this is Cambodia, Pot' o Plenty. Hadn't we seen the happy shakes, happy pizza, happy everything being offered in the streets and even on restaurant menus?

Well, the rain had soaked through our tent, so tonight Anna and I were going to sleep on mattresses on-top of wooden tables. Not exactly what I pictured, but I hoped that it would do.


Friday, 3/26/04
Day 51, Back to Kampot onto Kep

Four in the morning the Korean film crew comes bursting back into the Ranger station waking me up. As if sleeping on top of a wooden table on a mattress that sunk so low that I could feel the table wasn't bad enough, now I had to deal with flashlights shining in my face and incessant chatter. I drifted in and out of sleep until I saw the sun rising, producing the soft hues of red, orange and yellow. I woke Anna up and together we went outside to discover that the mist had disappeared, leaving the Bokor Hill station in full view. We watched the sunrise and then took a walk to see the Bokor Hotel and the other buildings again. Today, we were able to appreciate the magnificent scenery being offered; acres and acres of green jungle met the blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We could hear the cries of birds, but could only imagine what sort of wildlife was teeming inside the vast jungle. Blessed were we to have witnessed the split personality of Bokor: dark and mysterious one day, bright and stunning the next.

Bokor Hotel and Casino.

Bokor Hotel and Casino.

At the ranger station, our group decided to see if we could pay less for our night's accommodation since we didn't exactly sleep in the dorm. The wife of one of the rangers was not having it. We didn't want to budge either, not because we were to cheap to pay the $5, but for the sake of principal. And who knows? There's so much corruption in Cambodia, maybe they were pocketing the extra money made on the overbooking. There was obvious tension. Not wanting to be part of this confrontation and tarring the great time we had here, Anna handed over the $5. We finally did too after standing there for ten minutes (looking back, principal or no principal, I do regret making a fuss. It wasn't worth the risk of leaving a bad impression on the minds of our hosts).

Stunning scenery.

Stunning scenery.

Before returning to Kampot, we took a short walk through the jungle. We didn't see much, for there was not enough time to walk to the waterfall or to get deep enough to see any animals. Back on the dirtbike, the ride downhill was rougher and scarier. Za had to restart the bike a few times. I was getting nervous. Finally, the bike sputtered and we almost had a bad spill. Fortunately, Za controlled the bike and I was able to jump off before hitting the ground. Mr. Lee and the Belgian guys were driving behind us, so I hopped in. Riding in the Camry was totally different than being on the back of Za's bike. I could no longer see, smell, hear, and experience the surrounding jungle as I had the previous day.

We arrived back to Blissful around 2pm, thinking that we were going to hop in a Camry taxi and make our way to Sihanoukville. But, Za and Nop kept trying to convince us to take a ride with them to Kep, the nearby fishing village. First giving us a good deal, they then told us they would drive us there for free. Plus, Za wanted to "make souvenir with me", since I reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. I was a little hesitant, but then again Anna and I knew the boys were sweet and harmless. And we did want to see Kep, so we agreed to go without more convincing.

After a needed rest on the hammocks, we were on the dirtbikes once again cruising to Kep on a road that was actually paved! It was my favorite time of the day; the light outside was softly illuminating the countryside. Kids were playing alongside the road; parents were engaging in conservation with neighbors; farmers were herding their cows. The coconut trees swayed with the gentle breeze and we were starting to catch glimpses of the blue ocean. I was enjoying every minute of my most beautiful, peaceful ride in Cambodia. So glad we had decided to journey to Kep.

Forty-five minutes later, we got to Kep, which was much smaller and more quaint than I pictured. We sat at a spot right next to the ocean and watched the big red sun slowly sink into the ocean. The night continued on with a meal at an oceanside seafood restaurant, where we were the only patrons. Anna loved her shrimp dish, I was okay with my veggie fried rice. But, we both agreed that we were lucky to be traveling together and to have gotten to know Za and Nop.

On the way back, I kept my head turned towards the night sky illuminated by the millions of shining stars. I realized then that I had unexpectedly fallen in love with Cambodia.

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Cambodia Cambodia-Travelogue
The trip
 
Description:
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Details:
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
China
Thailand
Laos
Cambodia
Vietnam
The Author
 
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.
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