A Travellerspoint blog

Day 117 - 119 - A Strange & Dusty Province

semi-overcast

Sunday we got up round 8.30am & headed for breakfast at U Hong 2, the sister of the guesthouse I had been to the previous morning. The menu was the same so jam baguettes were our breakfast of choice. Whilst there we tried to exchange our books but as is common in South East Asia,to our frustration they wanted 2 for 1! At this point we decided we'd had enough of Kratie, packed our things & walked to the bus station. Once there we were faced with the big queues of westerners waiting for the hour late bus to Phnom Penh. This wasn't a good sign as our bus to Ratanakiri province was due after! To break up the long wait I dashed around town buying travel sick pills, food & water.
The bus eventually turned up at 12.45pm, ten minutes after my timely return.
It wasn't a fun journey. The first thirty minutes had passed ok but then the time seemed to stretch into infinity as we drove down a bumpy dirt road past Stung Trueng (our original planned destination if there'd been more time) & gasped in mouthfuls of hot air as the airconditioning went on the fritz.
We finally pulled into Ban Luong at 5.45pm in the pitch black. All we could see were the crowds of touts surrounding the bus. Luckily things were easy from then. We had already picked Tribal Hotel as our guesthouse from the Lonely Planet whilst on the bus so we found the tout for it & were given free rides uphill, out of town on the back of motos, arriving ten minutes later outside Tribal. The building was quite appealing to the eye, a wooden gazebo-ttype structure, serving as a restaurant connected by a wooden bridge over a pond to a two storey stone mansion with small balconies outside each room at the front. We paid the $4 for our room & were taken upstairs where we were pleasantly surprised to find bird crap all over the room. Somehow birds had been flying in through the old ventilation shaft. The staff cleaned the room at our request & I shoved some bags into the hole to stop any more unwanted guests. Our dinner was another surprise. Unsure where the nearest restaurants were we ate Tribal's nasty $3 meals consisting of fried rice with chicken curry & instant noodles with pork & vegetables. Maybe we could have chosen somewhere better!

Monday we got up at 9ish & unwilling to risk another gourmet debacle at Tribal found Adams Restaurant (which was just round the corner - easier to spot in the daylight) where we had a sandwich & burger at $4.
We walked into town & for the first time saw Ban Luong for what it was a quiet, dusty provincial town where equally dusty big buildings rose out of the red clouds kicked up by the few cars & numerous scooters seeming to never-endingly encircle the streets. The haze from the sun mixed with the dust gave the place an American Mid-West appearance, you could almost see outlaws riding horses out off town, chased by a wily old sherriff (perhaps too much television).
In town we bought a delicious array of cakes (5 for 7,000 riel), the place a sure competitor for the bakery in Kampot. Following this we took a thirty minute walk round town looking for the mythical bike hire shop. After circling the town several times & tried getting locals to understand what we were after we found the place right by a roundabout on the edge of town (completely opposite to where we were looking & had been directed). Paying the $1 each for a day's hire we set off at 12.30pm only to return minutes later to exchange Vicky's bike for one without a flat tire. The downhill ride was a steep one, thick gravel kicking up at our heels as we rocketed down the unfinished road when it reached a bridge where we just avoided colliding with oncoming traffic that had appeared out of nowhere. We crossed the bridge & took a sudden left turn following signs directing us to the waterfalls. A dirt road took us through friendly villages before another steep slope caused Vicky to fall off her bike as the breaks failed. Luckily after a tirade of abuse aimed at the bike she was ok, just abit battered & bruised, a dusty apparition. Soon after we found the entrance to Kachanh Waterfall & paid the 2,000 riel each. We followed the sound of rushing water only to find a pathetic set of small falls & rapids. A hidden path ended our disappointment as we emerged at the bottom of wooden steps at the base of a massive waterfall with a pool underneath. It was there we bumped into Darren again along with his friends Ben, Annette & Solomi. After a brief swim in the pool with a strong undercurrent that stopped us from reaching the waterfal,l we tucked into our cakes & at two o'clock with difficulty cycled back up the roads (Vicky's bike was screwed) to the hire shop where Vix left her bike & I took a small ride down a small road near the guesthouse, turning back when I started to get lost. I dropped my bike off at 5.30pm & after bumping into Darren yet again we agreed to meet him & his friends at their guesthouse Treetop where we got to know them all, playing cards & eating delicious spring rolls (we had definitely picked the wrong place to stay).

Tuesday we were again up 9ish, ate omlettes & bread (5,000 each) at Tanam Restaurant which we found heading past our guesthouse out of town, & stocked up at our favourite bakery for our long walk to the lake mentioned in the Lonely Planet. It was a long walk, worsened by our terrible sense of direction & confusion over similar landmarks. At a second roundabout to our right an hour later we thankfully found the correct road downhill & another fifteen minutes brought us to the spectacular Lake Yeak Loam. We gladly paid the $1 each to enjoy the huge tranquil expanse of water wasting no time diving off a big wooden platform into the icy cold waters, welcoming after the long, dusty walk. Warily keeping one eye on the small hut hiding our stuff we enjoyed conversing with travellers Ronan & Kate, & a young lad named Dan as we bobbed up & down on inflatable tubes.
At 4pm we all left the lake & enjoyed sticky rice & cokes at a posh-looking guesthouse restaurant before getting a lift on Dan's moto into town one at a time. I arrived in town cheered up by the amusing sight of Ronan & Kate wheeling broken bikes half way along the road, & met Vicky who had been busy buying more cakes & booking our bus tickets to Siem Reap for 6.30am the next day at $15 each. We ate dragon fruit & four desserts (they were only small) at $1 for the latter then as we reached our guesthouse the heavens opened. The storm was a stupendous display of blinding forks of lightening splitting the sky open & cooling the hot, dusty air. Torrential rain hammered down on the roof, deafening & drenching me & Dan as we made a dash for the front porch. Huddled under it we realised the storm wouldn't stop anytime soon so ran down the dark, slippy road to Tree Top Guesthouse, Vicky joining us there as the rain slowed. From 7.30pm we watched the sky with fascination & chatted to our little group, envious as Ben managed to be the only one able to get amazing shots of the lightening! The storm ended round 11.30pm & we headed back.

Posted by Eemail2004 22:39 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day 115 - 116 - Treasures of the Mekong

sunny

Friday we were woken up by 8.30am & ate breakfast at Lazy Mekong Daze - plain omlette, bread & baked beans with hot drinks for $4 total. I spent 30 minutes having fun searching for an ATM, panic swelling inside me as the Canadian Bank one would not accept my card & having to dash over the road to another that would.
Getting back to the guesthouse the manager drove us in his car to the bus station close to the market, & we restlessly watched as buses stopped & left without us until ours turned up 45 minutes later. At least Vix had fetched some snacks so we had something to eat on the journey.
We stopped off at 2pm at a restaurant then got chatting to 30 something Darren, a seasoned 12 year traveller from Brisbane. He had been just about everywhere & was finally returning home in a few weeks to find work.
Thankfully the remainder of the ride didn't take long so we were in Kratie at 3.20pm, pulling alongside the small station just outside town.
Kratie, we observed, was like Kampong Cham - a small, provincial town built alongside the Mekong River, rich in French-era architecture & generally a quiet, peaceful place.
Mr Manilla, Dary's cousin, met us off the bus & took us to his guesthouse of choice Mohautdom, where we checked into a $6 room overlooking the mighty Mekong. Dary had been a godsend, not only with my bag & pleasant company but also in arranging everything with her cousin from our pick up to a planned to for tomorrow. All we had to do was take her box of stuff to him & agree to his $12 fee, which we did.
After getting changed we strolled across the road & sat down under the tarp roof of one of the several cafes lined all along the riverbank. Three moves later (to escape the cloud of flies populating some of the tables) we had rice, chicken soup & Thai dessert. Nice but not delicious.
The rest of the evening we took a romantic walk along the riverbank on the road that most of the town presided on, said a brief hi to Darren, who was staying two doors down from us & watched an incredible sunset.

Saturday we were woken up at 7.30am & after quickly grabbing jam baguettes for breakfast from You Hong Guesthouse ( a backpacker place in the town centre situated next to the vile-smelling market area) for $1.25 ea, we were picked up by Mr Manilla on his motorbike.
Point 1 on our trip was Sambok Mountain, reached by a dusty side road between Kratie & Kampi. We were dropped off at the base & endured a great number of stone steps (luckily with railings or we would have fallen to our deaths), to a small plateau where there were more steps to both the left & right. We chose right & struggled up two more sets of over a hundred steps before reaching Phom Sombok at the summit. The temple was attractive but it was the view of the Mekong sparkling like crystals in the intense sunlight that we were really there for. A twenty minute rest & we climbed back down & checked out the left side. It was just a collection of homes for the monks & locals. Reaching the last set of steps we watched in dismay as an elderly monk carried a burden up the steps, proudly refusing our help as he struggled upwards indicating that the equally struggling elderly woman was his help.
Safely at the bottom Mr Manilla drove us back onto the main road & we passed lots of villages built along the Mekong before reaching point two - the Dolphin Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary was less than I imagined (expecting an aquarium-type structure with organised guides & lots of dolphins), a kiosk for buying tickets, a carpark & a jetty where small launches were moored.
We waited half an hour for others to turn up so we could split the cost for an hour's boat ride (it was $9 each otherwise) but found ourselves paying the full sum after weighing the expense against the chance of seeing Irawaddy dolphins (if we didn't see any we would be refunded anyway). As our main reason for coming to Kratie had been to see the dolphins, having not had time to see them in southern Laos we settled into the rivercraft in anticipation. Ours ached as we had them glued to the surface of the massive river, looking for any evidence of dolphin activity. We weren't disappointed. Ten minutes into our trip grey fins appeared several metres off our bow followed by the smooth grey skin of dolphin hides & even their heads. The dolphins seemed to have fun playing hide & seek in the river, amongst floating vegetation. Forty minutes later the boat was moored to a root sticking out in the middle of the Mekong & we enjoyed the last of the displays as three more boats came alongside. The noise from the Cambodians drinking & playing cards made sure we saw no more of our cute grey friends!
Another ten minutes & we were back on shore & driven to the old capital Sambor, now little more than a handful of temples & village huts dotted about.
We walked round Wat Sorsor Moi Roi, amazed by the largest temple in Cambodia, complete with 108 stone columns, & decorated in that familiar brightly coloured way. Avoiding the cattle feeding on the grass by the temple we made our way back to the riverside & sat & ate sticky coconut rice & drank from a coconut.
Mr Manilla drove us through the grounds of Wat Sorsor Moi Roi & across a small river bridge to Wat Vherego, where the attraction was more the massive, still standing old Ankorian tree than the small, but beautiful temple. On the way back we were kindly let into the temple Vhere Lao by the locals & took a bum rest stop at Sambok Pagoda (riding on a scooter for several hours is not kind on one's arse), a huge, more modern temple with free standing pillars at the front & next to a school where youngsters gawked at us.
We arrived back in Kratie at 4.30pm where we thanked & paid our friendly guide & headed back to our room.
As the evening turned to night I was preoccupied for a couple of hours exterminating a minor infestation of ants with the shower & a sweeping brush, before we crossed to the street cafes & had noodles with pork & beef for 5,500 riel each.

Posted by Eemail2004 21:58 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day 113 - 114 - Kampong Cham

sunny 38 °C

Wednesday we were up at 6.30am, paid for our room & got a tuk tuk to Seahorse Guest hose. There we had coffee & takeaway banana fritters, & the driver then drove us to the bus station for 7.20am.
The bus set off at 8.20am as I prayed that the ride would be a smooth one, having lost my travel-sick tablets. Thankfully it was swift & comfortable, with us spending time listening to our new music & eating ban bao.
We reached Phnom Penh at 12.30pm & amidst the bus station chaos paid for tickets to Kampong Cham, a small town in the north-east at 12.46pm for the 12.45pm bus, for $3 each. We got on the bus with snacks bought from the nearby shop just as a monsoon struck. I felt sorry for the poor street sellers who dived for cover as massive raindrops saturated them!
The bus set off just after 1pm & we slept most of the way, until we were dropped off in the centre of town at 4pm. It was not fun as we navigated the tightly packed streets for twenty minutes until, using the highway bridge that stretched over the river as a landmark we found Speanthmey Guest House. It was a simple place, an unimpressive concrete building containing below average rooms with crumbling walls, loose wiring a sink that didn't work & holes in the ceiling. We didn't care. The $5 room was fine for weary travellers.
We ate next door at Lazy Mekong Daze, a very backpackeresque place with comfy furniture, games & decent priced food. What was more the waitress/manager Dary was a sweet girl who was always smiling & very welcoming.
We had our fried rice, pork & pineapple then went for a walk to the market, which was closed. Instead we shared a pineapple smoothie & hit the net for a while. We surfaced again for a fried rice dish at a street kitchen close to our guest house – a bargain $1 meal & settled down to read as susrprise, surprise our television didn't work!

Thursday we were woken at 5am by music & noisy voices coming from somewhere on our street, so then slept from 6am till 8.30am.
As we got dressed we realised that some of our clothes had gotten wet either from the monsoon or the cargo hold on the bus as the rucksacks had been saturated. Unfortunately there were few places to hang stuff to dry.
Downstairs I spoke to the manager about the broken television & he immediately moved us to another room – with a working sink!
Having checked out the prices at several of the restaurants in Kampong Cham we decided that Lazy Mekong Daze was the cheapest so had scrambled eggs & baguettes for breakfast.
We moved our stuff to our new room – considerably nicer than the last - & paid $2 each to hire bikes from Dary.
We cycled first to the market for Vix to get some new clothes then took the road in the opposite direction to a temple. It had the now familiar bright painted colours – blues & golds in particular, but also there were several statues by tombs, which themselves were brightly decorated. Here death didn't seem to feared so much as accepted with a happy heart. When we had finished exploring the temple grounds we cycled off again, following the river out of town & through villages, only stopping when we found a small ferry port. We wheeled our bikes down the narrow embankment & up a wooden boarding ramp onto the rickety boat – the first to arrive. The craft soon filled up until there was only just enough room for a motorbike with a huge mahogany cabinet strapped across the back, precariously balanced on the bow.
Having paid our $1 each the boat briskly chugged across the calm river to an island at its' centre, the shallow draft allowing us to dock right by the 'beach'.
We spent 2 hours on the island, happily cycling along quiet dirt tracks, dodging the occasional motorbike or bicycle & stopping for provisions from one of the 'shops'. It was luck we had riel as they wouldn't take dollars! Everyone was so friendly, the kids laughing & shouting “hello” as we passed them & adults nodding & smiling. What a peaceful place to live!
The island was a fully self contained environment with not just homes & shops but also a temple, school & fields where animals grazed & food was grown. As we shot down a muddy slope into a field we realised that the island was deceptively much bigger than it appeared, meadows stretching as far as the eye could see. Along one of the many small paths Vix lost control as we crossed to the forest on the other side & fell over. She was fine, bruised but more embarrassed by a young Cambodian shepherd who was laughing.
On the other side we passed villages with their own well & mud buildings then decided to turn around & get back up to the main track as we were sinking into the muck. Reaching the field crossing Vicky took no chances & wheeled her bike across, while a sweet old woman talked to me in Cambodian. With my knowledge of the language extremely limited I could only manage a few hand gestures & nods. Once again I wished I could speak the local language – a universal translator would have come in handy!
We got back onto the main track &, after briefly checking out the route further on turned round & headed back for the ferry. On the way we stopped for watermelon (only 700 riel) & immediately the sun disappeared & the sky went dark. Grabbing the melon we quickly rode off as distant thunder became deafening & gale force winds nearly obliterated the stall. The journey back became like a scene from Twister as the rain pelted us & debris crashed down around us & we were relieved we had only been twenty minutes away as we reached the ferry. Thirty minutes later we crossed back over the river, now more of a raging torrent & had been forced to watch in horror as a guy had tried to get a cow on board via the slick ramp, the poor thing skidding & falling into the river, on more than one occasion, almost breaking it's legs. Thankfully the impossible was eventually achieved & we could settle a bit as we reached the other side. Back on dry land they had no trouble coaxing the stricken beast off & before long we were cycling back to town, giving a wide berth to the massive, deep puddles covering the road.
Back at the guest house I realised I was missing my day sack & tore the room apart looking for it before working out I had left it on the ferry! Seconds later Dary, myself & a moto driver took off on a motorbike for the ferry port (which I discovered wasn't the nearest to our guest house), getting there nearly an hour after our original disembarking. We waited anxiously as the ferry took ages crossing over to us & I feared the worse. I needn't have worried. Dary, as translator told the ferrymen what had happened & they immediately handed over my bag – with everything in it even my Mp4 player!
After thanking Dary & paying the moto driver a few dollars I calmed down then took another bike ride this time over the bridge, alone. It was a dizzying ride over the river & I struggled to get up the steep side to where the road levelled off before an equally steep drop down the other side which I whizzed down, breaking off as I came off the bridge then had to work out how to get to the old lighthouse. It was tricky as the French structure was on the opposite side to myself but there was no foreseeable way down to it. In the end I had to follow a busy dirt road which wound down & back to the river, right under the bridge & past the lighthouse.
The structure was an impressive sight from the outside, a four storey tower of red brick in typical French architectural style & I couldn't wait to reach the top & admire the view. Inside it became apparent that this would be very difficult. The shell contained a maze of wrought iron steps fixed to the wall by huge bolts. The first set of steps cantered steeply & halfway up I felt queasy. Determination drove me onto the level platform above & to attempt the second set of steps, which were even tougher & took me twenty minutes to climb in minute intervals. The view was great from here but looking up then down I felt unwilling to risk my life any further by scaling the last 2 sets. Instead I climbed back down very slowly backwards & cycled back to the guest house.
We paid for a next day bus to Kratie & ate dinner & dessert at the market.

Posted by Eemail2004 16:59 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day 109 - 112 - Sihanoukville Secrets

sunny 37 °C

Saturday we were up at 6.45am, packed our rucksacks & then legged it to the town bakery for cookie snacks, getting back for 8.05 - five minutes late for our ride. Luckily the taxi driver was late as well so we even had time for breakfast before being picked up.
The journey was anything but straight forward. We stopped near the town centre at the taxi rank, the driver disappearing, leaving us & a bubbly Aussie girl Rachel bewildered. I had a suspicion this was one of those tourist cons I'd read about which was confirmed as another guy climbed into the taxi & said that they were waiting for 2 more people but they'd leave with just us now if we paid $10 each. We had already paid $5 each & Rachel $12 for the front seat so we refused & were forced to wait another twenty minutes. Our driver returned & we were driven to a nearby village where the boot was loaded up with durian fruit & our luggage put on top. The rest of our ride was uneventful but the sickly sweet smell of the oval, thorny, green fruit wasn't pleasant.
We arrived in Sihanoukville at 11am & were dropped off outside our guest house of choice - Seahorse.
As we climbed wooden steps & step across the walkway from the main bar/restaurant building we were impressed. The individual $4 bamboo bungalows were positioned on stilts & with a bamboo bridge created the illusion of a treetop hideaway village. Inside the rooms were big enough to fit a double bed, television & bathroom.
Having spotted an internet cafe downstairs I tried to get my dodgy memory card sorted but couldn't even view the pictures anymore so I paid for the $5 data recovery service.
At the seahorse we ate some of the nicest western food since Hanoi - burger & chips at $2 each.
From our end of the popular beach resort it was a half hour uphill stroll by the busy roadside to the town centre, where I bought my brother's birthday present - Two T Shirts. Unfortunately the post office was closed so I was unable to send them to England.
We killed some time at the guest house playing cards & eating yummy banana fritters then started to walk down to the beach 5 minutes away. On the way we were distracted for twenty minutes by a performance by street children in a rescue centre using hoops, walking on their hands, break-dancing & displaying their amazing paintings. Feeling charitable we bought a portrait painted by a 13 year old Cambodian boy, then went for dinner on the beach sharing a BBQ of pork, rice & vegetables followed by beer. All along the beach were bar restaurants lit up & playing different types of music & as we absorbed the background noise we watched the hypnotic waves splash gently against the shore - considerably calmer than Nha Trang!

Sunday we awoke at 8.30am to the sight of a giant lizard staring down at us from the ceiling, it's mottled red & brown skin blending into the roof.
We had a cheap breakfast of banana & pineapple fritters & hot drinks for $3 & walked the 5 minutes to Serendepity Beach, which was nearly as busy as the previous night, minus all the tables & chairs. We paid for 2 cokes & got our sunbeds free for the day.
It was a pleasantly warn day, the hot sun cooled by mild sea breezes & we enjoyed swimming in the calm sea, me lazing on my back whilst Vicky talked to a couple of final year students, Lolly & Amy, who recommended their guest house GST to us.
After showering we took up their suggestion & ate lunch at GST Restaurant, less than a minute from our beds. The restaurant was under a tarpauline-style roof & backed onto the guest house. We had an omlette with ham, cheese & onion & a baguette & a cheese sandwich.
Back on the beach we swam & relaxed some more until we'd had enough at 5pm & returned to the guest house.
Whilst Vix was getting ready I sat outside our cosy hut reading until a familiar face appeared & said hi as she crossed to the end hut. It was Kim from Phnom Penh. Talk about a small world!
After a brief skype session with the folks & picking up my recovered photos we caught up with Kim & Tom as we walked to Happy Pizza Restaurant. Once there me & Tom shared a 14 inch extra happy pizza & Vicky & Kim 6 inch margaritas. For dessert we found a stall by the main road, after half an hour wandering around, selling the mixed fruit dessert that I had grown to love. We then walked to Utopia - across from seahorse but the bar/club had little atmosphere so we headed down to the beach for drinks at Dolphin Shack.
Several drinks later we stumbled back, stopping at the Cool Banana bar to be introduced to Tom's friend from Halifax of all places, before heading to bed at 1am.

Monday we were up 8am & somehow didn't have hangovers. We had breakfast banana fritters with Kim & Tom & then went over the road to Top Cat Cinema, paying to use the movie room at the back. Having missed good new movies since leaving the UK we opted for X Men Wolverine, assured by the manager that it was the 98% complete version. It was fun & cosy sitting in the nicely air conditioned room but the film itself was almost unwatchable with massive parts of the special effects missing (more like 50% complete) leaving an artists sketch in place. We told the manager & he kindly told us we didn't have to pay.
After a second failed attempt to post my brother's pressie, the post office shut again, we all took a tuk tuk to Occheuteal Beach, a forty minute winding, sandy drive along the seafront, at the suggestion of Kim & Tom.
We were dropped off in a resort car park & walked downhill, crossing several stretches of empty beach till we reached a particularly nice, clean area with a clear sea & only a handful of people lazing around on sunbeds.
Me & Vix shared a delicious coconut shake & rice coconut curry with garlic bread whilst Tom had lobster. An hour longer in the sea & sunbathing then we caught our tuk tuk back to Seahorse Guest house for 5pm.
Upon freshening up from the searing heat I joined the other three sat in Top Cat Cinema, after fetching fish & chips & we proceeded to watch another film before playing our final game of cards with our friends at the guesthouse.

Tuesday we got up 9.15am, much later than we had intended – owing to the noise from Utopia the night before. Luckily we hadn't missed Kim & Tom, who were meant to leave for Vietnam at 9am, & chatted to them as we ate pancakes.
Once they had gone we checked out & walked down to GST guest house which was hopefully far enough away from Utopia to allow a good night's sleep. We checked in, just missing a rain storm & were holed up for an hour. When the rain reached a trickle, on the we were warned on the street by someone not to stay at GST as backpackers had been stolen from by staff. A bit late! Still we made sure our valuables were on us when we walked into town where yet again the post office was closed. To kill a 2 hour wait we bought some sausage & beef buns & fruitcake, & decided to take a long walk to the post office by Victory Hill, further out of town. It was another waste of time. Although open the cost was too great to send Matt's present!
We caught a tuk tuk to an ATM by Serendipity Beach & chatted to Geordie, a forty-something Yank who ran a travel agency in front of Utopia.
By the beach I bought a satchel bag for $6 which was unique as it was made beautifully by the street kids & the money would go to them. I Left my MP4 player at Boom, Boom Room for a selection of movies & music to be put on & we returned to GST & watched a film (the weather had gotten bad again), dashing back at 7pm to pick up my player.
At Moon Shack, just up from GST coconut was a choice of the day again as we had coconut chicken & rice, chicken satay noodles & a coconut shake – the latter more a meal in itself than just a drink!

Posted by Eemail2004 16:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day 107 - 108 - 'Mountain-climbing'

all seasons in one day

Thursday we had to get up at 6.30am so we had time for breakfast (jam baguettes) & for my munchy run (cheap baked cakes) into town. I got back for the supposed 8am pick up & the jeep didn't turn up ten minutes later. The cab was full so we were forced to strongly grip the sides as we sat in the rear. After picking up two more people – Scot & Ela – we left the main road & bounced up a dirt track sloped on both sides till we reached the edge of the jungle at 8.45am, where our ride left us & the fun began!
We followed a path through a field & the ground started to become more slippery & uneven as hedges were replaced by huge trees & the light faded as we passed under the rainforest canopy. The path sloped steeply upwards & we spent the next forty minutes scrambling over rocks, using vines & tree branches to haul ourselves up. It wasn't surprising that we soon lost the rest of the group who managed the obstacles with greater ease than me or Vix. Luckily there was a second guide to lead us the correct way, preventing us from disappearing forever in the forest. The path levelled off then became an undulating zigzag & we were forced to duck beneath low branches & logs.
At 10.15am we reached a waterfall where we washed away the mud that caked us & rested for a short while together as a group again.
We were told that the hard part was nearly over but the guide either lied or overestimated us. There was little easy about the rest of the route. We climbed up a sloping cliff of loose, dry clay for another twenty minutes then the path levelled off & walking became easier. As the stifling heat switched to the greatest rainstorm ever we felt like we were being tested. Our coats that we had regretted carrying moments earlier proved a slight godsend but even they were not enough to prevent us getting soaked! To make matters worse poor Vicky lost her balance as we crossed a stream & fell backwards bending her little finger on her right hand. For a frightening moment I thought she'd broken it but the pain gradually eased up & she could move it with effort (which was lucky as there were no first-aiders or even a kit).
We climbed up yet another slope & found ourselves on a big dirt road totally bereft of trees. We walked up it several metres then disappeared back into the forest. Rock obstacles were more frequent here & progress slowed as we carefully crossed them up-slope, ducking under more logs & branches, the sounds of the jungle strange & eerie.
At 1pm we emerged from the forest back onto the road & soon reached the Black Palace, a circular husk of a once great building used by one of the kings in the 1970s as a retreat. The shell was a thankful escape from the unrelenting wind & rain. It was also a great place to eat our surprisingly still warm pork fried rice that was incredibly satisfying & revived our dwindling energy. It was a good job as the next 3 hours were torturous facing the icy gales & heavy rain as we struggled up the half-built road, leading into the clouds where the temperature was dropping dramatically. Our feet seized up as we stepped into unseen puddles & streams brought on by the rain & we shivered uncontrollably. False hopes that we were near our destination were shattered as we passed ruined buildings that we mistook for the ranger station in the clouds before we spotted the villa at 4pm. We were so relieved as we took shelter & rested our numb muscles, sipping hot Milo chocolate drinks after putting our bags away!
Fifteen minutes & the rain had stopped & a spectacular sight beheld us as the clouds started to shift. Directly across from us was a lake lined with ruined buildings stretching back as far as the eye could see. These buildings we were told were all that was left of a 1920s French holiday resort. Despite our weariness we couldn't resist exploring so we all set off towards the buildings. We passed small offices & houses, a post office & walked uphill towards the casino, stopping to check out the UFO shaped water tower perched on a cliff. The casino was in a bad state with crumbling walls, holes everywhere & layers of damp yet surprising very much intact. There was nothing to suggest as to its previous use but it seemed sturdy enough to explore & we even managed to stand on the roof looking out over the mountaintop down to Kampot province & the sea beyond. We were glad we had seen the trek through! We could just make out the silhouette of a ruined church on an the opposite hill but as we looked the church disappeared behind cloud again & as it got darker we realised we'd better head back. It was a race against time as we dashed back downhill through the underbrush, stumbling on loose stones as the darkness closed in on us & we only just made it back to the station!
After taking delightfully cold showers, that oddly warmed us up we ate a banquet in the canteen (a building that I failed to find for twenty minutes - following the voices) of rice, vegetables & pork soup. There was enough to feed an army. We finished the arduous day playing the post-it note game & cards with Ela, Scot, Rosie & Rachel - our superfit trek buddies. Suffice to say I didn't lose!

Friday was an extremely early wakeup call of 5.30am, with coffee & jam & cheese baguettes for breakfast, then a walk through marshland to the derelict church, less ominuous in the daylight. We spent thirty minutes at the church, which was just four bare walls, nothing of interest then we were back at the villa for 6.40am.
An air of indecision hovered over us as we decided where to begin our return trek (we were all still knackered & aching) meaning we didn't set off till 8am.
We kinda cheated. Owing to our physical state we made a deal with a truck driver, who was part of the road maintenance crew hauled up in the villa, to drive us partway down the mountain to the point we had first left the jungle. It was a long, very bumpy ride but Vicky entertained us playing with a Cambodian infant as our arses were battered & bruised.
We waved goodbye to our ride at 9am, & immediately began our descent, frantically clinging onto vines as we inched down the mudslick slope. Twenty minutes & we were only level ground, retracing the previous days route, once again left in the dust of the others. We caught up with them back at the waterfall an hour later where, as we washed under ther falls we saw a spectacular display of fiery orange, deep blue & purple as swarms of giant butterflies surrounded us.
We set off again back down the steep, treacherous slope, struggling as much as the day before coming up. Reaching the edge of the jungle we chilled out on a bench & tasted some sour fruit offered to us, spotting a stick insect on the way.
We walked downhill & along the sand track towards the truck, Vicky nearly being bitten by a young cobra as she stepped over it's small but deadly form - just jumping out the way as it launched itself at her leg. Back in the truck we left Bokor & were returned to our guest house for lunchtime.
The two day trek took its toll on us as we slept till 2pm & ate a late lunch of fried noodles at the guest house. I left Vicky to sort our mound of laundry & went on a mission to sort out my camera memory cards, all infected with a virus & the new 4GB one faulty. The virus was wiped out at an internet cafe but sadly the new memory card that I had used for the trek was faulty.
I bought some cookies & cake from the trusty bakery & ate chicken rice soup at one of the kitchens on 7 Makara Street - followed by mixed fruit dessert.
We spotted Rachel & Rosie at another stall (they'd taken my advice & were trying the dessert) & joined them at a performing arts night at the Kampot Traditional Music School - a place where orphaned & disabled children were taught traditional music & dance. It was a good night. From 7.30pm to 9.20pm we were treated to a variety of musical talents, unusual glockenspiel/string hybrid instruments, drums, strange guitars & weird & wonderful dances with children dressed up as monkeys, warriors, angels, old people & peasants.

Posted by Eemail2004 15:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

(Entries 41 - 45 of 91) « Page .. 4 5 6 7 8 [9] 10 11 12 13 14 .. »