No great bus journey is complete without a conductor shouting at you at 1am to get off the bus. The restaurant that we had conveniently stopped in front of, along with 5 other buses, had a selection of stale and rancid curries on offer. However, this worked to their advantage, with a storming trade in Pringles. It was a unique stop, in that they offered to charge your phone for 20baht. Must be a desperate situation to need to charge a phone for 30minutes before being whisked off again. Katherine was hitting it off with the 2x Belgian girls. A mutual dislike of the NYC girl the night before and everyone smoking in our vicinity when we had found a quiet spot, meant for an talkative 40mins before being allowed back on the bus.
A bit of restless sleep and we were shouted off the bus again at 6am – this time in the bus companies own personal depot, complete with toilets they charge for and a shop that sold sandwiches, more Pringles and cigarettes. Of course, the mark up was worthy of a Sheikh. A further hour sat on our ass, twiddling our thumbs and we were ferried back in the bus with other arrivals to go to the Donasak ferry terminal. This terminal was proper nice, i.e. clean, free toilet, comfortable seating, glorious views and food that was affordable. We got chatting with Claire and Caroline again and sat together for the ferry to the island. A rather leisurely (and not so painful) three hours later we only briefly stopped at Koh Samui before arriving at Koh Phangan. Oh the joys of travelling. Almost 18hours to get from A to B. The taxi tuktuk drivers charged us 100baht each for the privilege of 6.7km and we arrived at our charming little resort. Pad Thai noodles with the waves crashing on the beach.
Our beach is not the picture perfect postcard setting that one might expect. It has seaweed, rubbish and the low tide reveals silty areas with coral fragments. But, the herons munch on the sand fleas, crabs hide in our stretch of vegetation between neighbouring resorts and the view is still pretty awesome and the sound still magical. A delicious dinner later that evening, a few episodes of tv and the day ended pretty damn well. Saturday 15th October 2016
With a little confusion over what time we needed to be down in reception for our tour, we got up early. The sleepiness and general haze lifted instantly when our breakfast – consisting of frosted corn flakes bathing in milo – hit our tongues. Raring to go, we were full of energy from the sugar, in hotel reception, at 07:40. The bus didn’t turn up until 08:50. We came down from our high chatting to the girls in reception. The daughters and cousins of the owner were all milling about, practicing their English and asking as many questions as they could before we left for the day. I somehow managed to swap my phone case with one of them for theirs – very artistic. The bus arrived, Corinna was already in the passenger seat next to the driver and we swung around the town to collect Sharyn from Mad Monkey and packed lunches from a quiet stall down a side street (maybe the drivers wife?).
The drive up the mountain was longer than expected. We felt relieved that we had opted for a tour instead of riding up the long, windy road in slippery conditions. Plus, there was nowhere visible to purchase petrol so that would have proved a dilemma.
We stopped at the old King’s residence under the Sitting Lok Yeay Mao Statue. I don’t think either the residence or dining area down the trail were the Bokor Palace referred to in the guide book. The derelict buildings were abandoned in 1926 (if memory serves me well) and the views are supposed to be spectacular. Except the clouds that we drove through earlier obscured the picturesque landscape 1km down. We carried on to the old temple, Wat Sampeau Moi Roi (Five Boats Temple), passing the new casino en route. The blight on the hillside provided the funding for the road (which is amazing), but have shot themselves in the foot by charging too much for their rooms and have never gained the business they hoped for. They also contributed to the fact that trekking is now banned in the national park due to all the development in the area. Anyway, we wandered around the temple, saw none of the monkeys that normally hang on the cliff railings, but enjoyed the mist rolling over the roof of the temple, the decorative interior and the rocks and boulders painted into the likeness of crocodiles. It was a short jaunt around the corner to the Catholic Church where we got a bit of a history lesson about Bokor. I regrettably don’t remember all the facts he gave about the place, but it was more informative than the guide book and explained ‘why’ the civil war and genocide began. The key facts followed the ownership of the hill top, with the French originally occupying and managing the area. They left for WW2 and returned again afterwards. Then there was the Khmer Rouge, then the Vietnamese. There was then independence from Vietnam sometime in the ’80s (I think, should look it up, but I’m not going to) and with the hill station by then a ghost town it took some time before investment and attention brought tourists to the area trekking and staying overnight. The double edged sword of the new casino has killed the trekking industry, but perhaps it brings more tourists to the area. Maybe the quieter jungle is helping protect the threatened leopard, Indian elephant, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear, pileated gibbon, pig-tailed macaque, slow loris and pangolin. Probably not!
Back to the Catholic Church… the Khmer Rouge held out here during the fighting against the Vietnamese in 1979. There was no sign of the bullet holes that were shot from 500m away at the Bokor Palace. There was no sign of the fragments of glass at the nave windows. It was covered in the brightest orange lichen and the altar was vibrant with fresh bouquets of flowers. A little up the hill behind the church, one is supposed to have stunning views of the rainforest. We didn’t have any luck in that direction, but looking back at the church, the cross on the tower was striking against the rest of the hill. The old casino was quite impressive. Especially for a derelict building, flooded with water and covered in algae. There was an idea of the grandeur of the place and walking around the bare rooms it was obvious that more time was spent gambling than sleeping. We even got some rare glimpses of the sea and forests below, a break in the clouds showing how beautiful it must be on a clear day. Not included in the tour price (always something) was the entrance to the Popokvil Falls that are privately owned and maintained. To enter, you must buy a water, fair enough. Except they were out of water and we had to buy sugar cane juice for slightly more. When we got in to the restaurant to claim said drinks and enjoy them with our packed lunch of fried rice, there was a counter full of hundreds of water bottles. Ugh! The water was flowing incredibly fast and the ugly brown colour didn’t lend any favours to a nice photo. We watched as people jumped across the rocks to areas where they could get better photos. Slipping and posing on the edge of a sheer drop wasn’t fun to watch so we left. Kamikaze selfie photo takers should be given the Darwin Award. Back in Kampot I may have had a bit of a snooze. I think 40minutes is allowable. I may have been hit several times to wake up… apparently. So we strolled down to the water front, chilled out for a bit with the weather being nice and mild and then hopped on board a boat for a sunset and fireflies cruise. There was no sunset, but we went upriver a bit enjoying the scenery, the changing landscape around ever bend in the river and we searched for fireflies in the hope of seeing a few even in the drizzling rain. We found a few and it was like a mini Christmas. A nice meal in the Rusty Keyhole of baked potatoes for moi and fish for Katherine was accompanied by an incredibly sour lime soda. Walked Corinna back to her guesthouse after saying goodbye to Sharyn. We struck it rich when the guesthouse next to Corinna’s had mini golf. For paying customers use, it was like we were meant to have ice cream. A ridiculously fun game of golf in the flooded course followed by chilli chocolate and ginger & lemongrass ice cream had a perfect end to a lovely day. Sunday 9th October 2016