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
Not the most energetic of mornings. In fact, I slept on and off until about 10am which never happens. Had to remind myself that we have been traveling for 11 months now and not a week. I think that Australia was so ‘easy’ that it felt like being back at home whereas, in reality, we have done so much that it won’t kill either of us to have a lie in!
The town we are in flourished from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century. Known as the ‘Sukhothai (Rising of Happiness) Kingdom’, that period is often viewed as the golden age of Thai civilisation, and the religious art and architecture of the era are considered to be the most classic of Thai styles. The remains of the kingdom, today known as meu-ang gów (old city) features around 45 sq km of partially rebuilt ruins, which are one of the most visited ancient sites in Thailand. However, we decided to skip the ancient city for today as neither of us had the energy or attention levels to visit our 55th UNESCO site and really appreciate it so we decided to visit the new town instead.
Slowly getting ready, we walked into town past the river with its banks almost at bursting point. The water was about a foot away from the top of the wall and there were sand bags placed at certain sections were the wall was clearly slightly compromised… As water started trickling out behind it!
Stopped by the tourist information centre to ask if there was a laundry nearby for us to do some washing only to find that it was closed and they were pumping river water out from their garden back into the river as quickly as the river was depositing more water back into the garden…
Decided that we weren’t going to get very far with all the flooded roads so we opted for an early lunch (or late second breakfast) in Poo. The lady in the restaurant pointed us in the direction of a laundry so, as Jayne ordered our food, I went and dropped off our clothes. Walking through the town after lunch we watched men fishing in the relief rivers and people going about their everyday business. For a tourist town, they clearly aren’t used to tourists walking around the new section! Our walk brought us out near the bus station so we decided to buy our tickets back to Bangkok for Sunday before continuing our walk.
Found a temple, but we have no idea what the name is as its not mentioned in the guidebook or on any map, which was a beautifully decorated Chinese style temple complete with dragons. Even though it was deserted, there was a chimney full of burning offerings and incense burning from sand pots. Around the corner and over the bridge we stopped at another temple, Wat Ratchathani, which was clearly also having issues with flooding as the monks looked like they were walking on water as they crossed the site. Even the chickens were using the planks of wood that had been placed down to make the path accessible. Another beautiful temple, we found a quiet seat to sit and admire it in the quiet and calm. The only other thing to do in town was visit the museum which was 3km away – deciding that it was getting too late in the day to walk there and neither of us wanted to begin negotiations with a TukTuk, we made the hard decision to go back to the guesthouse and use the swimming pool instead – it was a really tough decision!! We messed around in the water until the sun set before going back to our room to get dressed and head out for dinner. Tried to find the night market to get something to eat. Think we walked past it – it was a handful of stalls, nothing like what was described in the Lonely Planet. Not sure whether it has moved as our MapsMe app said we were in the right place, we decided to cut our losses and went back to ‘Poo’. A couple of curries and a game of monopoly later, we stopped by 7-Eleven to grab some ice creams and headed back to our room for some ‘Modern Family’.
Friday 16th September 2016
Had a lazy and self-indulgent morning, just pottering around, watching a film and enjoying the view of the River Kwai from our raft room. Managed to drag ourselves away from our room to the rooftop restaurant and ordered ourselves a couple of mango smoothies as we flicked through the Thailand Lonely Planet book and checked emails as we continued to enjoy the view and quietness of the river.
Leaving the guesthouse, we headed for the Thailand Burma Railway Museum that we had skipped the other day.Good job too as we spent nearly two hours looking around the exhibit. A mixture of information plaques, model scenes and recovered artefacts from PoW camps, the museum was incredibly moving and had both of us nearly in tears (Jayne more than me, obviously – I am a robot!). The drawings by prisoners that had been kept by their families and donated to the museum were incredibly detailed and the song that I used to whistle as a child (I knew it as the ‘work song’) was apparently composed at the PoW camps with the lyrics ‘bollocks to the Japanese’…
Feeling slightly emotional drained, we sat in the museum cafe, looking over the memorial cemetery, drinking our free coffee – it was comparable to tar! Even Jayne had to add sugar. Decided to go for a walk around the town and chose to follow the heritage walk which goes past all the original houses that were used during the PoW times to house visitors, generals and high ranking officers. The houses themselves were beautiful, boxed in on both sides by modern builds, you could almost miss them if it wasn’t for the information plaques that were positioned outside each one. Finishing the heritage walk we decided to just wander in and out of the back streets, going wherever the wind took us. Found a building being constructed with men sat on the iron girder as they were nailing in the wooden beams below, we walked past pet shops with puppies and kittens (took all our restraint not to buy every single one!) and we even stumbled across a market that wasn’t listed on any map. A bizarre animal was on display at the butchers counter – almost a cross between a large rat and a small goat… Maybe we should be more careful with what we order at the night markets!Back to the guesthouse via a lovely temple, although we didn’t go inside as neither of us were wearing shorts that covered our knees, so we just enjoyed the grounds and peeked inside from the bottom of the steps.We had decided earlier today to treat ourselves to a Thai massage as, in all the times we have been to Thailand, we have never had one. Both feeling a little nervous, we headed into the spa and got ready. They started by washing our feet – mine were scrubbed slightly more vigorously than Jayne’s, including the use of a nail brush. My only hope is that is was because I was wearing flip flops and not shoes! We then were taken to a room outback to begin. I have never enjoyed any of the traditional massages that I have had in the past. I think it is the feeling of someone touching you all over but any time I have had a massage I always get told to ‘relax’. Well, this one I loved! Not only did I get to keep all my clothes on (always a bonus!), my lady was like a tiny little, but incredibly effective, sledgehammer! She managed to work her fingers, elbows, knees and feet into every muscle. It even felt at one point that she was going to remove it from its ligament connecting it to my bones. Felt much more relaxed too as I was lying right next to Jayne and I could hear her toes, fingers and back crack with every movement – we all giggled so much! The women chatted away in Thai as they manipulated and twisted various limbs around. My woman even walked up and down my back which was amazing! Feeling far too short to be an hour massage, we were drinking sugary tea and feeling incredible – all for the insane price of 200 baht each (about £4.30).Headed straight over to the night market for dinner where we continued our ‘try anything that looks interesting’ approach, hoping that we didn’t end up with the rat goat meat we had seen early. Started with a very strange savoury/sweet pancake thing followed by some sausage with chilli sauce. We then got some noodles, red Thai curry and rice to eat back at the guesthouse with mincemeat parcels and sweet eggy pancakes for dessert. Everything was amazing except for the mincemeat parcels – a weird cross between a mince pie and a steamed dumpling, even Jayne didn’t want to finish them (if she won’t eat them, we know it’s bad!).
Watched the ‘Inbetweeners 2’ during our feast and then packed up our bags ready for our early start tomorrow.
Wednesday 14th September 2016