Our blog starts with the usual getting packed up and going to a bus station (the Post bus this time, it was a flashback for Craig as he used to get the post bus back to Tighnabruich from Dunoon with his Gran Salisbury) however, and I'm not being melodramatic, we thought we were going to be part of the BBC evening news as part of a tragic Cambodian bus accident! It started by curb crawling random bus stops around Phnom Penh to get more people into his bus (he got 5 into the 4 spare seats, so a girl had to pretty much sit on his lap). We think this might be a side hustle to make a little extra money on the way down the road to Kampot. The driver then drove like a maniac as we left the city, swerving from the tarmac to the dirt road (in place of a hard shoulder) to get around traffic and hammering on the brakes as he came back in from another over or undertake. Then, (and Craig had a fiver on a blown tyre) crack! A rock was thrown up from the road and cracked a rear window. It did take everyone shouting at him to finally pull over as tiny specs of glass, increasing in size, started to fall into the bus and onto the laps of those sitting beside it.
After 2 French gentlemen had 'pit the windae in' for him, he swept most of the glass out and we were on our way again, for 2 hours, without a window. As we got off the bus he then asked us if we thought he was a good driver... As an amusing anecdote, when we went to review them someone else had complained of a window missing from the bus from Kampot to Phnom Penh on the same day so the driver had obviously completed the round trip (H&S eat your heart out). After having lunch on the riverside of Kampot (not in the Happy Special Pizza where marijuana pizza was on offer) and checked into Happy Family Guest House (sans marijuana here). After some down time to recover from the manic drive we headed out for a walk and came across the Durian Roundabout!
For dinner we went to the Red House. Katy ordered the chicken and rice soup and Craig the chicken pizza so you imagine our surprise when Katy got a chicken thigh sliced in half, bone and all, and rice (no stock in sight) and Craig a seafood pizza. We ate what we could as the waiter's English was as good as our Khmer. Katy also played fluffy bunny with spoonfuls of rice!
After watching the Super Bowl the following morning we headed for a brunch to celebrate the Chief's win and ended up in Table Kampot where we had the beef bulgogi. A sizzling hot plate with beef in a sesame seed sauce with a fried egg and broccoli served with rice. As Kampot is more of a town rather than a city we decided to go and explore on foot, finding ourselves at the Lotus Pond.
Our walk took us through streets dotted with French colonial style buildings before arriving at the river. It was very peaceful and we definitely understood the desire to turn it into a holiday destination from a fishing village when Cambodia was part of Indo-China.
A lazy afternoon followed along with dinner at a suspected drug front, our waitress left the building to go and get our food. Honestly, she walked out the front door and came back 5 minutes later, food in hand.
Tuesday started with a coffee and pastry for breakfast from Barista Coffee before being collected by the tour group for our day out in Preah Monivong National Park. To say it was a tight squeeze for the 12 of us is a bit of an understatement! Craig continues to be about a foot too tall for SE Asia!
As we entered the national park the road rose steeply as it started to wind it's way up the mountain. One of the tour team ended up feeling car sick as we lurched from side to side around the hairpin bends (it was a great moment to sing "we're going this way, that way, forwards and back ways, over the Irish Sea!") We pulled in half way to the top to get a view of Kampot however the haze gave a less than perfect view!
We were then driven on to the former summer home of the Cambodian king. The site was made up of separate buildings consisting of the Black Palace where the king used to sleep, a bathing building, a house for his concubines and a great dining room. Our first stop was the bathing building where some of the tiles, remarkably, still exist although the building has succumbed to wear, tear and, sadly, graffiti.
The next was the home for the concubines where each seemed to have been given their own, fairly small, room until they were required by their king. This building had been reclaimed by the jungle the most.
Next was the great hall/dining room which was huge and, we guessed, once had fantastic views out to sea and the islands before the jungle encroached on the area.
The last stop was to the Black Palace, the king's bedroom. The building had been built with brick and black wood exterior (lending to its name) however the wood had been lost during the Khmer Rouge era and now only the brick remains.
We also got to see a statue of Yeay Mao (commonly mistaken for Buddha), a heroine from Buddhism, popular in southern Cambodia as she is said to protect travellers and hunters. The statue is 29m high and was completed in 2010 and there are also statues to the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, Craig was born in the year of the Goat and Katy the Rooster. Interestingly they don't match up at all with the personalities associated with the day of the week we were born on according to Buddhism.
The next stop on the tour was to Sampov Pram Pagoda, the highest point in the park at 1066m above sea level although the views were obscured by the haze. It will come as no surprise that we didn't enter the 2 temples that were here and instead wandered around the external buildings, definitely suffering from temple-fatigue!
The real highlight here was meeting a litter of puppies that are being looked after by some of the monks, they were very adventurous and loved Craig's shoelaces!
The next stop, Bokor Church, included lunch (rice with an omelette in a sauce) from a plastic container, that we ate whilst sitting on a rock outside the church. Maybe we are getting cynical in our old age but a church, built in 1922, that is now abandoned isn't the most exciting of stops on a tour! The main draw (we think) is the short climb up the hill behind the church that gives dramatic views of the jungle below that leads down to the ocean. The clouds had started to roll in by the time we got to top but that made the view all the more dramatic.
The final destination was to Bokor Palace, a hotel and casino that was completed in 1925 that was abandoned twice, once during WWII and then again when the Khmer Rouge came to power. The area in which these buildings sit is in a development known as Bokor Hill Station (built in the 1920's by the French) and was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge. The Palace was once derelict, with bullet holes to mark where battles had taken place here but it has been restored to an active hotel. We wandered the grounds, taking in the views and wondering if there is a still a draw to come and stay at this hotel as there was very clearly no guests in residence!
After walking out to a water tower and back we boarded the bus and returned to Kampot and our hotel. The tour we had signed up for included a sunset river cruise with a 17:00 pickup so when we were still standing there at 17:20 one of the receptionists spoke to us. Turns out the company stopped running that part of the tour but no one had bothered to take it out the leaflet! A little annoyed we walked to the riverside and stumbled upon the Fish Market where we sat and watched the sunset.
After enjoying dinner and a couple of drinks we walked along the riverfront taking in the view and admiring the neon lights, framing the bridges beautifully.
Tomorrow we head along the road to Kep!