On our journey from otress we could see the elephant mountains on one side and occasionally spot the sea on the other. This terrain was very impressive as the land was completely flat and then rose suddenly to great heights (1000 m plus) sort of like Ayers Rock in Australia but on a much wider scale.
One thing I noticed on the road was the lack of helmets. Most people did not have them and we also saw a lot of kids on motorbikes (some only around 8-9 years old on the highway). After a little research I found out that wearing helmets is optional here unlike in Vietnam and for a 50cc no license is necessary.
We arrived in Kampot in the evening and after a little wonder past a beautiful river and a few French villas we found our hostel.
Our hostel, costing us less than 2$ a night was one of the cheapest but compared to others in that price range it wasn’t that bad, the only major problem being that there was a double door missing and hence our sleeping quarter was unprotected against the elements. However a great chocolate milkshake one could order here made up for this.
Kampot is a river town with less than 30.000 inhabitants and a hint of French influence. In the evening Harry and I wondered around this town with the highlights being the illuminated bridge, several ‘famous’ roundabouts, a night market and French villas on the riverside. This town was enjoyably quiet and not very touristy. One issue however was that at night packs of stray dogs came out patrolling the streets, which always gave a night wanderer the risk of getting bitten.
In the morning we decided to rent a moped and drive to the Bokor national park that we had seen on our journey from Otres. We headed along the fairly awful roads for about half an hour until we realised that we went the wrong way. So back we went until we found a giant gate at which we had to pay a small entrance fee.
Coming from the Cambodian highway, which is little more than a dirt track the road in the national park were incredible. They were built only a few years ago and we did not find a single pothole or grain of gravel on the tarmac. The road was flat at first and lined by beautiful purple flowers, which made it seem like a big runway leading to the mountain. Soon we started gaining height going up steep turns at a very slow speed, which was dictated to us by overfilled Toyota pickup trucks filled with day trippers (one had 14 people in it) and by the fact that the bike with harry on the back was struggling, with full speed being no more than 20 km/h uphill. After about an hour we reached the top and drove to a gigantic Buddha statue that attracted a large number of faithfuls giving offerings of cash and bananas.
Although still hot, it was considerably colder up here than in Kampot, which made riding the bike up here even more pleasant. We drove past impressive cliffs, waterfalls and stunning views. We continued our journey until we saw a huge hotel and casino with a big fountain in front of it. This truly was an eyesore. You could literally smell the Chinese money used to construct this monstrosity. Furthermore it’s the kind of building that will only look worse as time passes.
After a few more minutes on our bike we spotted an old concrete building and decided to explore it. A old rusty sign saying “Commissariat de police” revealed to us what kind of building this was. After taking a rather unstable winding staircase to the upper floor we could see the old cells (iron doors and everything). It was also a tad spooky as there was no one around and quite dark inside. We also crossed the road to check out another building and a giant graveyard of concrete pillars from which you could see a church. It would be interesting to find out what the French were trying to build here all those years ago but I have not got any information about it.
A short ride and a little climb from the police station was an abandoned church overlooking the plateau. This impressive big stone building was completely empty apart from an altar and a cross that someone must have put there recently. Graffiti covered the walls and several parts of the outer buildings roofs had collapsed (we tried to climb on top of the church but could only get halfway up because of this). This building was really impressive and I would love to know what the service here was like and who attended it. If you walk up and climb up a few rocks behind the church you will find a rock outcrop with one of, if not the most amazing view I have seen so far in Asia. We could see the sea and the lowland from which the elephant mountains rose like a big wave. We stayed here for quite a while and must have taken hundreds of photos while up here.
We climbed back down to the road and rode to a hotel and casino the French had left behind. A beautiful building that must have been stunning when in use as it had a similar view to the point behind the church. This unlike the church and the police station was full of mainly Chinese and Cambodian tourists and one was not allowed to explore the inside, the security guards made sure of that. The tourists and all the Cambodians trying to sell you stuff meant that we much preferred the church and police station even though this building was rather impressive. After checking out a few more abandoned French buildings me and Harry headed to the other side of the mountain in search of a waterfall we had heard of.
We followed a beautiful empty road past a tea farm until it ended and the jungle began. A path led into the jungle that was quite wide so we thought it would be easiest to ride our moped into the jungle. At first this went quite well as the earth was smooth but the path went from being a meter and a half wide to about 40 cm and less. Also giant systems of roots obstructed the way and often one or both of us would have to lift the bike in order to advance. However after a while we decided to ditch the bike on the path as going further with it became impossible. We walked for a long time but there was still no waterfall insight (as we were in the thick dense jungle ‘insight’ is probably the wrong word as you couldn’t see 10 meters) so we decided to set ourselves a 10 minute time limit to find the waterfall and if exceeded we should turn back.
The path split into two and one led down a steep cliff with a rope to abseil down, which we did. Harry and I began to realise that this path didn’t lead to the waterfall and pulled ourselves up the rope again to get to the bike which was about half an hour away.
The jungle we entered is the beginning of a national park that covers most of south western Cambodia and there isn’t much between where we were and Siam reap so what could this path be ? The Khmer Rouge hid in these mountains until the 90’s so perhaps it was one of their trails or maybe opium smugglers used this path to escape the authorities. It was nearing sunset which meant that the little light that was left was hardly getting through the canopy making it very dark. Miles away from the nearest building or human you might think that it was very quiet here but quite the opposite was the case. Millions of insects were getting louder and louder as dusk approached and larger creatures such as birds and reptiles shrieked and hissed at us when we walked past them.
We were still about half an hour away from the bike when I remembers something about this Jungle that I had read before coming here; wild tigers roamed this area. While I knew that the chances of being attacked by one are infinitely small I still jumped every time some reptile slithered across the path or I heard a branch crack. At some point I turned around and it looked like there were two eyes staring at me from the darkness. Eventually we found our bike again and luckily managed to drive it out. Thankfully we made it out of the jungle and the bike didn’t break down. If something had happened to the bike we would have been in a bit of a pickle.
We left the jungle and drove back the way we came past an empty restaurant with a big sign saying ‘waterfall’ that we must have driven past earlier. The waterfall was impressive, quite large with a big cliff but little water as it was still dry season.
On the drive back we decided to stop of by the church one last time to watch the sunset, which was incredible. Driving back down the mountain I noticed something peculiar, that being sparks going of around us. I turned of the bikes light and realised that the sparks came from glow worms dancing in the night sky. Driving down the mountain in the dark going through tunnels of sparks was quite an experience, if you would like to picture what this was like then watch one of those star wars scenes were they travel at the speed of light.
Having driven down the windy mountain road (we must have taken at least several hundred turns that day) we soon reached Kampot and stopped of at a floating restaurant on the river. We had not eaten since we left in the morning and had some delightful seafood next to the illuminated bridge costing us less than 2$ dollars. This was a lovely way to end the 8 hour adventure.
Tired from a full day of driving and jungle trekking we passed out almost immediately once we got to the hostel. That night a huge rainstorm hit the area and all the roads were flooded the next day (so was a part of our dorm) but even the loudest thunder could not awake me. I have ever slept so deeply in my life.
We had an amazing time in Kampot but the road called and we headed on to the capital of Cambodia, Phneom Phen.
PS. The infrastructure in Cambodia is appalling, the worst I have seen yet. However the roundabouts here are always incredible, giant statues of peasants harvesting rice or elephants always sit in the middle of these dirt tracks, there is even a giant durian (a fruit) about 10 meters high in one of the Kampot roundabouts. Perhaps if they didn’t spend all their money on these things they would be able to afford better roads.