Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kampot Trip - Part 4 - Bokor Palace Hotel

It's been a while since I began writing about our trip to Kampot.   I interrupted the train of thought to let everyone know we were home safe & sound, and now that I am almost over the worst of the jetlag, it's time to continue the saga of our trip....

For our first full day in Kampot, we'd booked an all-day tour, which included Bokor Hill Station, situated on the top of one of the Damrei (Elephant) mountains some 3540 ft. above sea level.  The tour featured a hike up the mountain, but since Gordon has bad knees, we'd been reassured we could hire a car.  

At the base of the mountain, we were met by Cambodian Rangers who would be our guides. The lead guide was a very interesting Cambodian man who'd been a soldier for many years in the Vietnamese army, fighting against the Khmer Rouge and against Nixon (the American invasion of Cambodia).  As a young  man, he had seen his entire family bludgeoned to death by the Khmer Rouge, and barely escaped death by running away and hiding in the jungle for almost two years.

Our tour group - 39 in all
The lead guide

At the last moment, we learned that the roads were under construction, and instead of a car, we would be taking a 4-wheel drive truck part of the way and hike the remainder through the jungle.  Gordon opted for the $2.00  fee to ride rather than hike, while I decided to rough it and hike with the rest of the group who were all much younger than me.  After all, how bad could it be?
The ranger in our truck carried an AK-47
He cited incidents where gibbons
and black bears had attacked hikers....
The lead guide giving instructions to the hikers

The temperatures hovered in the high 30'sC.  We were each given 2 bottles of water and told it would be a two hour hike.  Now I was beginning to wonder......I wasn't well prepared...
Should've packed sneakers.... Uh-oh!
Well, at least my toenails look cute...

We started up the trail, and I fell a bit behind the others, safe in the knowledge that the lead guide was behind me...  It was a gruelling hike, almost 1000 feet up, winding through dense jungle.  I imagined what it must have been like 30 years ago, when soldiers ran through jungles like these, perhaps running for their lives.... 
The path through the jungle was narrow
and rose steeply uphill.
I worried about falling behind and getting lost
After a while I began to notice it was marked
by red paint or red rags like these
The vegetation was interesting and unusual
I occasionally got my foot caught in vines
or had to stoop below fallen trees
Around the half-way mark, our guide stopped
to answer questions and tell us his life story
I snagged my pants on a branch....
These used to be my favourites
We finally arrived at the end of our hike up the mountain.  Gordon and the trucks were waiting there for us.
Gordon, waiting patiently.
The clouds had rolled in...
Strange to be lower than the clouds...... 
Near the road, the edge dropped off into a precipice
No guard rails here...

 We still had another stretch to travel upwards to the palace, so we hopped back onto the trucks and forged ahead.  As we rode up the mountain, the clouds grew denser.  At times we could barely see the vehicle in front of us....
Can you see the truck in front of us?

Finally, we reached the summit, and in the eerie mist, caught our first glimpse of Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino.  This massive structure, built by the French in the 1920's, must have been a magnificent building in its heyday.  It was part of a resort complex where French colonials living in Cambodia could go to escape the heat.  The hotel had a ballroom, and operated a casino (the French loved to gamble).  It flourished until the 1950's when the First Indochine war forced the French out of Cambodia.  For a while afterward, King Sihanouk used it as a summer palace, until the Khmer Rouge took power in the late 1970's and used the building as a stronghold, because of its strategic position so high in the mountains.  It was one of the last hold-outs of the Khmer Rouge even as late as the early 1990's.
Our first dim view of the palace

Every once in a while the clouds would lift
and we got a clear view of this magnificent but ominous structure.
To me, it was like a scene from a movie about the 'end of the world'....
It's the perfect spot to film a scary movie.

After a hearty lunch of curried vegetables  & rice, we were left to explore on our own.  
The sign says 'Not allowed to entry old building!'
Everyone went in anyway....

Front entrance to Bokor Palace & Casino

The fireplace in the grand ballroom
Beautiful tiled floors
.....which later were covered with linoleum....

Graffiti everywhere...
(So sad to see beautiful places defiled
just so someone can leave their own mark!)
The hotel had several guest rooms fully equipped with full bathrooms.
Many of the rooms had lovely balconies like this one.

Bokor Hill Station was set up as a resort for the French, so it also had a post office, water tower and of course, a Catholic Church.
Reminds me of early Catholic churches built in Quebec in the 1600's
The altar...again defaced with graffiti

After exploring for a couple of hours, we descended the mountain the same way we we went up....truck, then hike, then truck.  Somehow the hike didn't seem nearly as bad going down.  We loaded into vans and were driven down to the docks for a cruise in a longtail boat down the Kampot River.

A boat at the landing where we embarked

Cap'n Gordon sitting on the bow of the boat

The elephant mountains in the distance

Ollie's Place - Ollie obviously loved it enough here to stay

A group of guys sitting under the railway bridge
I wonder how they got down there...

Kampot Riverview Guesthouse as seen from the water
Looks pretty good from out there...
Looks can be deceiving....

After we disembarked, we thought we'd better double check on the next day's tour before we headed back to the guesthouse.  Boy, were we in for a surprise....
To be continued.....

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