Thursday, March 06, 2008

Way back in '69 (tropical boring continued)

Now down on the south coast of Cambodia, in Kampot - a charming town with a bright future - lots of old colonial architecture, a river, excellent bookshops, cafes, guest houses, shops, internet, "Seeing Eyes" Shiatsu massage, and even a make-your-own-necklace shop with glass beads from Murano (Venice)! The place is well laid out , spacious and green and seems confident yet calm. It's a very welcome contrast to the hothouse madness of Phnom Penh! Nearby are two significant attractions: 1. the seaside resort of Kep (utterly devastated by war and very little rebuilt - but off whose residual beaches is our destination for today and the next few: Rabbit Island) and 2. the hill resort of Bokor National Park (also devastated by war - see below - and only now just starting to be revived).

This is where the tropical bore raises his grizzled head: "Way back in '69, I took a (free) taxi ride from Phnom Penh to the casino hotel in Bokor. The idea was that we the passengers would gamble away all our worldly goods - and then maybe leap to our deaths over the precipitous edge of the mountain plateau. In my case, I just watched in fascination as Chinese (mainly) studied the sequence of cards on the gaudy displays and bet on the next in sequence - as well as betting on other more familiar games. I remember little else of it, except the hotel's location at the top of a steep one hour climb from the coastal plain." We took the trip yesterday and viewed the various derelict and burnt out buildings, including the Catholic church and the hotel on facing hills, between which the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge slugged it out for several months in the early 80s, I believe. The hotel is now just a shell, but a strong one - it was possible to climb the stairs and view the rooms, trying - in my case - to wonder which one might have been mine (no idea!) and which rooms on the main floor might have housed the various gambling games. It isn't every day you can explore the ruins of a place you once were - and not one to be repeated too often, either. On the way down, we had a short trek through jungle and, in the plain, a river trip back to town.

Today the desert-island experience (ahem!) of Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay). No internet there, or much at all but sea, sand and vegetation! Well, someone has to do it! A bientot!

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