Finally the day of our trek to Bokor Hill Station arrived. We set off early in the morning and after a drive down an incredibly soft road reached our start point: a small farm with an enclosure filled with concrete animals.
We trekked for a few hours up the hill through the jungle. We saw lots of twisty vines, some interesting plants and heard lots of birds. Thankfully we were sheltered from the sun but the same shading trees also blocked most of the breeze. Partway up the hill we reached the road and were met by the van which took us the rest of the way to Bokor Hill Station.
Due to Chinese New Year Bokor Hill Station was packed with holidaying Cambodians. Picnickers were everywhere: inside the old hotel/casino and all around on the grounds.
However, the hotel/casino was still very atmospheric (see it in the Matt Dillion movie City of Ghosts). Once grand, now dilapidated, it’s covered in mould and graffiti. Walls and windows are crumbling but vestiges of its former glory survive.
And to top it all off its perched just back of an incredible drop to the jungle below. Apparently some of the casino’s big losers took their own lives by jumping off the cliff.
From the hotel we drove to the former post office and then on to the church. The post office has huge holes in it but the church is fairly intact, although bullet impacts can be seen on some of its walls and graffiti covers its interior walls.
Finally we drove to a cliffside pagoda where we’d be spending the night. After the day trippers left with the van there were five of us, plus our guide, staying overnight. We strung up our hammocks in a grove of trees and then watched the sun go down. A blind monkey came over and befriended us with his gentle ways. As darkness descended we gathered for the dinner our guide, Net, had prepared. While we ate he told us that some people staying outside the night before thought they had seen a tiger. He left the choice of where we’d sleep to us. Being tourists, unfamiliar with the feeding habits of tigers, we decided to opt for indoor sleeping. And so we spent the night on mats on a hard platform in the pagoda, with a collection of Buddha statues at one end. Not very comfortable but very tiger proof. Before going to bed we sat up for a while watching hip hop karaoke and ventriloquist comedy on a laptop plugged into huge speaker boxes the monks normally use for their blessings. It was very surreal watching little kids groove to the hip hop blasting out while the monks wandered in and out of their quarters. A few of the monks stayed to watch the comedy show and I had to wonder how much of the subtitled humour they understood. It was a scene that’ll live in my memory for a long time!
During the night we heard the wind howling outside and when we got up early in the morning a mist flowed over the pagoda’s buildings. We gathered in the monks’ kitchen to have breakfast before starting our trek back. In order to avoid the holiday traffic on the dusty road our guide decided to take us on an alternate route suggested by the monks.
What should have been an hour and a half walk to the path down the mountain turned into a long circuitous route that took three to four hours. Although interesting walking on the white sand left by a long vanished ocean it was hot and gradually sapped our energy. As we weren’t going to make our connecting ride to the final leg of the journey, a boat ride down the river, we opted to catch a ride down the mountain and back to Kampot. From there the tour company van took us back up the river where we went for a refreshing swim in the river before hopping on the boat for an hour long ride back to town. We enjoyed a cool breeze, cool beers and a colorful sunset as we cruised back to Kampot.