M Y O B

The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

SIHANOUKVILLE AND BOKOR

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MONEY

I try to retain a few good examples of the local currency from the places I visit. The Cambodian bills were very lovely, printed in Germany, and featured numerous scenes for which the country is justly famous. I saw a good many of these places in actuality.

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12 September 1968

Hello again~

Who would believe this trip? Amid threatening clouds, I left Kep (after a restful day there—swimming at 7:00 AM!!) bound for Bokor. As expected, I got into rain fairly soon, and to put the end at the beginning, I drove through rain all the way to Sihanoukville!

BACKSTORY: I met a young fellow in Kep who reminded me of why I enjoy formerly-french countries! He was completely unabashed about sex, and we had a fine romp. However, when I told him I planned to visit Bokor, he assured me I should not go there. Unfortunately, the language barrier made it difficult for me to know what his objections were. (There’s usually no language barrier where sex is concerned!)

The road to Bokor is unbelievable! It goes up 1000 meters in about 22 kilometers, hacked through dense jungle all the way (except along the top of the mountains, where it is quite bare). Wonderful switch-backs and so forth, about 12 feet wide and paved fairly well.

The Road to Bokor

The Road to Bokor

See below for a much later photo of this “road”, when it had become just a cow-path!

The rain on the way up was not bad, and perhaps the jungle is at its best when wet. I stopped (both ways) many times to shut off the machine & listen to the marvelous sounds—and occasionally to inspect the various animals crossing the road: mostly bright pink land crabs, but some spectacular snakes & things, too. The sounds are like nothing I’ve ever heard (naturally) and while one itches to take up a machete & go in search of the sources, without a guide & so forth that’s hardly recommended! By the time I got to Bokor itself, the storm was a veritable blizzard, visibility less than 30 feet. But amidst all this, the Auberge Royale was open and I got a good hot meal (about 9:30 am). After a quick tour of the casino (doing a thriving business) I set forth once again, this time to Popokville, about 4 km away. The rain let up slightly for this leg of the trip for which I was thankful. Just as the road (paved about 1/2 way) petered out into a couple of muddy ruts, and I was going to turn back, I heard the roar of water & saw a “parking” sign a little further on. So I thrashed on through, there to find the famed falls of Popokville (I wonder if Todd made this same pilgrimage?). Now, with all the rain, there was lots of water. The river is about 1/2 the size of the Merced at high water; the falls are a couple of hundred feet, in several stages. Very spectacular, very wet, and in the jungle setting, truly wonderful. There was not another soul around, although there are nice little pathways, rickety bridges & so forth (a la mist-trail [in Yosemite]) which I poked around in (carefully!) for about 1/2 hr.

Recent shot of the he famed falls of Popokville

Recent shot of the he famed falls of Popokville

I found this picture on the net, taken many years after I was there. These visitors had better weather!

When the rain re-commenced, I remembered the road I had to traverse back to pavement, & decided to push on. Back down that wonderful road. More sounds, more animals, rain. Some views were blocked by clouds, but I got some good looks down to the delta & sea 2-3000 feet below. Alas, no pictures—too little light [and too wet].

The remainder of the trip was uneventful, but very wet. At times the road was nearly flooded. The rainfall varied from moderate to very heavy. My poncho leaked, and when I finally reached S-ville I was soaked through. My luggage leaked slightly (as you can see by the stains made by some carbon-paper I foolishly brought along!) but I had dry clothes when at last I found the center of S-ville and a hotel.

Sihanoukville may turn out to be the only disappointment of this trip. The weather has not helped—it has rained steadily through today and shows no sign of stopping: tres inclement! But the city itself is not much. It has recently been turned into a free port, but until the railway to the interior is finished I doubt this will make much difference. There are a couple of ships at anchor and the town is full of a sorry lot of French merchant seamen. There is a rather lurid “strip”, a couple of strings of shops, the inevitable central market and information center—and that’s about it! The setting, though, is splendid and the beaches extensive and inviting—given proper weather. I should imagine that in 5 or 10 years this could be another Riviera.

You will not believe what this trip is doing to my diet!! Every now and then I order the Plat du jour, not always knowing just what to expect. In Phnom Penh I got as an entré one night some sort of small fowl, roasted (whole, I discovered) with petit pois & sauce. I will never know what it was (too small for pigeon) but it was not bad. Today, here, I had “orderves” (fresh crab, paté fois gras, sliced ham, chick-peas & onions) followed by a dozen clams on the half-shell (I know you won’t believe it but I ate them all), followed by fresh diced pineapple & café au lait; all for 80 riels (about $1.50).

Assuming it is raining still in the morning, I’m heading for the interior again—Kirirom. The weather there should be better. This cuts two days off my planned stay in S-ville, but without being able to swim & sun on the beach, there’s really almost nothing else to do; besides, constant rain depresses me. Hence,

More later!!

Bruce

So much for my planned sun and swim on the beaches in Sihanoukville (formerly, Kampong Som). I’m not really a swimmer: I was more interested in seeing skimpy bathing-suits on the local guys! Of these, there were none, the weather being foul as mentioned. Indeed, it was off-season, and there was only one hotel in Kep that was anything like “open”, and that barely. No restaurant. But there was a restaurant open in the town, where I had the meal mentioned, and where I cruised up the trick also mentioned (above). In Sihanoukville, the seamen were mostly drunk and probably after girls, but the locals had locked up every youngster (with good reason: with the french and ME in town, none of them was safe)!

I’ve since learned that Bokor was built up by the French as a refuge from the heat of the dry season, Although one web-site says it was abandoned after WWII, it was going strong when I was there in 1968, and it was quite a sumptuous place. It was abandoned (and looted) soon after the K-R took over, and now stands derelict:

Bokor
Bokor

Bokor
Bokor

I understand that Bokor is now a nature preserve and is patrolled to prevent poaching, but it is likely a losing battle: development as some sort of resort seems inevitable. The grand old Auberge will unquestionably be demolished, along with the Catholic church in Bokor and perhaps a Royal Residence as well.

By the time this picture was taken (found on the web) the “road” to Bokor had been over-grown by the jungle:

Cows on the Road to Bokor Now
Cows on the Road to Bokor Now

A later picture shows it as even worse, open only to dirt-bikes!

But, time marches on. And the next day I decided to visit Kirirom. Stay tuned!

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Written by Bruce

December 13th, 2009 at 11:06 am

Posted in Cambodia

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