Doing my bit for Cambodia.

Trip Start Mar 10, 2007
Trip End Jan 01, 2007

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

 My first full day in Kampot was spent at Bokor hill station, an abandoned old french hill station constructed in 1917 last abandoned in the 1970's.Checked out of my guesthouse in the morning first, as i can deal with cold water, but having no water is where i draw the line. Anyway Bokor was the sight of much fighting during the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 and the Khmer Rouge held out here for several months. The whole place is like a ghost town and although the weather was shitty and subsequently we didn't get any views at all, except of bloody thick fog, the fog gave the place a fantastic atmosphere and it would have been ideal to film your own blair witch style movie!
        I made the mistake of assuming that when they said we'd be going up the road to the hill station (notorious in this area for being a terrible road) in pick up trucks, that we'd actually be inside them! (foolish earthling, this is south east asia after all) The drive was ridiculous, the rockiest and worst conditioned road i have ever seen, i can't think of anything to compare it to that would give an inkling of indication as to how crap it was. Naturally it poured down with rain, monsoon style, all day, so in the back of an open top pick up we got absoluely drenched for the 1hr 30 minute drive each way (curse you mr Sloan, asking if i'd been caught in any storms yet!)
   Up the hill itself, we saw 'the black palace'', the old abandoned hotel and an old abandoned casino, amongst several other buildings. Quite how these buildings got into such a state of disarray i have no idea, as they aren't that old really (1920 ish). 
       After lunch picnic style at the shining style hotel (it would be that scary up there at night!) we went to the popokvil waterfalls, which (i thought rather comically) i have renamed the faeces falls, due to the scumminess of the water flowing from them. Got absolutely drenched all the way for the 1hr 30 min drive back, so i was in no mood to do anything tht evening when i returned, except eat a curry (damn tasty one too).
              Kampot itself is a wonderful place, though most people travelling south east asia strongly disagree and move on after seeing Bokor. I fell in love with the place:- a quiet little town sitting on the riverfront with a very relaxed atmosphere and very friendly people. Subsequently i spent the best part of a week relaxing here. I found out via the local listings on thew place that there was a local orphanage where they were keen on volunteers coming down to help out, and likewise i found a local school project run by a Khmer teacher (MR Tee! oh yeah) and a scottish guy (sandy) who were looking for volunteers to come down and help teach english in the evenings. This was how i was to fill my mornings (orphanage) and evenings (teaching) for the next few days. Teaching was such an enjoyable experience, the children here are soo obidient and cute, i reckon i'll save the space in my backpack to bring some of them home, so sorry guy no presents for you (unless you want an asian kid). Got asked the usual questions by all the kids:- how old am i? do i have a girlfriend in cambodia? why not? etc. I taught in about four classes over the course of my time here, of varying ages and abilities in english. All were very friendly and i had a great time. The school is Chumriekiel language school and was set up by mr Tee to help those kids in the town that are too poor to get english lessons. They recieve no funding and are desperately poor, so if your ever passing through the area they are great people and are ever soo greatful for the help, even if its only for one day etc. Nothing is expected except your time.
          The orphanage was one of the most enjoyable experiences i've ever had in my life. The kids are just soo friendly and i spent many mornings playing board games with them. I tell you, when i have kids (old granny rant coming here) its no playstations or tv for them, just playing outside and board games/mental puzzles. These kids are soo young and yet their social skills, motor skills and memories are fantastic, and they destroed me at the simple games involving remembering which tiles have which animals on them when you turn them over. I found a few more kids there that i need to make room for in my backpack too, one kid when i was leaving on my final day there even asked me if i'd adopt him and be his father, which was truly heartbreaking.
           Another place worth mentioning in Kampot is th epic arts cafe. This is a cafe set up by a western guy for local disabled people in the area:- many deaf and physically disabled people work there, serving amazing food and smoothies and they are genuine, fantastic people. This again is a fantastic organisation promoting performing rts for the disabled and i would strongly recommend you check them out:- is their website.
         The other notable thing i did in Kampot was a full day tour with a guy named mr Samron. He found me as i was walking around Kampot one day and struck me as a nice genuine guy, so i agreed to do a tour with him. I struck up a real rappor with him, and i believe we became genuine friends by the end of our time together. On the tour i took in the Phnom chnork cave, famous for the 7th century pre angkor era temple it houses, some small picturesque villages and the nearby seaside town of Kep. Kep is a very small town, very popular with the cambodians as a beach retret, though its pretty much known there's nothing there to do except go to the beach and eat seafood:- its famous for its crab, which you can get fresh in these little shacks all along the shore. Kep itself is a brilliant example of the devastation wreaked by the khmer rouge, as everywhere you look there are abandoned buildings, mere sheels of what they used to be. 
      After our exploration of Kep we checked out a pepper plantation, as this area is world famous for the pepper it produces:- apparently the french are rather keen on it. Then it was back to Kampot, where Sam took me to a different school/ monastery where i had a cup of coffee with the head monk before teaching for a couple of hours again. Great stuff. Thi was followed by a tradtional meal with Sam, involving us both getting rather drunk off of rice wine.
        The next day, as i promised, i returned with sam to the school to teach again for a few hours there. This was probably the best teaching session i did in Kampot, i had soo much fun and realised tht i have definately gained alot of confidence since i left england. I mean before i left theres no way i would have stood infront of a class of kids nd sung the national anthem! Some of the kids drew me a picture thanking me for coming, which was soo sweet.
     Mr Samron then drove me all over town so i could finish all my errands before i went off back to phnom penh (no charge of course, he's a legend).

 If your ever in Kampot, go to Keplers books and ask for mr Sam, for a fantastic tour of Kampot and a true friend in cambodia, i can't recommend it enough. Tell him Ben sent you though!
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