My latest friend that I glommed onto, Claude from Montreal, didn't know about the Bokor Hill Station until I told him about it yesterday. So, he agreed that it would be interesting to see. Thus, we went together and he made sure I didn't die on my motorbike.
Bokor Hill Station was in a complete overhaul
. Tucked in the Elephant and Cardamom mountains, it is at an elevation of 3000 ft and was used in the 1920-30's by French elite to escape the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh. Today, investors (mostly Chinese) are once again aiming to capitalize on this unique location and create a resort/retreat. Over 15 years, the planned investment is 1 billion USD. Yes, one BILLION dollars. Already, a monstrosity of a hotel/casino/golf course resort has been constructed. It was uber creepy because there were workers there and it was mostly finished, but there are only a handful of guests. There is no security and so Claude and I roamed freely throughout the complex, even exploring the unfinished pool/spa area and disco/bar. If you know me, you know how I feel about abandoned buildings. Creeps me out to the max. For example, the pool is finished and filled with water with chairs all around, but there is a layer of scum on the top because it was not being filtered and the hot tubs were frantically making bubbles, but the water was cold...everything just a bit off...and no one around...lights off, rooms empty. Gives me the heeby jeebies even as I write this. What's more, the construction was supposed to be nice, but you could tell that the labor was likely unskilled because already cracks could be seen in the sprayed concrete facade and poor workmanship on the details. Hopefully, when the pictures come up, you will be able to see what I'm talking about.
As for the old Hill Station itself, the actual Hotel Palace had been sandblasted and repaired so the alluring and mysterious age of the building was lost
. The Catholic church, however, has yet to have any renovations begun on it. In fact, I believe I found the bullet holes mentioned in the guidebooks from the Khmer Rouge time. Really cool stuff.
After returning to town, we continued to drive around...the heat and dust of the day seems less wearing while cruising on a motorbike. We went by the prison, watched school let out (which is an event...hundreds of kids streaming out and climbing onto bicycles and motorbikes), went to the real market where we had some unidentified soup (I keep telling myself that soup is a good idea because it is so hot that much of the bacteria is getting incenerated in the broth...), and finally cruised down a dirt road until it dead ended at the river's edge. One of the most interesting things (and sweet) that I've experienced is the complete openess and excitement of the children. They love to run out and wave to you when they see you are white. They yell, "Hello, Hello!" and seem to get the biggest kick out of the 'Hello' response back. Even the adults, who at first seem so severe, crack a great smile as soon as you smile or wave at them. Despite the fact that they are living in more than abject poverty, they don't seem to be jealous/mad/upset with the fact that we are white in their world. It's really something to see. At the end of the dirt road, after having had to wave and yell 'Hello' practically the entire road while trying not to wreck in the ridiculous potholes, there was a family with small children
. At first they were shy to come near us. But, after a while, they were wanting to play and jump with us. After I took their picture and then showed it to them, they lost it. I thought my camera was a goner as 5 kids all clambered to get a look at themselves on the screen. The littlest one, an adorable boy of about 18 months, had a death grip on my camera that I couldn't get loose. "Let go" doesn't work when the kid doesn't speak your language.
All in all, a great day...and one which returning to an air-conditioned room is super appreciated!! I leave for the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, tomorrow at 6:30am. Before I left, Claude gave me his Lonely Planet for Laos, some earplugs, and Immodium pills (just in case). I tell you what, meeting people that are trying to make their bag lighter is awesome. I've gotten the book for both Cambodia and now Laos this way. Yea travelers! I'm racking up over here. Here's to hoping my bus doesn't break down tomorrow!
For all of you out there worried about my safety, there's absolutely nothing to worry about. Take today for example. I simply rented a motorbike for the day and drove up a snaking mountain to the Bokor Hill Station. Yep, my first experience driving a moterbike (really it was like a moped) was in Cambodia. Nothing to worry about there. I mean, I've been on a bicycle at least twice in the last 10 years. I'm obviously overqualified. Anyhow, the point of the story is that I survived and it was awesome (well, my rear end was complaining a bit by the end to be honest).