We headed out of Phnom Penh today down to the south coast to Kampot - a sleepy little place about 3km from the sea. The journey down their was our first experience of Cambodian bus travel. The bus was a bit old but OK, the road a little bumpy and in general the progress was slow. The 4 hour published journey time took 5 ½ hrs. The countryside was very different to Vietnam - dry and dusty with lots of dirt roads off the main road. The bus went via Kep - a seaside resort that was accessed by an unmade road. We met the Spanish couple on the bus - they were heading to Rabbit island near Kep - all there is on the island are bungalows with electricity between 18:00 and 22:00 - and miles and miles of white sandy beaches.We went to Kampot, found somewhere to stay and started exploring. The place is a backwater but has a rural charm with some old French colonial buildings. It had been a resort for the French but has now been overtaken by Sihanoukville. After a walk round and a spot to eat, we decided it was too hot to do anything other than organise ourselves for tomorrow - a trip to the hill station. That was exhausting, so we had a beer whilst watching the sun go down by the river.
We went up to Bokor national park and hill station today. The only way to reach it was by joining an organised tour in 4x4 pickup trucks. We left at 8:00, with 4 our of us in outside bench seats at the back and 2 more inside the truck. Once we got into the park, the road was unpaved and it was 32km to the top (about 1000m up). We stopped at the King's old summer lodge - now a ruin - and at a water fall with very little water - it is the start of the dry season now in Cambodia. The views going up were spectacular - you could see all the way along the coast for about 30km including some islands owned by Vietnam. We had chance for a paddle in the waterfall and a walk round.Next it was off to the hill station - this was built in 1920s by the French and was quite grand with many buildings, a large church and hotel/casino. All the buildings had been abandoned and most are ruins - the place is supposed to be being restored to open as a resort. During the war between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese, the hill station was fought over because of it's strategic position. The 2 sides were holed up about 1km apart one in the church and one in the casino. There were supposed to be shell holes in the buildings, although none were evident - maybe they were just lousy shots.
We then went back down and had a chance to walk through the jungle - rainforest really. There are supposed to by wild elephant, water buffalo and even tigers in the park although none were in the area we were in - too much construction noise as they are rebuilding the road. The journey back down was just as bumpy but with lots of dust as there was more traffic around.We ended up going back to Kampot by boat along Teuk Chhue river. It was very peaceful as it is not very densely populated - very different from the Mekong area.
The following day we planned as an easy day as we had 2 days of travelling in front of us. We decided to hire some bikes and go out to see some caves about 12 km out of town. The ride out was initially on a paved road but then onto a dirt road through the local villages. We asked directions from some school kids and they took us to some caves and showed us round. We thought they were a little disappointing but realised these were not the main ones - it was the kids way of earning a bit more pocket money.
We carried onto the caves and arrived after being shown the way by another set of kids. The route took us through rice fields along a very narrow track - unfortunately the kids went very slowly and I had to stop quickly and ended up in the rice paddy - a bit muddy. Fran was her normal sympathetic self - laughing and the kids had a great time telling the other Cambodians about the stupid foreigner! The caves were a long climb and had some shrines carved in with the rest of the cave.Whilst the caves weren't great but the ride was fun and the people were genuinely friendly - didn't demand money for everything, all the kids waving and saying hello. We got back - hot and dusty so settled for a quiet afternoon after a cool drink.