We have now been travelling for 9 months and we are over halfway through our journey and have just Thailand, Malaysia, possibly Singapore and then Australia and New Zealand to explore. We have now been through 19 countries, driven 31,000 kilometres and consumed 4128 litres of deisel and have now reached the sea at the Gulf of Thailand, in Cambodia and we can go no further South here without getting on a boat!
The last sea we saw was the Caspian sea in Iran back in April and before that the Bosphorus in Istanbul. So a lot of ground has been covered to reach this point.
We will now follow the coastline up towards Bangkok and make our way up and across and down through Thailand and continue our way South through Malaysia, a place my Mother visited many times to call on her brother, who with his Malay family, had made it his permanent home.
Thailand is a favoured spot for many holiday makers and we anticipate meeting up with our close family who are meeting us in Ko Lanta over New Year.
We need still to decide where to float Landy across the pond to Australia. One big cost is meeting the car cleaning requirements to enter Australia. It probably has to be cleaned professionally for a week to remove every speck of dust inside and out.
We are considering shipping from either the ports at Kuala Lumpa or Singapore. Each has their drawbacks, aside from the financial considerations. We need to get more quotes, grapple with the logistics, locate potential container buddies and make a decision. We will then fly to Australia and collect Landy and continue our journey.
Before we leave Cambodia we are exploring this area on the South Coast which is away from the temples. Many say that this sea coast and the islands off it are similar to Thailand before it became massively developed and hugely popular.
We stayed outside Kampot, in the Greenhouse Hotel for a couple of days, a collection of rush bungalows nestled in a nurtured tropical garden dripping in orchids, overlooking a sweeping bend in the Kampot River.
The main attraction was the view, but helped by the fact that the proprietor was a French chef. Can’t be all bad.
With the car in fine fettle, we decided to go and explore and set off to find a former French Hill Station nestled in the nearby Bokor National Park. At over 1000 metres altitude it promised cool breezes and local cloud cover. We’d heard tell of abandonned French colonial buildings which had briefly accommodated the Kmer Rouge during the conflict.
These included an old French Hill Station and an old Hotel / Casino. We had also heard that a consortium of Chinese developers had purchased a lease on all the land and were going to massively redevelop this beautiful natural spot and change it forever. The Chinese had already replaced the old road up to the top with a top class road, perhaps the best in Cambodia!
What we found after driving up through deep forested jungle was a vast open plateau, miles away from anywhere, with a number of incongrous buildings (old and new) scattered around, some of them recently refurbished and others newly constructed.
The former Hill Station, with sweeping views down to the sea, had become a luxury hotel with guards in the lonely car park. Landy was the only car when we drew up. We eventually found an open door, entered and ordered a couple of fruit drinks in an empty dining room with tables set for dinner, together with a cocktail bar and a grand piano. A flat screen TV announced plans to turn the whole area into a luxury new town with high rise apartments, hotels and many luxury houses nestled among the greenary. The first phases looked like a ghost town. No-one had come!
Following our visit to the massively refurbished Hill Station, we drove across to the former Casino which was a monstrosity of a building, completely out of keeping with the environment and we parked Landy in another empty carpark and sauntered in and ordered lunch in the Lotus restaurant.
The story was the same again. Bars, casino and restaurants were virtually deserted and a car park which would have been the envy of a busy IKEA, was empty. Can you believe a room full of flashing slot machines in the middle of a National Park? In the Casino, they wanted us not to bring in guns and drugs and smelly fruit! This place was aimed at Chinese holiday makers who are restricted from gambling at home.
Although we were the only customers in this vast dining room, the food was very average. There were a few people in the casino playing slot machines.
The other ‘must visit’ building, was a semi-derelict Catholic Church which was much fancied by a handful of Cambodian tourists, taking selfies against the red dusty stones. A footpath behind it led to an amazing viewpoint.
Other newly constructed town houses were a blot on the landscape. Some of these were still under construction, some of those completed already looked derelict and the brand new ones were scarcely occupied. Behind these houses were piles of domestic refuse just dumped on the land.
What was going on? Why would Cambodia allow such a beautiful spot to be ruined? At least if development was to be permitted why was it not discrete and tasteful? And in any case, none of it seems to be working financially. Who is behind it? We are told it is a Chinese investment company but the Sokha hotel chain seems to be Vietnamese? Who knows. So far, it is a tragedy and not even remotely profitable. The same company has purchased the rights to Angkor Wat. This is a terrifying thought. This company is known to be close to the ruling Party (CPP), the sole political party in the Country. (Marxist Leninist, but with a Monarchy).
Before returning to town, we stopped at Pokokvil Waterfall. This is a beauty spot which was fairly deserted, although ticketed and possessing a cafe that would not be out of place in a bus terminal!
We cannot blame the Vietnamese for this monstrosity. It was vast and empty and served drinks (freshly made cane juice) and pizza. A short walk away could be found the waterfall and many notices telling the public not to litter or eat food on the rocks.
A handful of local tourists were picnicing outside and preparing their own cooked food on a BBQ and huge speakers blared out local Pop music. A small number of foreign tourists had appeared on motorbikes and walked down the rocks to take photos of the falls, which at this time of year were less spectacular than in the rainy season.
I decided that it looked a bit dangerous after peering down the pile of large boulders and we left after chatting briefly to a nice Argentinian woman who left a note under our wipers, a Cambodian living in the USA and a local couple who spoke English.
We drove back down the fabulous tree lined hairpin bends and when we left the park, Landy bumped and lurched her way back into town, and we talked about what we had seen. Not all of it was good and you could not help wondering what motivated the powers that be to permit this state sponsored decimation? We also understand that the same company has leased the land at Angkor Wat. So who knows what they have in mind there.
The next day we drove to Kep an old French holiday resort, a seaside town which was famous for locally harvested crab coated in locally grown, Kampot fresh green peppercorn sauce.
Later, in search of a sunset view we came to rest back in Kampot and after walking down streets with an array of restored historical buildings, found a popular watering hole overlooking the Kampot river which promised a sunset view.
We wandered back to our hotel after the sun had set, passed various cafes offering happy or estatic pizzas. After a couple of happy hour cocktails, we thought an estatic pizza might be pushing our luck!