“Do you want to take a boat trip to see the sunset tonight?” asked the guide who introduced himself as Shrek. Yup, it’s that Shrek from Dreamworks studios. I don’t know why but it seemed that he enjoyed the movie much.
A couple hours earlier, arrived at Kampot, a coastal town to the South of Phnom Penh not too far away from the Vietnamese border. I was there to book a tour to the Bokor National Park when he offerered me the boat trip. I hesitated a little while.
“Come on, we are leaving now, you are going to miss the fun!” he pestered until I went with him eventually.
The rest of the group was already waiting at the port by the Kampot river. Most of them were European students, a really young group. Shrek ushered us onto the boat and we took off for a nearby village. Actually, it wasn’t a village. It was Shrek’s house that was just recently built by him. It had a nice deck on the river where we all chilled out and had some beer. Shrek then introduced us to his wife, Fiona from the same cartoon, and his daughter. And no, the daughter wasn’t called Donkey.
Some of the group decided to go for a dip. The rest of us hung out and watched the slowly descends into the horizon.
As it was getting dark, the boat driver suggested to Shrek that we depart before sunset. One of the Argentinian guy moaned, “Come on! This is beautiful! We will leave after the Sun sets,”
Shrek didn’t seem to have any objection, and so we stayed.
As promised, we left after sunset. I sat at the front of the boat and enjoyed the breeze. The visibility wasn’t too bad and the sky only got dark when we were about 2 kilometres away from our destination.
Everything was going well, until I started to hear some shouting, barely audible due to the roaring engine. I turned around to see a few of my boatmates screaming to the boatman, who was sitting behind, and telling him to “Stop! Stop! Stop!”
I wondered what was going on and thus turned my head around and squinted at the dark. Then, I noticed what the commotion’s about. About 500m ahead of us was a small sampan where 2 fishermen were standing on. They were flailing their arms desperately with a torchlight barely visible from distance and motioning us to make a turn. It wasn’t hard to see why. We were on our way to a full-on collision with the sampan! And we were going really fast!
The rest of the boat soon we woked up from our daydreams to the approaching nightmare and joined in the chorus of “Stop!”.
But the eff-ing boatman seemed oblivious. Perhaps it’s the language barrier. Or the engine noise that drowned our voices. Or the alchohol influence. Or…
Before we knew it, our boat ran over the small sampan, literally. With a bit of fortune, we narrowly avoided the 2 fishermen, who in Hollywood fashion jumped into the river as we sunk their sampan. Our boat was fine. Theirs, however, capsized.
Our driver was shocked and brought the boat to a halt. The 2 men were without any float and trying their best to stay afloat. The entire boat was shell shocked for a moment and none of us moved. Then we heard the boatman restarting the generator again. Wait, we’re leaving them to their own fate?
This time, we insisted that we stop and help the poor souls. The driver seemed to understand us and relented. He took a spare rope and tossed it into the river. With some effort, the 2 victims managed their way onto our boat. They managed to tie the rope to their capsized sampan and we towed the it back to the port. Obviously, they weren’t happy at all.
Back on land, the 2 fishermen had an argument with our boatman that attracted a small crowd of onlookers. We stood there as bystanders as nobody was able to translate Khmer language. After awhile, we decided that we should let the tour company handle this and left for dinner. There wasn’t much we could do, after all.
The following day, when I met up with Shrek for the Bokor National Park tour, I asked him about the driver’s whereabouts. He told me that in the end, they settled it at the police station. Apparently, after the incident, the driver still attended a wedding dinner and drank even more. Incidents like this seem not to startle them as much as it did to us. Life is cheap here.
The national park tour itself wasn’t too memorable. It was basically a tour to Bokor Hill where the French used to set up a station. The weather was much more cooling there and it was an escapade for rich Frenchmen and royal families who couldn’t stand the Cambodian heat. Most of what previously were bungalows, churches and casinos are still in their abandoned state. Quite haunting, actually.
Although there are some efforts of redevelopment and revival that were proposed for the area, but save for a huge modern casino that attracts Vietnamese and Chinese tourists, there is little sign that Bokor Hill would once again see its heydays in the near future.
On another day, I visited the nearby Kep an even quieter coastal town. Like Bokor Hill, there are lots of abandoned bungalows around the area, that were once lived by the rich and powerful people until they were dismissed by the Khmer Rouge. If you’re hoping to invest in some of these lands, forget it. They were all snapped up by government officials and speculators in the 90s. Kep is also famous for its freshwater crabs, often cooked with Kampot pepper. Here’s an interesting fact! Did you know that before 1970s, Kampot’s pepper was so popular that it was available in all self-respecting restaurants in France? Neither do I. To be honest, I couldn’t tell a good pepper from the rest but the crabs were good.
After a few days in this region, it was time to wrap up my Cambodian journey. My thoughts on Cambodia? The Angkor temples were amazing. The people has a friendly vibe and a slow pace. However, there isn’t a lot going on outside of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Some people like that and I could definitely see the appeal. In fact, I reckon there are many places outside of the usual beaten path waiting to be discovered. Relatively untouched compared to some Southeast Asian neighbours. By starting my trip in Cambodia, it really helped to ease myself into the long journey. It was an easy and stress-free place to travel in. After 2 weeks though, I was ready for more.
Next stop, Vietnam.
On March 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and travelled to various places for 5 months. I returned home in September and decided to blog all the memorable stories and photos. I believe it’s the best way to conserve these memories and also to share them with my friends. All posts are tagged to the category 2013 Travels, should you need to browse the entire series.
I was in Cambodia from March 4 to March 20. Most of the shots were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, with either the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens or the original Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. They were shot in RAW and processed, edited in Adobe Lightroom. Others shots were taken with my HTC Desire HD smartphone.