Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The main reason

The bedroom in a bungalow at Nataya Coral Bay Resort, 17kms west of Kampot
The real focus of my whistle-stop trip to Kampot and Kep at the weekend was to pay a visit to a bunch of hotels, old and new. For some it was quite literally poke my head in the door then out again, others it was a more formal inspection. The latter included new resorts like Nataya in Kampot and Eskepe in Kep. Here's some pictures to show you a few places I visited.
A view of the Nataya bungalows, which houses two separate rooms
The 1km beach at Nataya is a big attraction. I think it used to be the Queen's favourite beach in bygone times.
The Magic Sponge GH in Kampot. Clean and comfortable, housed in a former building used by Acleda Bank.
Simplicity reigns in one of the bedrooms at Knai Bang Chatt in Kep
A view of Eskepe, a gorgeous house for rent in Kep, which is still to be completed
The pool and grounds looking out to sea at Eskepe in Kep
The eco-friendly Vine Retreat outside Kep has rooms on 2 floors and a relaxation area above that
Work in progress; the new swimming pool at the popular Veranda Resort in Kep

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

While I was there

The ruined Prasat Tani at Wat Tani in the village of the same name
Even though my trip to Kampot and Kep at the weekend was purely business, I took the opportunity to veer off the main track to poke my nose around for anything interesting, as I always do, and benefited from my explorations. On the way down to Kampot by car, we stopped at Wat Tani, on the edge of the town of the same name, as I had never previously seen the prasat that sits in front of the rebuilt vihara. It's ruined and there are no carvings, and the light was poor as it was getting dark, but I was happy to see the 11th century laterite temple nonetheless. On the way back from inspecting the new Nataya Resort and after my visit to the ghost-like railway station at Koh Touch, I called into a trio of pagodas in the hope of unearthing something interesting. At Wat Rokar, the attractive wat had a low ceiling with the usual colourful wall paintings. At Wat Roluos there was a hive of painting activity on-going, both inside and out, about fifty metres from where the foundations of the old vihara stood. And at Wat Kampot, which was another visually pleasing-on-the-eye pagoda, I spent 20 minutes playing volleyball with two schoolboys, Omar and Kien, before their teacher scolded them for missing the start of their class. I was in the dog-house. Also on my travels I noticed an interesting wall painting in the grounds of Wat Kompong Tralach, which also houses a genocide memorial. The final batch of photos from the hotels I visited will follow.
The blackened laterite walls of Prasat Tani is due to old age rather than fire
The photogenic Wat Rokar with its low ceiling
One of the popular scenes you can see on the ceiling of pagodas around the country. This is at Wat Rokar.
The smell of fresh paint was overwhelming at Wat Roluos
The large Buddha and the wall & ceiling paintings at Wat Roluos
The painters were practising their artistic skills on this wall; eyes being a problem for some
A lovely older pagoda at Wat Kampot
My volleyball colleagues, Kien and Omar, who were scolded for missing class
A giant and other naked people on a wall at Wat Kompong Tralach

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Anorak wearers only

Kampot's main railway station in town
The main open-sided entrance to Kampot's railway station
Okay, so I was a train-spotter when I was a youth, and trains and railway lines still hold a minor attraction for me. Hence on my weekend jaunt to Kampot I couldn't resist pottering along to the main station in Kampot itself and a minor station at Koh Touch, some 16kms west of the town, and about a kilometre from Prek Ampil beach. The railway station at Kampot is a throwback to the 1960's when the southern railway line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville was created during that decade. The 167kms of single-gauge track from the capital to Kampot was completed in 1967 and the station looks pretty much like it did when it was built. The corrugated tin roof is a bit naff but the brickwork and style of the station is fairly typical of the period and quite low key by comparison to the station at Sihanoukville for example. Today, the only traffic the station sees is the movement of freight, namely cement, and sitting forlornly when I went to the station, were about fifteen brand-new freight wagons. Apart from a couple of boys playing the sandal-throwing game, the station was devoid of any human life, let alone any railway employees. Originally there were 28 railway stations between PP-S'ville, though 24 of them were destroyed during the civil war. And it was on the way to Kampot that three western tourists were captured and later killed by the Khmer Rouge in 1994. For a look at one of those destroyed stations, the shell of Koh Touch, some 16 kms west of Kampot, is worth a look if you are out that way. Some of the walls remain as do the floor tiles, but very little else, as the vegetation has a stranglehold on what's left. A group of female rice-workers in a nearby field looked at me as though I was a complete madman as I took pictures of this empty ghost of the bygone days of the southern line.
Get your tickets here please! These grills have seen better days.
Looking from the station buildings to the nearest line with yellow freight wagons
The railway offices under a corrugated tin roof, in keeping with the station's colour scheme
At Koh Touch, the rural railway station lies in a very ruined state
The line from Koh Touch station back towards Kampot
More of the ghost-like ruins at Koh Touch, near Prek Ampil

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quick run down

The sun is setting off the coast of Kep - a view I never tire of
So where and what have I been doing? Left Phnom Penh on Friday afternoon in Dan's car and we made it to the town of Tani as it was getting dark, so we stopped for a quick look at the ruined laterite prasat that sits in front of the main pagoda there. It's 11th century but looks older, there was no carvings to speak of and a tree has made its home in the middle of the parasat. And the old wat which contained some wonderful wall paintings I'm told, has been demolished. We carried onto Kampot and I took a room at Dan's new comfortable guesthouse, The Magic Sponge, near the salt workers' roundabout. I had time for a meal at the Rusty Keyhole and then early to bed. Up at 7am I was out to the Nataya Roundhouse Resort, 17kms west of Kampot, just off the road to Sihanoukville, at Prek Ampil, next morning. This is a brand new resort, with some nicely finished bungalows, and best of all, a 1km long beach. A swimming pool is being constructed, another eight bungalows are also being built and it looks like a nice option for Kampot lovers. I stopped at a trio of pagodas on the way back, a couple of railway stations and then visited a few hotels to say hello.
After lunch, I directed my motodop towards Kep, stopping at a couple of genocide memorials en route, at Wat Chum Kriel and Wat Kompong Tralach. Once I hit Kep I made house-calls at Knai Bang Chatt, the Sailing Club, the new FCC-owned house called Eskepe, which is just being finished off, Veranda (who are building a pool), and the new pizza restaurant at the crab market, La Bakara, where I bumped into Jean-Michel Filippi, who invited me to a lecture he was giving that evening. We then headed off into the mountains at Phnom Voar to visit a new eco-friendly guesthouse called The Vine Retreat but didn't stay long as they were in the middle of their opening party. Before dinner at the Riel Bar, I went to Champey Inn for Jean-Michel's lecture on the pre-Angkorian era in Kampot region, where he mentioned the region's first museum he is hoping to build by the White Horse monument in the near future. What he doesn't know about Kampot and Kep you could write on a postage stamp. Another early night, at Kep Seaside GH, there's not much to do in Kep to be honest, and then it was back to town on the bus this morning. As I said, all work and no time for fun.
The beach at Nataya Roundhouse Coral Bay Resort, 17kms from Kampot
The old cinema in Kampot, now closed but a hive of activity during the golden years of Cambodian film in the 1960s
Two Khmer Rouge victims at the small memorial at Wat Chum Kriel, 5kms outside Kampot
Kep: Not yet open but already looking resplendent, Eskepe, related to the FCC chain
Another sunset picture taken from my guesthouse in Kep

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Off to the seaside

On a previous visit to Kep
I'm rushing out of the door soon as I have to make a whistle-stop visit to Kampot and Kep for the next two nights to check out a few hotels, new and old. Someone's got to do it. The blog will be a mite quiet as a result. Tonight I'm trying out a new guesthouse in Kampot, the Magic Sponge, 'cause its been opened by a friend. I'll let you know the verdict. Tomorrow I'll be rushing around like a blue-arsed fly visiting a bunch of places in both locations, no time for a holiday I'm sorry to say. Then I have to get back for an event at the Cambodiana Hotel first thing Monday morning, its called Hidden Treasures, and its identifying the best of the new community/eco-tourism sites in Cambodia. Again, more on that on Monday night.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bokor under seige

The atmospheric charm of the Bokor Palace Hotel - soon to be lost forever?
The magic of Bokor Mountain may soon be lost forever, though even the might of the Sokimex Group will not be able to stop the clouds and fog from rolling in and obscuring everything on a regular basis. This week, the ground-breaking ceremony took place on the $1 billion new development that Sokimex are putting in place to transform the summit of the mountain, located along Cambodia's southwest coastline. Access to the mountaintop has been closed until April at the earliest as Sokimex make a start on their project that will include a 12-16 storey five-star hotel, three 3-star hotels, a shopping center, residential area of apartments and villas to house 6,000 people, an amusement park, a casino and cable car system, not forgetting an Arnold Palmer golf course. What planet are these people on? The same planet that has about half a dozen satellite cities surrounding Phnom Penh in limbo due to the world's financial crisis. By the way they still haven't finished constructing the new road to the top a year after they started. And there's still no word on whether the atmospheric Bokor Palace Hotel will be renovated or torn down, most likely the latter. So with the landscape at Bokor undergoing change, Kampot will have to devise other ways to attract tourists - though with a new port, a special economic zone and a hydropower dam at Tek Chhou, these are likely to send visitors scurrying in other directions. I don't sound very optimistic do I?

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Colonial Kampot

Construction of the original Governor's Mansion in Kampot began in 1889
The French colonial administration established a residence or administrative center and colonial resort at Kampot in 1885 and lots of evidence of their time in Kampot remains today. I didn't have time to conduct a full inventory of Kampot's colonial heritage but did have a window of opportunity to whizz around with a motodup to snap a few pictures for posterity. The first two-storey brick shophouses built in Kampot appeared along the riverbank in 1901 and that saw a boom in housing and shops within the town. The Chinese were also prominent in Kampot, even before the French established their presence. Kampot's colonial appearance is akin to that to be found in Battambang, Kompong Cham and Kratie and adds a touch of flair to otherwise characterless town centers.
A restored colonial mansion now used by the Red Cross in Kampot
This two-storey townhouse was built in 1951
This colonial beauty, now in disrepair, is part of the Kampot Prison
A splash of clour makes a difference to Kampot's side streets
This ochre-coloured shuttered building has seen better days
Many of Kampot's side-streets look like this with grand columns and shuttered windows
Some of the shophouses along the riverfront need some love & attention
And this is what they look like when they are cared for

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