16th December 2011
Today was the windiest day I've ever experienced here in SE Asia. Hmmmm, not good for the ferry… Upon boarding the sea was a meter high, so I took my normal precaution and sat by the door with lifejacket at the ready! It was the worst, roughest boat journey I've ever taken and the whole ferry was bowing, twisting and groaning, while the Vietnamese next to me were filling their sick bags. Later, my good friend and Lonely Planet author for Cambodia told me there are flights and bigger seaworthy boats further along the coast, so that is how the journey will be done in future.
On to Kampot. I really love this place, it's soooo slow and sleepy. A perfect colonial town in the south of Cambodia just 20 mins or so from Kep. Since I was last here whole swathes of colonial buildings have been renovated to their former glory and used as restaurants and boutique hotels. It's so rural here just 5 mins or so outside town so I spent an afternoon out watching the rice harvest and saw some families using mechanical threshing machines. Wow progress! It's backbreaking work in the super hot sun, but as usual the Khmers laugh, tease and joke their way through it. Later the same evening I sat with my buddy Eric and watch the beginning of a total eclipse of the moon. For an hour we watched the moon get swallowed whole then turn a beautiful dusty pink. Talking to a moto driver later, he commented 'a monkey probably ate it''. Love it!
I left Kampot and took the local bus journey to Phnom Pehn, where I met up with the agents to review the upcoming Christmas Beaches tour (sign up folks – it’s going to be a good one!). I also caught up with an old friend Hurley who owns a bar on the riverfront. He came to Cambodia in 1991 to act as a Border Control Officer at the refugee camps with the UN. He pointed out that at that time there was no border, no control and he sure wasn't an officer! He was having a drink with Micheal Hayes, the ex proprieter of the Phnom Penh Post - I'd first met these characters in '94 so we have a lot of friends and anecdotes in common. Michael was in charge of the post when Khmer Rouge/ Cambodia expert Nate Thayer made the last ever interview with the despicable Pol Pot. Within a week Pol Pot was dead. Also joining us was the renowned photo journalist and old friend Al Rockoff. A hard smoking American, Al was in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge entered in '75 and many of his stunning images of that time adorn the walls of Hurleys bar.
The next morning I got up early [arrrgh] and took a 6 hour journey along the south side of the Tonle Sap to Battambáng. I'd first come to Battambang [pronounced BattambOng] in '94 when it was a very dangerous place. I was staying with MAG deminers and reporting on their efforts. They were and still are a humanitarian demining outfit from the UK. Humanitarian demining is lifting or nowadays blowing up mines around peoples huts and homes or fields. Displaced folk were returing into minefiels at that time so it was a priority to make these inpoverished peoples environments safe and secure - as much as possible... very interesting times. The Khmer Rouge were also very active in Battambang at that time so these deminers were seriously brave people on more than one level. I have nothing but respect for them. In 1994 one in about 254 Cambodians had been killed or lost a limb to a landmine. That's a sobering figure. Nowadays many mines have been lifted in the villages/towns/roads/ fields of Cambodia making it a very safe and secure environment now for tourists and travellers.
Last night I found the most wonderful French/Khmer restaurant. Situated on a backstreet and like Hurley's place spilling onto the pavement it is just sooooo French. A painted sign, wooden chairs around circular tables, a French chef and French famillies were all there.
And gorgeous French grub! I had duck in honey, tyme and lavender jus with dauphinoise potatoes and pickles. And for the first time in 6 weeks..... wait for it ..... red wine. Life is good.