Monday, January 09, 2006

Kampot, Cambodia

Wind, weddings and the contentment of swine. As cryptic as this might sound, it is what my first impression of this place has conjured up. Kampot is a small town in the south of Cambodia that has emerged on the backpacker trail. It's one of these places that has little per se to see but lots around. Personnaly I quite like this type of place as it tends to its own affairs and ignores the small amount of tourists in its midst. This leaves a lot of scope for observing the daily life of a small provincial capital and what has most struck me is written in the first line.

It's windy here which implies a lot of dust as only 20% of the town is paved but also means a relief from the crippling heat of the past week which has caused most westerners, with their layer of winter blubber, to slow down to a sluggish crawl. The town is also littered with various marquis as it seems it's good luck for Cambodians to get shacked up at this time of year. The flip side of this is that any indoor place within 200 yards of one of these tents vibrates like a drum in sync with the 7 foot wall of speakers that Cambodians deem necessary to provide music for the happy couple.

These weddings attract quite of lot of gawkers, myself included, and most of the town focuses around these events. Except for the aforementioned pigs. Cambodians like their pork so pigs abound generally but it is the first time I have seen so many of them faffing about the center of a town. Little piglets root around the place and compete with dogs for scraps while massive hogs lie in the middle of the road causing all vehicles to manouvre past them. They look quite chuffed and I reckon this is what gave my lunchtime pork and rice extra succulence.

Anyway I got here after a very awkward chat with the unnamned NGO where we concluded that by the time the admin would have cleared my visa will have run out. I strongly suspect this was what they were hoping for. It's not that they are sneaky but I reckon that local NGOs are too used to treat westerners from the perspective of supplicants and/or pupils and as such they were reluctant to tell me that my offer was causing more trouble than I was worth. Either that or they have some serious structural problems as far as volunteer processing goes. This is worrying as this particular charity is heavily reliant on the wednesday evening crowd.

However this means that I was free to say Adieu to Phnom Penh and move southwards. I bid farewell to the most enjoyable capital of South East Asia and its nmany, many flaws. I waved goodbye to the mosquito hatchery of Boeng Kak lake and its glorious sunsets. I said toodledoo to the late night terror of improvised moped races (this was often the conclusion of a group pub crawl across PP as, once everyone in the group had found transport, we ended up as an orderly procession untill one person gets the bright idea to coax their driver to be the leader of the pack. After that it gets fast, scary and stupid very quickly). I even nodded to the Western Beggar this morning though I think he didn't recall me or anything else for that matter.

The Western Beggar is a fixture of the backpacker haunts of Phnom Penh. He is a young american who has decided to stay and pester travellers for a few dollars in order to feed his drug habit. His other needs are taken care of by the American Embassy and his family. He always asks for 3 dollars or the riel equivalent which I guess is the going price of smack in PP these days. He is either quite friendly or worryingly aggressive in his pleas depending on the time of his last dose . The locals hate his guts and have put up posters explaining his presence and what they think of him.

Last night I encountered him one last time as I was boozing with quite a large group in some bar. He was in aggressive mood and more than persistent. He started to fuck me off as that day I had walked across Phnom Penh and had refused the pleas of more beggars than I care to remmeber. These included small kids who looked malnourished, elderly women lugging insanely large bags of scrap, amputees of all kinds, people crippled by disease whose legs were thinner than my wrists and other human beings whose suffering I can not begin to comprehend.

Being slightly drunk I asked the Western Beggar why we should donate to the Keep the Yank Fuckup High Fund in view of all the other avenues for charity open in this town. He responded angrily to this but chose to focus his ire at the Cambodian staff of the bar who were trying to get him to leave. At this point the Australian contingent in our group decided to express their support of the staff in ineloquent, but very effective, terms. I will not miss him.

In Kampot now and I have decided to do something I have steadfastly refused to do so far and joined a guided tour. We will all be going to the ghosttown of Bokor and surrounding jungle. Bokor was an attempt by the French to creeat a mountaintop resort complete with grand hotels and casinos which failed miserably and was deserted even before they skedaddled out of Cambodia. It has also been in the local news recently as 2 people were shot dead on New Years Eve. The real reason I joined the tour is that it seemed the best way for me to see some jungle and guarantee that I keep to buy shoes in pairs. Will update on this. Hopefully.

Take care,

Arabin

2 Comments:

Anonymous nicolas said...

hello,

Marie "Hopla" vient de m'envoyer le lien vers ton excellent blog. J'y retrouve pour le Cambodge des chemins foulés au printemps dernier avec des amis tour-du-mondistes. Pour le Bokkor, l'hotel en ruine mérite vraiment d'y aller en tout, tout, TOUT petit comité car c'est dans l'atmosphère apocalyptique que réside toute la saveur du lieu. Il est possible de "dormir" au sommet, à quelques centaines de mètres dudit bâtiment en ruine: c-a-d profiter d'une luxueuse paillasse hors d'âge dans la pièce elle tout autant en ruine jouxtant le dortoir des gardes-forestiers (traduction libre). Il n'y fait pas très chaud, mais si la chance est avec toi, douze autres routards pourraient partager les 6 m² de la pièce commune.
Pour grimper, des taxis individuels peuvent se prendre à Kampot pour pas grand chose, au marché ou à l'hotel à l'époque unique le long du fleuve.
Mais tu sais peut-être déjà tout çà... et je me replonge donc silencieusement dans la lecture de tes pages.

Monday, January 09, 2006 4:41:00 PM  
Blogger Arabin said...

Nicolas,

Merci du conseil mais malheureusement je l'ai lu trop tard. Mes impressions sur Bokor seront brevement decrites au prochain post. Rester la nuit fut tentant mais le temps me manque et je doit maintenat foncer sur la Thailande.

Merci quand meme,

Arabin

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 10:32:00 AM  

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