Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Kampot for the Khemur New Year

Kampot, or more specifically the Bhodi Villa guest house on the river (I actually haven't been to the town yet), is very nice and relaxing. There is a community here that consists of a bunch of long term travelers or people that decided to stay and live in this area. The place is right on the river and you can swim in the river which is nice in the heat of the day, and there is plankton in the water so at night you can see all the colors as you swim (like places on the ocean). I think its kind of a magical place where time slips away and you can completely relax.

A few days ago I left Sihanoukville in the morning and got here by 10 or so in the morning. It turned out that someone didn't show up to stay at the floating bungalow on the river the day before so I got to stay in it. It is an amazing bungalow that is literally floating on the river so you can feel the ripples and your sleeping about 1 foot above the water level. I swam right away and laid in my bed feet from the water. I was still not feeling great so I just slept a lot and relaxed all day.

Back of the sunset from the floating bungalow

The floating bungalow

The river view from the floating bungalow
That first night was the beginning of the Khemur New Year so at exactly 1:36 am all the Khemur people lit incense and did prayers to the spirits, and the new year began (its a three day celebration). I stayed up for the 1:36 celebration and lit some incense saying my own prayers to whatever I believe in. The new year here is more of a spiritual celebration that has to do with their version of Buddhism than a huge party. Unlike the Thai new year which is also happening right now but is more of a huge party throwing water around.

I really didn't do much the next couple days because I just wanted to enjoy my bungalow and get better. The second day here I met a girl from the US that is living two doors down the river. She is renting an art place with group paintings on the walls that anyone can contribute to and there are also canvases with art all over the place. It was fun to relax there, talk to the girl (Jess), and swim of course. That night she showed me the plankton, which I can't believe I didn't notice because I swam at night the night before.

Jess's place "Blank Canvas"

The next day I met Jess in the morning and then we rented bikes to go up to Bokor Mountain. Bokor Mountain is a cool place that was used for a huge casino/resort for the french near the turn of the century. Then due to the hatred of the rich that the Khemur Rouge had it was sacked and burned along with all the rich residents that were also on the mountain. For a long time it was fought for by the different armies because of its stategic location and today the building are still standing and burned.

View of the area from about half way up Bokor Mtn.

Me at the top of Bokor Mountain

Right now Bokor Mountain has been closed because of some huge development that is going to happen up on the hill (development is rampant here and without regulation, so if your connected and have money you can do whatever you want) and opened up just for 4 or 5 days for the new year. Because its open only for a few days for the celebration and then will close for another year there were tons of Khemur people up there. There were large groups of families having picnics in the abandoned buildings, even in the old casino.

Some cool art in an abandoned building

Jess and I had a great time seeing the burned out buildings and all the happy Khemur families. Also the casino was very big and had large halls and balconies and it was fun to imagine what it would have been like if it wasn't completely stripped and burned. The view was also amazing with a huge cliff that went down to the flatter land next to the coast. The last cool aspect was that up on the mountain you were at cloud level, or above it, so clouds would drift in and then flow over the ridge adding a cool misty-ness to the area. Overall it was a really cool place and I feel extremely lucky to have been there for the only 4-5 days its open in two years.

The casino

The main hall inside the casino

Then last night after we got back from the mountain there was a party here to celebrate the end of the new year. It was an interesting party but I mostly just played cards at the bar with some of the regulars I have met. I didn't stay up too late and then went to bed in the dorm room (I had the floating bungalow for two days and now I'm in the dorm). Today I've just been relaxing and am using Jess's computer that she has left at the bar for people to use with the wifi. My plan is to use the motorbike I used yesterday to go and actually see the town of Kampot.

Its nice to be away from the touristy areas of Cambodia. There are not people trying to sell things to you everywhere here, and I feel safer. Cambodia is a very strange country, beautiful and ugly at the same time. Its a religious country but due to the years of Khemur Rouge rule much of the culture has been destroyed and replaced with a desperateness that you can feel. People were forced not to practice Buddhism and just work as slaves, so today people care a lot more about money than anything else. But so many people can't earn money, most people make 1-2 dollars a day. Most people don't even have a place to live because the land prices are actually pretty high so they just squat wherever they can. The number of abandoned buildings is astonishing.

There is also so much corruption in the government and just everything. Most things you would want here you can't buy but need to know someone who can buy it for you, like sim cards can't be bought buy foreigners. Even the motorbike rental was just that the people here called someone and then about 15 minutes later the bikes were dropped off for us to rent. The land thing is where the biggest amount of corruption is because very few own land because of the price but people live everywhere. Because of this when someone does something with land, like an ugly misplaced development, a bunch of families are pushed off the land. This financial crisis could not have come at a better time for Cambodia because the land prices are going down, and the developments are stopping so people aren't getting kicked off their land as much and the natural beauty is not being destroyed like it was only one year ago.

Anyway, overall its a beautiful place and anything you would want to do you can. Thats what a lot of people like about Cambodia. There really are no restrictions on anything. If you can pay for it you can do it. There is even a place where you can shoot a tank if you have 300 dollars to spend. Also, you do use dollars here. I guess 5-10 years ago they decided to start using dollars because the riel was having so many currency issues. Today you use dollars for everything and riel is used for change. You can spend riel for anything also but its always translated into how many dollars that riel would be worth. Because of the riel/dollar thing there are no coins here which is kinda cool. Well, thats all for now, no pictures again because I'm using Jess's computer but I'll get them up eventually. Peace and love to all

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