Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bokor National Park

Bokor National Park is located on the southern coast of Cambodia. The park is one of Cambodia's largest protected areas, and it is home to large mammals such as tigers and elephants. In the early 20th century, the French built a road to the top of a 1,000+ meter mountain that overlooks the ocean and the Bokor jungle. At the top of the mountain, a small village was built where some 200 people resided. Highlighting the village was a grand hotel and casino, the Bokor Palace. The cool climate, picturesque ocean view, and grand hotel made for an inviting vacation spot. In the 1940s , the hill station was abandoned as its strategic location was key during the Khmer battle for independence from the French. Upon Khmer independence, the hill station was revived until the early 1970s when the Khmer Rouge used it as a base. The Khmer Rouge soldiers looted and pillaged the location, essentially leaving it in the state it is in now. During the 1980s and 1990s, the park was unsafe as it was occupied by Khmer Rouge guerillas.

Today, the hill station is a tourist attraction. We signed up for a one-day visit to the hill station with Wild Orchid Adventure Tours in Kampot, a nearby river town. We were very lucky to have arrived on the Chinese New Year, a week-long holiday in Cambodia. It turns out a private company is rebuilding the road and building a new hotel atop the Bokor mountain. Three weeks ago, the park was officially closed to road traffic for 30 months so the road rebuilding project could begin. We were lucky to arrive during a holiday when the road was reopened for the holiday week.

Lonely Planet describes an extremely rough road to the hill station, but the rebuilding has already started to make a difference. Much of the once bumpy road has been smoothed over. We could have rented a scooter to visit the station, and we would have arrived just fine. Atop the mountain, an eerie ghost town with remnants of Cambodian history exists. There was a Catholic church where Khmer Rouge guerillas once maintained a stronghold.

Inside the church, remnants of the altar stood in one room.

Some areas of the church wall were chipped away to form a hole looking out to the mountain plateau. This was surely a lookout point and hideout for soldiers. Atop a nearby hill, remnants of a gun turret rusted away.

Highlighting the visit to Bokor was the grand Bokor Palace.

In its heyday, the entrance must have been grand.

We explored the wide hallways, rooms, dining area, balconies, and ballrooms.

The rooftop terrace provided a wonderful view of the surrounding village.

During the palace exploration, images of formal 1930s dinners in the dining room, armed camouflaged soldiers sitting protected against a stone wall, and an eerie setting for the climactic scene of a horror film came to mind. It was a unique place. I hope it will either remain as is or be restored to is former glory in the future. With new building, its chances of going undemolished are slim.

Our tour included a brief hike through Bokor's jungle forest. The forest was different from the Lao forests we had been in earlier in our trip. There were birds chirping and gibbons hooting. The park is home to a tiger nicknamed Tripod, a nickname earned after losing a front paw to a trap. He is rumored to have dined on a human or two during his lifetime. A famous night photo of Tripod is often used in Bokor advertising. The park has had issues with poaching and illegal logging, but now, a force of fifty rangers protect the park land. This has been adequate enough to stem the tide of illegal activities.

We travel next to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Now, a break from the travel blog to discuss English lyrics and Cambodian currency. Karaoke videos are the most popular form of entertainment in Southeast Asia. All of our bus rides include karaoke videos. The music is in an Asian language and often subtitled in Asian characters. At times, it is subtitled in Latin characters so we can sound out the incomprehensible lyrics. In Cambodia, a popular Malaysian song with an English chorus has played on numerous busrides. Somebody tell me if they can understand the chorus lyrics.

"You are the one who's feeling alright."

---Insert one Chinese/Khmer/Malay sentence here---

"You are the one keeping me hurt at all times."

---Insert one Chinese/Khmer/Malay sentence here---

"Am I the one who misunderstand?"

---Insert one Chinese/Khmer/Malay sentence here---

"This kind of hurt you remained!"

This is a perfect example of Asian English. Most hotel regulations, signposts, and advertising are in a similar form of English. Seems it is left up to your best interpretation.

Cambodia's official currency is the riel. Due to instability in the riel in the past, locals started using dollars to do business. What has now occurred is both dollars and riel are valid at all businesses and markets. Prices are often quoted in dollars, riel, or both. Cambodia has double-currency. We bought dinner at the grocery store the other day, and the cash register gave us the price in riel and dollars. We payed the $7.50 (30,000 riel) price with a ten dollar bill. Our change was two $1 bills (4,000 riel each) and two 1,000 riel bills. Since U.S. coins are not in Cambodia, any change less than $1 is always payed in riel. Anything $1 or above is paid in either riel or dollars. The double currency can get quite confusing, but it brushes up your mathematical skills exponentially fast.


Greg said...

Jeremy and Laura,

This is a very unusual Catjolic Chursh. It has entrances as - side facing doors. It also has the left arm of the cross which C. Churches as a ?garage? and it appears by the sky in the window that there is no arm/wing on the right. Ah those French taking previliges with tradition again.

The broken English .... music lyrics - If we are thinking musical Blues or Country and Western then you have -----

You are feelin'so fine
while I am always a bein' hurt by you
Am I wrong or am I right?
I can never forgive you for a breakin' my heart.

From Nashville

J.Pallotta said...

Hey Greg,

Thanks for the great translation to the song. I came up with a similar rock n roll translation which I have since forgotten. Think you are right on target with the Nashville version.

Neither Laura nor I can recall if the church has a right wing. None of the pictures... even those not posted show the other side of the church (it was in the shade). Anyway, the side entrances are unique and not sure why it was done that way.

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