In a word, Kampot was lovely. The weather was nice, the streets were calm, I saw some amazing sights, plus I was never abducted here.
To start with, I checked into a hostel called Blissful, which was, indeed, eponymous. With a glass of beer, under the shade of a palm tree in a slowly swinging hammock, chatting to some new friends, I certainly felt a lot more bliss than in the past few days.
After a somewhat sweaty night’s sleep, I woke excited and slightly apprehensively. This was because I had been persuaded, the day before, to rent a motorbike for the day, and ride around the countryside. I had never ridden a motorbike before, and not even driven a car more than a hundred yards (on a private road, at a glacial pace, with a terrified parent in the passenger seat). I asked the attendant at the motorbike rental place, how these contraptions actually worked, and he looked at me with a pretty morose, bored face. “Press starter button to start, pull accelerator to go, pull brake to stop,” was pretty much verbatim what he said. And, indeed, it was that simple; within seconds I felt like I had been driving for centuries. My confidence waned somewhat at my first encounter with another vehicle on the road, but I successfully avoided being run over, and gradually I began to feel natural driving on my ‘hog’.
My destination was Bokor National Park, a huge forested hill some 30km away. The drive there was lovely; seeing olde time villages, ploughed fields, children playing, etc. But the drive up to the top of the hill was even better. Every 200m or so, the road would warp aggressively, allowing me to practice my MotoGP turns. And, periodically on the straits, there were convenient laybys to take in the breathtaking view over the landscape.
Now and again, old relics of a former French settlement would appear; a dilapidated church, ruined houses being swallowed by shrubbery. More modern human influences were much more visible. At the top, construction work was continuing on a massive casino complex. Dozens of trucks and hundreds of tired men lumbered up the hill alongside me. It was sad to see such massive engineering works taking place, as the park is supposedly (or was) home to a population of elephants and other wild mammals. In a rush to develop the region to make some quick cash, the country has forgotten the immense value wild open spaces will have in the future, both environmentally and economically in the form of ecotourism.
Heading back down again, I smelt the familiar smell of my flesh burning. In my initial excitement of controlling an actual motor vehicle, I had forgotten to put sun tan lotion on. And, with the breeze running across my skin, I hadnt noticed myself gradually turning into a lobster. I covered up as best I could and headed home to rest and recuperate in the shade of my hostel.
I had the bike for a full 24 hours (at a very reasonable rate of $4), so I headed out in the early evening again, staying around town this time. I drove along a riverbank path, which eventually just became people’s back gardens, but they didn’t seem to mind, so I waved at them and drove on to a particularly scenic spot for the sunset.
I handed the bike in, had a good night’s sleep – my final rest before the hectic, electric atmosphere of my next destination, the party town Sihanoukville.