The main reason for our visit to Kampot was a day-trip into the park to trek around Bokor so we woke early to join a tour run by our guesthouse. It takes about an hour and a half to drive fully into the park, much of it on a one-lane road through dense jungle; I was with most of the group bouncing around in the bed of a pickup truck for the ride. The first few hours of the trip included visits to the black palace (a former vacation-home of the king) and an old abandoned catholic church (which served as a strategic hideout for the Khmer Rouge while fighting the invading Vietnamese).
We stopped for a simple lunch of vegetable curry near the derelict Bokor Palace building. What used to be a busy, luxurious hotel and casino before the war is now riddled with bullet holes, slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. The paint has rotted away and the bare concrete structure is covered in a bright orange moss; through the fog it looks like some sort of ancient ghost-palace…
We waited out a short downpour before moving onto the cathedral and then to the starting point of the hike through the jungle. The three-hour walk took us by a waterfall and along narrow overgrown trails. The people at the front were constantly removing leeches but I was lucky enough to avoid them. No one spotted any “real” wildlife except for some monstrous spiders and a dog carcass, but the park is still home to wild elephants, leopards and tigers (which are now finally protected from poachers by the government). After losing the trail for about 30 minutes, we emerged from the jungle, found the truck and headed back towards Kampot. 15 minutes into the ride, the truck’s brakes failed so we rolled all to town in low gear. Very slowly.
On the way I talked with our guide (who spoke english with an australian accent - not because he was taught that way but because he “wanted to be australian”) about Cambodian food. He told me about a few dishes I need to try, including some cooked with dog meat. I got excited and kept asking about it, so he said he could take me to a restaurant outside of town that serves a good dog curry. When we finally got back to the guesthouse I found Anja and Dan and we all took a taxi to the place.
The restaurant serves only dog meat. Fried, curried, boiled - however you want it, but thats all they’ve got. And they only have it when theres a dead street dog to cook up - they don’t do the expensive farm-raised stuff. We ordered two bowls of dog curry and some beers and dug in. The meat was really good: tender, not too fatty and with a texture close to beef. It was served on the bone and with some skin intact so eating it took some work but it was well worth it. I was a little weirded-out by the pet dogs they had running around, especially when they started begging for our food. No, I didn’t feed them any you sicko. I did pet them while stirring my curry, though.
Then we headed back to town. Our guide friend took us to a good Khmer desert stall, then we watched the kids from the local arts school perform some traditional Khmer music and dance. After a while we wandered the streets looking for a place to buy Anja a farewell drink (she had to leave in the morning) when we were pulled into a raging Cambodian birthday party and danced to loud horrible music while dozens of people smeared cake all over us. They wouldn’t let us stop drinking or dancing - eventually we had to say we were feeling sick in order to exit gracefully. Even then they insisted we take some food and beer… What a day!
After only a couple hours of sleep we all woke early to see Anja off with a sad farewell. With any luck, the three of us will meet up again in either London or Germany this summer.