Day 24: Bokor Mountain: 30km Ascent

Cycling up Bokor Mountain

Distance: 90.2km

Total: 1295km

Cambodian FOD: the building of the original road through dense jungle up to the top of Bokor Mountain (1080m) claimed 900 lives in 9 months during its construction.

Everyday Randomness: getting our first sugarcane juice in the most remote of places on top of the Bokor Mountain!

Sustainance was the focus this morning as we presumed food options on a 30km ascent of a mountain would be few and far between. A noodle soup in Jack’s Place was good value and the coffee was generously poured. They also have an adorable dog 

Bokor National Park is 7km from Kampot which is the perfect warm up for the legs. We passed a house that was completely purple,even the roof and I was half expecting to hear “Purple Rain” proudly bellowing from the window! It’s free to enter on a bicycle probably because they already know how much pain you have ahead of you! 

We passed the English couple we met last night sitting cross-legged in the grass; their motorbike had broken down! Fortunately, another one was on the way but as they were leaving for Pnomh Penh at 2pm it wasn’t ideal. “Race to the top” we said as we pedalled on.

The ascent was sublime. By far thee best ascent (and longest) I have ever completed. The new road is only 3 years old and is in excellent condition and is perfectly graded (sloped) all the way up. There is a steep kick at the very top but that’s necessary for a climatic sense of achievement.

The weather was ideal as we rose for the first 20km or so; overcast with a cooling breeze and a hint of an eery mist as we got closer to the abandoned town. The mist became less of a hint and more of a reality, like cycling through the clouds, until eventually we were in proper rain. Thankfully, some of the heavier downpours occurred when we were at the one water stop on the mountain so we were sheltered.

You start to get cold alarmingly quickly, so we braved it and headed out. It began to clear up shortly after that and we had most of the climbing done at that point so it really wasn’t that grim at all! You couldn’t be homesick for Irish weather after it, that’s for sure!

Throughout the ascent we were greeted with downright shock, disbelief and admiration. One tourist on a motorbike bike just nodded his head a few times as he went past in a tone of “fair play”. Little do they know that I have struggled far more with climbs in Ireland, where the gradient and road conditions are so much tougher. When we reached the summit we even had a few people come up to us and congratulate us, I’d say they thought we’d never make it!

The top of the mountain was once a resort for the wealthy French who wanted to retreat from the humidity. It was then abandoned, but became a strategic point in the battle between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese as it had unobstructed views of a large area. The Khmer Rouge held out in the old casino while the Vietnamese shot at them from the Catholic church. Evidence of both of these times as well was King Shinanouk’s retreat are still present and do have an innate sense of timelessness about them. However, Sihanouk built Cambodia’s first casino and unfortunately that trend continued when this most obnoxious of resorts was built. Worryingly the old casino is being renovated/restored and another casino and hotel are being built which will definitely negativly impact the ambiance but for the moment most of these developments can be ignored and the original atmosphere sampled. 

It’s easy to see why two horror movies have been shot up here as the mist seems to cling to the buildings:

The view from the old casino is as expansive as it gets with the dense jungle occupying most of the neighbouring area. It felt like a through back to what a huge portion of Cambodia used to look like until the massive problem of deforestation took a hold of the country. 

We managed to get some pot noodles to keep us ticking over as we explored the top of the mountain. We gifted ourselves with some extra climbing by going to the waterfall but it was a worthwhile excursion! The river was unexpectedly powerful given that I presume it’s source was located nearby. It was a beautiful setting for many of the locals who were picnicing. They would put our flasks of tea and crisp sandwiches to shame as they cracked into piles of rice and enough crabs to feed a couple of families!! Seriously impressive! 

A free drink came with the waterfall entry ticket (which was 75cent) so we opted for the sugarcane juice as we have been meaning to try it since last year! It’s like honeydew melon juice but that bit sweeter and thus that bit nicer! I can see why the locals love it so much as it’s refreshing without being sickly sweet! I got a picture of the juice extracting process; it’s really surprising how much liquid comes from the deceptively dry looking canes!!

With 45km done it was about time to head down the mountain and get some real food into us! I’m pretty sure the reason I love cycling is because of the feeling of descending on a bike. When you’re good and lean into the turns it feels like the movement you make while skiing and you can get into a satisfying swinging rythm. Of course there’s just the raw thrill of it as well. Wind rushing past you, the concentration needed which each turn and the speed of the straighter sections. The headwind acted as a natural pacer meaning that brakes were seldomly required. The road was quiet as we had missed the minibus tours, so we could choose our lines coming into the turns which is a rare experience! I haven’t even mentioned the views! The sun was shining at this point and the views were uninhibited by the mist so we had asecended in cloud and descended in the sun; ideal.

Pedaling back to Kampot gave us a bit of time to take in what was one of my best days on the bike. An epic of a day.

Speaking of epic, the club sandwich (essentially) we had at Jack’s Place was quite epic in itself and a great option for a 3:15pm lunch! After showering, we said we better actually buy some Kampot Pepper before we left! Supermarkets sell pepper thats actually from another part of Cambodia or even Vietnam so weavoided those. We tried the Kampot Pepper shop as we wanted something that was real but not the top end stuff as we’ll leave that to the Michelan star restaurants. Ideally, they had grade B real Kampot Pepper which was pretty much exactly what we were looking for. I’ve an extra 500 grams on my bike now but sure it’ll be worth it for the extra kick in taste for our cooking at home!

Lebanese was what we had for dinner which was an unexpected and highly enjoyable meal to say the least. Unfortunately, I was too hungry to take a picture but we ate a chicken schwarma and falafel plate with a very generous serving of hummus and seriously good garlic. The owner of Aroma house has a very homely friendliness and the restaurant’s pet chicken is just hilarious. It was a much appreciated meal after a busy day!

We headed to the Magic Sponge for some live music, where the staff are super attentive in a good way. The singer-“songwriter” was well quite mediocre and his own songs were pretty cringe for someone nearing 40. The guy who followed him was absolutely outstanding on the guitar. Even though his lyrics weren’t too inspiring, his guitar melodies more than made up for them! The two guys formed a impromptu duo which was probably the best part of the evening! A seasoned expat brought his saxophone along and endearingly chimed in with a few notes every so often after patiently waiting his turn. The music ended with a medley of songs, in fairness to them you couldn’t fault them for effort and it can be tough to get live music in Asia so it was an entertaining ole night all the same! 

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