Signs, signs: Gasoline shop

My husband and I go for Sunday rides outside Phnom Penh with our trusty old Hagrid. Hagrid is a 1992 Honda 400 SuperFour motorbike.

Once in a while, when on road trips, we run low on gasoline. No problem. There are lots of roadside gasoline vendors, even in remote areas.

signs gas seller

For a first-timer in Cambodia, you might mistaken this roadside stall for a drink shop because of the soda bottles. It is actually a makeshift “gas station”.

Gasoline is smuggled across the border, in plain sight, and sold in shops like this in rural villages, quite openly, even in the capital Phnom Penh. Gasoline is sold in re-used soda and plastic water bottles and are displayed out front, as you see in the above photo. You don’t see this in developed countries.

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Signs, signs: Holy crab

The sign that says it all!

This was actually our second choice as our favourite restaurant was closed for the holidays.

Holy ...!!!
Holy …!!!

Holy Crab is one of the newest  restaurants at Psah Kdam (Crab Market) in Kep. Food was okay, more expensive than other restaurants I went to, but nothing memorable. However, the view of the sunset is marvelous — holy crab!

As an aside, the locals pronounce this as “holy crap’ as the “b” at the end of a word is pronounced as “p”.

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New Year in Kep and Kampot

Hello, friends. Remember me?
I know, I know. Lol. I keep on telling myself “I’ll blog regularly… I’ll update soon, yada-yada…” but I ALWAYS end up doing nothing. Booooo.

Anyhoo, I finally got around to sorting and sifting through our Khmer New Year holiday photos from Kep and Kampot! *applause*

We only stayed in Kep for three days and two nights (including a day trip to Kampot and to Bokor mountain) but it felt like I was home. Truly. On one hand, Kep was my (and my husband’s) home, my base, from 2006-2008, due to work. On the other had, my hometown, Roxas City, shares similarities with Kep – both have hills, the sea, and of course, the glorious seafood! It’s been years since our last holiday in Kep so, on the day we traveled, it felt like coming home.

Almost in Kep.
Are we there yet? Almost.
And we've arrived. Mmmm, can't wait to get my hands on crabs with Kampot pepper.
And we’ve arrived. Mmmm, see you at dinnertime, Mssrs. Crab and Shrimp.
The new road to Kep town centre.
The new road to Kep town centre.
Our favourite Kim Ly restaurant was closed for the holidays so we had dinner at Srey Pov restaurant. It was good, but Kim Ly's still the best!
Our favourite Kim Ly restaurant was closed for the holidays so we had dinner at Srey Pov restaurant instead. It was good, but Kim Ly’s still the best!
Kep Lodge swimming pool
The swimming pool at Kep Lodge where we stayed provided us with a refreshing embrace after a day spent outdoors.
Sunset at Kep Lodge restaurant
Watching the sun go down from the upper floor of Kep Lodge restaurant.

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at how huge the transformation in Kep was. So many shiny hotels and establishments, super-wide and smooth roads (the road from Seh Sor, or the White Horse statue, to Kep is undergoing construction so it remains dusty!), a renovated Psah Kdam (Crab Market) teeming with people and a bottle-neck traffic jam greeted us. It is no longer the sleepy beachtown that I knew the first time I set foot there.

The highlight of our holiday was our side-trip to Kampot —  we drove to Bokor Hill station. It was the best drive ever and the view gets more amazing as you ride higher and higher! The road to Bokor Hill station snakes through more than 40kms. of partially-cleared jungle in the national park and one that is, by far, the best road in the country. It is no longer the bone-jarring drive that it used to be, hurrah! Here is a short video clip of our Bokor run.

Halfway up Bokor mountain, we decided to have a break...
Halfway up Bokor mountain, we decided to have a break…
... and we have this view all to ourselves!
… and we have this view all to ourselves!

Half an hour so later after our pit stop, we’ve arrived. We’re face to face with the ruins of Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino, or as the French calls it, Le Bokor Palace. For so many years I’ve been pining to see this with my own eyes and, when I finally got to see it, it was disappointing. The structure of what was once the hotel, the favourite getaway of the French colonialists and the rich Khmers in its heydays, still stands there but was plastered in grey cement, the result of the “renovation” that was done not long ago. To me, it totally destroyed the charm of the naturally decaying building.   It no longer looks like this (click to see)… Que horror!

Bokor Palace Hotel
The facade of the refurbished Bokor Palace Hotel.
Bokor Palace Hotel
Saw different floor tile designs there.
Stairs at Bokor Palace Hotel
The stairs that go down and down… notice the garbage?
viewing deck at bokor palace hotel
A view from one of the refurbished wings.
fireplace at Bokor Palace Hotel
The grand fireplace at the main lobby of the hotel.
view from one of the viewing decks
Stories of gamblers who lost their fortune in the hotel’s casino tables jumping off the cliff to escape their miseries abound.
kampot and the gulf of thailand
Ghost sightings and stories of hauntings in the hotel are also told by many locals.
Old Catholic Church built by the French
An old Catholic church built by the French in 1920s.

A few metres down the road, on the way back, we stopped by to check out this old, abandoned Catholic church built by the French in 1920s. It is standing there forlornly, as an enduring reminder and a silent witness to Bokor’s golden years in the past and the rapid developments it is undergoing at present. More about the church in my future posts.

We only stayed long enough to see these two landmarks. On the way down, we had a look at the various developments in the area as we passed by. It is sad to say that these odd-looking structures that were built recently (and many  more are being built) have taken away the beauty and appeal of the landscape of Bokor.

We also dropped by Epic Arts for some nourishment when we reached Kampot town proper and we were not disappointed. They still serve the best sandwiches and beverages in town. I was secretly hoping to meet some of the stars of Epic Arts who were in this music video, but no such luck. Perhaps another time.

We pretty much moved around Kep and Kampot with Hagrid, our trusty Honda motorbike. Except for the aches from sore muscles and a bit of sunburn, there are no regrets.

Over-all, it has been a wonderful holiday in Kep. It is very refreshing to be able to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and take the much-needed rest in a place devoid of city-noise, explore local sights, be around people with simple and laidback lifestyles, and partake of the fresh bounty from the sea that we longed for.  It is for these reasons that we keep coming back to Kep.

 

 

Signs, signs: Asakusa rokku

I’m trying to get back into the blogging groove again so I’m digging up old photos and reminiscing the experiences that I may be inspired to write. So please indulge me for this week’s Signs meme.

Many years ago I was invited by a Japanese NGO to visit their country. After my official obligations were done, I stayed for three more days to get acquainted with Tokyo.

In my previous post, I mentioned about sightseeing and shopping at Demboin-dori, a shopping area in Asakusa. Having been amazed at the sights before me as I strolled along, and coupled with my faulty sense of direction, I got lost and ended up in the rokku (the sixth district) entertainment area, which was really a welcome eventuality.

Asakusa’s rokku, in its heydays, was  one of Tokyo’s prime entertainment districts before the war.  And even prior to that, between 1600s-1800s, it was said to be a known as a Yoshiwara, or the pleasure district. Sadly, it didn’t regain its popularity after the war ended.

At present, the rokku features attractions such as pachinko parlours, rakugo theatres (similar to a one-man stand-up comedy show), cinemas, and street performances.

Asakusa, Tokyo, Rokku
This is Asakusa’s rokku entertainment district.

Walking around the rokku, I could feel the post-war atmosphere. Actually, the whole Asakusa feels like old-world Japan. The advertising banners and signs for shops and shows are still traditional and some were noticeably garish.

The street cleaner had just finished his duties when I took this photo. The two “shelves” contained his cleaning brushes and is held together by a wooden stick.  He carried them on his shoulder as he went on to his next cleaning spot.  The rokku is a busy place but since I went there in the morning, the entertainment strip was still empty.

 

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Photo Hunt: Rock

Howdy!
In this week’s Photo Hunt I am reminiscing the time I traveled to Sri Lanka back in 2002. It was work-related but I had this good intention of mixing business and pleasure, so to speak. After the conference ended, I met up with my Sri Lankan friend for a week-long road trip!

One of the most memorable stops we had was a popular tourist attraction in Dambulla.
Rising about 200ms up the amazing green plains of central Sri Lanka is the gigantic, flat-topped rock called Sigiriya. Once a stronghold of Sri Lanka’s rogue King, its extraordinary beauty and historical and cultural significance have made it today a World Heritage Site. Very much like Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, it is the source of national pride of Sri Lankans.

Lonely Planet says it is not only one of the most impressive geological formations in the island-country of Sri Lanka, but also one of its greatest archaeological legacies. You can find more info here.

wordless wednesday sigiriya rock sri lanka

Unfortunately, as I have a bad case of vertigo, I did not dare climb up to the top 🙁 Instead, I took pleasure in exploring the royal gardens and lakes at the base of the rock as well as several ancient temple ruins. To this day, I regret not trying. And who wouldn’t be? The thousand-year old (perhaps older!) ceiling frescoes are out of this world and well preserved as if they were just done recently and the view from the top – breath-taking! If given another chance to make another trip – I’d surely re-visit Sigiriya and re-claim what I had missed!

photohunter7iq

Signs, signs: Ferry

Here’s another post, recalling some moments associated with the signs that I took a photo of during my Laos trip.

After crossing the Laos border and finishing immigration formalities at noontime, we were picked up by a van along with many other backpackers. The van traversed a smooth highway that didn’t seem to end and with hardly a traffic at that time of the day. The view was pretty much the same as the Cambodian countryside and the weather equally as hot as a sunny day in Cambodia.

An hour or so later, after passing through several villages and Wat Phu signs, we were deposited at a pier (the name escapes me now). A lot of those who were with us in the van were going to Don Det, a small island sitting in the middle of the Laos side of the Mekong River, while my husband and I had to wait for another van that would take us to Pakse.

Don Det island
Khmer Iggy was tempted to take the ferry to Don Det in Laos but it wasn’t part of our itinerary.

Don Det, I found out, is one of the bigger islands of Si Phan Don (meaning 4,000 islands) measuring about four kilometers long and is a backpacker’s haven.

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Signs, signs: A bus story

After so many years, I found the SD card that contained most of my travel pictures. Happy head now that I’m reunited with my Laos pictures, some five years later!

This photo below was taken in one of the road trips my husband and I did some years ago. Of course, my travelling doll, Khmer Iggy, was with me during that trip. Khmer Iggy finds the buses in Laos delightfully colourful, except for a few that are -ahem- gaudily decorated. You can find more of Khmer Iggy and her other sisters’ travels around the world here – Postcards from Miss Igorota.

Khmer Iggy posing in front of the overnight tourist bus that took us to Vientiane.
Khmer Iggy posing in front of the overnight tourist bus that took us to Vientiane.

The sign on the side of the bus says “Vientiane, Pakse”.
Paksé is a city in Champasak district of Laos and is the halfway-point to Vientiane, the capital, when entering Laos via one of the border crossing in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province. It is also one of the most-visited cities in Laos due to its popular attractions of Wat Phu (an ancient Khmer temple ruins) and Si Phan Don (popularly known as the 4,000islands, much similar to the Philippines’ Hundred Islands).

In other news, public buses begin test run yesterday in an effort by the government to ease traffic jams in Phnom Penh.

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