One of the most blatantly obvious, but incredibly amazing, things about traveling on the complete opposite side of the world from where you live is that you’re stuck there. You cant sit at home waiting for your friends to call and you also can’t call your friends or family so that you have somebody to hang out with. Instead, you take advantage of short-lived friendships and don’t think about whether you will see them again tomorrow or next week or ever.
Earlier this week, I met an Aussie girl, a Belgian girl, and an Israeli man… the next day, they asked if I’d like to join their moto trip up into the mountains. The best answer? “Sure, why not!” So I swapped my days off and found a way to make it happen. Truthfully, I didn’t really know where they wanted to go or what would be there. In fact, I was told by others living in Kampot that said mountain wouldn’t “wow” me after coming from beautiful Colorado and that the windy roads would be dangerous to drive along. Regardless, I made sure to wear a helmet and joined the adventure.
Sitting blind on the back of a moto, I was able to be surprised around every turn. When we arrived at Bokor Mountain and started climbing through the (ironically smooth, well paved, and safe…) windy roads, we were engulfed by the jungle and surrounded by the sounds of birds and insects. Nearly at the top was a giant Buddha with lots of tourists trying to capture the perfect “jumping in the air in front of the Giant Buddha” photo.
We kept climbing up and came upon a giant Chinese casino. This may have been one of the creepier events of my life. Wandering in, we found it to be completely deserted with shining new hotel rooms left open and unkempt, dark without any windows, and just one giant entryway with no people to be seen except for the illusion of a guard wandering past the indoor swimming pool and movie theater/gym (yes, a two in one room lined with mirrors and ottomans). Needless to say, I didn’t care if my new friends thought I was strange so I started speed walking away and slowed down only to say “yes!” when they started laughing and asking if I was creeped out and wanted to leave.
Following our walk through the haunted Chinese casino, we drove up to the ruins of the Old Bokor Resort. In contrast to the stark modernity and overwhelming emptiness of the new casino, I actually found the ruins to be more alive with character. They’re particularly enchanting because of the fleeting allure of knowing they too will soon be torn down and modernized someday soon as the same Chinese company strives to replace historic Bokor Hill Station with a cold, modern resort. The old building was refreshingly beautiful, haunted with the memories of a time when it was crowded with people. It gave me the chills as I thought about the things this building has seen: built during French overhaul, occupied during the war, used for luxury vacations, and later standing quietly in slow decay.
Then, I walked around the back and did get that “wow” that everyone warned me may not exist. Maybe it’s because they were trying to lower my expectations, or maybe it’s because they didn’t expect us to make it all the way to this point… but the steep mountain dropped to a vibrant jungle, overlooked small Cambodian villages and the ocean, then scanned a hazy mist out to Vietnamese island, Phu Quoc. It was my first sense of feeling so small in such a large world, similar to the sense that Colorado mountains can give yet more spectacular to realize it can happen worldwide. It gives you a sense of perspective on our diverse and widespread planet.
Bokor also holds another special place in my heart because it is the name that made me believe in superstition. While overlooking the river and eating banana peanut butter crepes at namesake Bokor Mountain Lodge, my broken laptop arose from the dead not once but twice.