Where once stood a forest…

So Mom has been here for about a week and a half– so far, so good. The rice three times a day doesn’t appear to be making her crazy…yet.

The first few days she spent in Phnom Penh recovering from jet lag; we went to a couple of markets, showed her around my neighborhood, visited the Silver Pagoda and Wat Phnom, and of course the riverside.

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Mom at the wat inside the Royal Palace

Then it was off to Kep and Kampot! I had never been to Kep– it was great! Beautiful, by the sea. Visited the Crab Market and had some great food! In fact, we went back for seconds. So far it has been the best meal of the trip.

Boxes for catching crabs in Kep

Took a relaxing hike in the Kep National Forest that ended in a not-so-relaxing detour through some hot streets back to the guest house. Most of Kep was very breezy and cool, though, thanks to the ocean.

Oceanview at Kep

Kep is the smallest province (I have often heard it said that it’s not a province, but it appears “provincial” on the map…?), but there was quite a bit of sightseeing and hiking to do there. And of course it has the ocean to swim in…Too bad I’m afraid of jellyfish.

Crab Market in Kep at Sunset

After that is was Kampot, my, er, second Cambodian hometown. We drove up Bokor Mountain (a national park) with two excellent motodops; at the top were some ghostly French colonial buildings– and a huge hotel and casino being built by the Chinese. The road, too, had been built by them and is actually owned by the Chinese. “But, private companies can’t build casinos in national parks!” I hear you say. And you would be absolutely right…in the U.S. As if getting rid of all the trees wasn’t enough, now they have to put a giant resort for rich people at the top. The area had been logged long ago, by the Khmer, themselves, and again by the French– and now yet again by the Chinese, with Khmer help *cough* Hun Sen *cough cough*.

View from the top, Bokor National Park in Kampot

Supposedly there used to be all kinds of wild animals in Kampot’s forests and mountains– tigers, elephants, leopards, hornbills, and so forth. Habitat destruction seems to pushed them out, not to mention hunting. I didn’t see any animals save for some birds, but we did hear these really bizarre insects that sound like a high-pitched machine whirring away in the woods.

Entrance to Bokor Mountain National Park

Back to Phnom Penh for a couple of nights, then we headed up to Prey Chor to see my “fam”. Thidah was super excited to meet my mom, but I think her 5 year old and almost-3 year old were more excited about the many toys and books and treats she’d brought for them. 😉 Then Pon, Thidah and the kids came up with us to Rattanakirri, which is where I am at this moment!

Rattankirri is remarkably beautiful… It is as close to what Cambodia used to be a thousand years ago. Most of the inhabited land up here is now full of orchards, rubber plantations, or merely grasslands. The rainforest is, well, gone… When Americans are little kids they always hear about how the rainforest is being cleared away to sate Western consumption, but not until I saw the place where the forest used to be did it really sink in for me. Still here and there are there enormous trees, but for the most part there are only young trees here. Picturing those giants growing across the mountains, it is easy to feel cynical about the future (especially when there are chain saws running in the background and trucks passing by full of firewood). Even the mountains, themselves, are not safe: many of them across the country are slowly being turned into gravel, or hauled off to provide sand for beaches in Malaysia and Singapore.

Nevertheless, there are still natural places to visit that have not been entirely exploited by advanced economics. Today we went on an elephant trek (with the kids, who loved it) through the jungle! Definitely the way to get around the jungle. 🙂 And, in spite of the fact that I did not conquer my fear of large animals, I am very glad I did it. (Though as Mom said, it may be a “once in a lifetime” excursion!)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Where once stood a forest…

  1. Shirley Revercomb

    Hi Travelers. Leah, I was glad to hear you got there okay; Steve said the flight kicked your butt for a few day. I am so glad to read this about your ventures and am anxious to read more. Can’t wait to see all your pictures! Liz, I absoluterly love your blog. I’ve been sitting here catching up on all of your entries. Wish I were there experiencing Cambodia with your mom. Enjoy it all. Love you, Aunt Shirley

  2. Heather Carey

    Thanks for the update. I’m glad you guys are having a great time, seeing lots of stuff! Take care, have fun, and Skype when you can : ) Love you!

    Your favorite sister

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