Myles Harrington

Comparisons Between My Hometowns

In Cambodia on October 22, 2010 at 9:03 am

Today is my tenth day of living in Kampot and I really feel like I know the place now. We’re taking shortcuts through the dusty streets and are regulars at a couple of the restaurants and bars, I even get a nod of recognition from the cashiers at the supermarket. Although the town’s population is supposedly 33,000, there is much more of a village feel to it. One of the most fantastic aspects of Kampot, which definitely makes me feel at home, is the amazing array of roundabout designs. My other hometown of Basingstoke is well-known for its roundabouts, the Chineham Wave and Stonehenge examples spring to mind as wonders of modern architecture but Kampot takes the doughnut on this one, with the year 2000 monument and the new, yet to be finished, jack fruit centrepiece on the main traffic circle.

 

Roundabout wars, left the year 2000 monument Kampot, right the Chineham Wave, Crockford Lane roundabout, Basingstoke

 

The work at the school is going well, it’s strange to be in a routine for the first time in over six months but this one is a lot less taxing of my time than my previous job. A normal working day goes something like this; wake up at 11am, go to the market and buy some bread or instant noodles or stroll down to a local restaurant for a light lunch. We then head back to our guesthouse for some relaxation time, usually filled with an hour of BBC World News or a nap. At ten to three we have a 3km cycle to the school in Chumkriel village. I play football, create some Lego statues and draw some pictures with the children between 3 and 5pm and then take two English classes between 5 and 7pm. My first English class is full of little kids that I’m teaching the alphabet to, the second class is half monks and half teenagers all at the level of about five or six-year-old English children but with half the confidence. It’s extremely enjoyable teaching the kids as they pick it up really quickly and come in every day humming ABCDEFG HIJKLMNOP, they get a bit stuck after the speed of LMNOP but we’ll get there.

 

The Chumkriel Learning Center, Kampot

 

Last weekend we rented out a motorbike and tried to go to the local Bokor National park, think The New Forest only greener and hillier with more diverse fauna and flora, there are even some wild tigers as well as the standard New Forest horse. We were turned away at the gate because only tours are currently allowed access to the rocky winding road while it’s being renovated. At a bit of a loss, unsure what to do with a motorbike and a few hours to kill, we started driving in the general direction of a waterfall that was mentioned in Lonely Planet. They do warn you in the book it’s not impressive and that’s a vast understatement. Over the last couple of months I have been fortunate enough to have seen some of the most stunning waterfalls in South East Asia, the Kouang Si waterfall near Luang Prabang in Laos with its 50m plunge and the Elephant falls in Dalat with its treacherous pathway and fast flowing, overflowing streams, being two of the most impressive. Kampot’s Tek Chhouu ‘falls’ are even less impressive than my favourite childhood bathing spot, Piggy Dam. Kampot 1-1 Basingstoke.

 

I personally prefer Basingstoke's Piggy Dam for a quick dip, as seen on the right

 

After the disappointment of the river rapids we headed further in a random direction and came across a zoo. Like the waterfalls, I’ve also seen a lot of zoos over my time in Asia, from Delhi to Bukit Tinggi to Taman Safari Park near Jakarta. None of them match up to Kampot’s zoo though. The $4 entry gets you in to a bizarre, spooky caged off world that feels like you’ve stepped into a game of Jumanji. You can stroke the leopard in its chicken wire cage (if you dare) and you have to follow the bars of the camel cage to check the thing is still locked up, you can shake hands with the gorillas and watch the tawny owls fight in their prison cell like lock up. All of this without any staff for protection, or any other guests to think of it. On the top of the hill with the birds of prey is an abandoned funfair full of rusty rides, complete with ghost town creaks. It’s a site that leaves you feeling slightly haunted and uneasy, the fact that you feel as though at any moment an escapee zebra might come galloping round the corner.

 

Poke it if you dare, you can, if you want

 

 

An unorthodox way of feeding the monkeys

 

Late in the afternoon we squeezed in yet another of Kampot’s sites, an ancient hindu cave temple dedicated to Shiva  that’s over 1300 years old and well-preserved by the cave surroundings. A bit more impressive than Old Basing’s St Mary’s, we were shown around by a gang of local children with perfect English. We could speak to them like we were chatting to mates in the pub back home and they understood every word. They could be doing a far better English teaching job than me.

 

Go caving to pray

 

At the end of the short tour I asked what some bamboo slats in a stream were for. The child graciously showed me, hopping from one to the next, they were used as platforms to run across the stream like crocodile backs in cartoons; of course I had to give it a go, a bit less successfully. The boy also turned out to be a good photographer.

 

Not as graceful as the guide

 

I think Eastrop Park could reinvent itself with a few of these bamboo rafts, they’re much more fun than a piss filled paddling pool.

5k remaining: £1036.02

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