Lucky us! We landed in Bali just prior to Nyepi, or “Day of Silence” commemorated every Isaawarsa (Saka new year) according to the Balinese calendar. This is a Hindu celebration mainly celebrated here as a day of silence, fasting and meditation and the day after Nyepi is celebrated as New Year. The day before the Bhuta Yajna Ritual is performed in order to vanquish the negative elements and create a balance with God, Mankind, and Nature.
Devout Hindu Balinese villages usually make ogoh-ogoh, demonic statues (once made of bamboo and paper but now the majority are skillfully carved styrofoam) symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits.
After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded around the village, the Ngrupuk ritual takes place, which once involved burning the ogoh-ogoh but these days they may be destroyed in other ways to avoid burning the styrofoam; sometimes they are even sold to art collectors who ship them to other countries. Then, for 24 hours, from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, EVERYTHING STOPS! Even the airport shuts down.
Sitting in the carriage of our tuk tuk we were moving dreamily through a thick grove of old growth trees, the pre-dawn air cool but already hinting of a blistering day ahead. Our first tour of the ruins had been almost unbearably hot, so today we thought it best to beat the heat and get out to Angkor Wat before daybreak. The bonus would be that after the prescribed sunrise over the temples, we would have most of the ruins to ourselves during the cooler morning hours.
Continuing along the south coast of Cambodia, we took a mercifully short journey from Kampot, Cambodia to Kep. Although we enjoyed Kampot’s faded charms, it was dreadfully hot so staying at The Columns Hotel, despite its restored colonial beauty and comfortable up-to-date rooms, was a bit of a drag since it lacked one vital ingredient: a pool!
Our minibus, which picked us up right at our hotel and then spent an hour hunting down other travellers before departing Kampot, bounced over a largely unpaved dusty red trail through countless sad villages whose trees and huts were covered in road dust to eventually deposit us within 2o kms of the Vietnam border at Kep, a small town revered for its crab shacks (really more like wooden restaurants) hanging over the Gulf of Thailand. Our minibus carried us up a hill to our resort, The Kep Lodge, which was set a good piece from the main road and nestled against a protected jungle (at least for now in the land where corruption is the number one industry!)
After spending a few days in Cambodia, we began hearing about a quaint riverside town in the southern part of the country near the Vietnam border that had become favoured among travellers: Kampot. This was all the impetus it took. While the journey from Sihanoukville, Cambodia was about three hours which didn’t seem to0 arduous. Our journey was to begin with a minibus that was to pick us up from our current hotel, The Beach Club Resort. Of course it was late but eventually our gear and bodies were packed into the already full vehicle and we were on our way.
Packing it in the minvan
Cambodia is a desperately poor country, still recovering from the ravages of the Pol Pot regime some thirty years before. The road was terrible and most of the villages along our route were merely at the subsistence leve – huts on stilts. A bit depressing but not definitely not dull.