Archive for Bokor Hill Station

Bokor National Park

Posted in Landscapes, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The vast forested area of Bokor National Park in the Elephant Mountains is a last refuge for a great, but decreasing number of animals. Among them are many species who are unique here.

The highest point of the 140,000 hectares big National Park is Bokor Mountain at the Hill Station (1,079m above sea level), which is close to the open sea at the Gulf of Thailand. A steep edge separates the forest from the more urbanised coastal stripe in the southwest.

In the north it’s neighbouring the Cardamon Mountains (Kravanh Mountains), a much bigger mountain complex. Together these mountains form the last big area of remaining tropical rain forest in Cambodia.

Among the wide variety of animals in the park are Asian elephants, maybe some of the last Indochinese tigers, leopards, Asiatic black bears as Malayan sun bears, gibbon monkeys as well as the notorious macaques, rare slow lorises, different kind of deer, pangolins and many, many more. Among the almost 300 bird species are also several types of hornbills. I think not few of the animals in Kampot zoo are poor fellows who were rescued by the park rangers in the past and brought there because they were injured and ned care…

Hiking in Bokor National Park

Bokor National Park is of a big size. Hiking there in the forest is dangerous for some reasons. One can get easily lost in the unknown terrain, one can have an accident and needs help. Meeting dangerous animals like snakes or big wild cats is possible, but a rather smaller risk compared with an encounter with poachers or illegal loggers. These guys can play quite rough, are armed and might use their weapons, because they don’t like witnesses.

From the wartime there might be still Khmer Rouge land mines in the remoter parts of the forest. Besides, when planning to penetrate the National Park somewhat deeper it requires the organization of a tent and supplies.

In the past it was easy to organize hiking tours up to Bokor Hill Station and a bit around. Mostly they just followed the old road and it was a comparably easy walk. Now it’s difficult to organize guided tours into the forest. Walking up the road is no big fun; it’s asphalt and there is traffic. There is another way following partially the Popokvil stream through the jungle. It’s possible to get a guide for that.

Threats for the Park

In global comparison Cambodia has one of the world’s worst deforestation rates. While in 1970 Cambodia was covered by some 80% with jungle, it decreased to estimated 3% in the recent years. A forest cover survey in 2005 revealed that Cambodia lost 29% of it’s primary rainforest within five years only.

The forest destroying industries find the easiest access to the jungle in the lowlands, where they accomplish their work first with the lowest investment costs and the roughest methods as violent land grabbing. Now the last remaining refuges in mountainous areas are under severe attack.

Just nine years ago Bokor was one of Cambodia’s best protected national parks. It was listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park, and a number of independent conservation groups spent their resources into it’s protection. A certain cooperation with the Cambodian government was given.

The Bokor National Park is part of the Elephant Mountains (Damrei Mountains) and bordering the Kirirom National Park further north. Now both parks are separated from each other by a main road connecting Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. The road cuts the territories of species and gives easier access to natural areas who were formerly hard to reach. Poachers and illegal loggers take advantage from that.

Illegal Logging

Since Bokor is home to a number of rare or even unique plants and wildlife such as blackwood, rosewood and aloewood, it’s an attractive target for poachers. It’s possible to reach high prices for seldom species on the black markets. Poachers and illegal loggers make much more money with that than they could ever earn by doing a conventional job in the local economy.

To protect Bokor a conservation programme called ‘Surviving Together’ was implemented in the year 2000. Surviving Together provided training and support for 55 park rangers. The rangers guarded Bokor’s forests and confiscated chainsaws, destroyed poachers camp’s and charcoal kilns and they removed thousands of snares from the forest every year. A dangerous job, because poachers are armed and not just willing to retreat when a ranger tells them to.

Despite their efforts the problems in the park increased. Larger numbers of illegal chainsaws were found every year. In 2007 alone 153 chainsaws were confiscated.

A single chainsaw costs between 200 and 800 dollars. That’s a considerable investment for a villager, but a cubic metre of blackwood or rosewood sold on the black market therefore brings already an equivalent of the money back. A single chainsaw user can fell and cut four or five trees a day. In whole Bokor National Park are estimated 150 chainsaws in use for illegal logging. Since the villagers who perform the logging themselves don’t have access to the black market for timber, they cooperate with middlemen from outside. Probably most of them are also equipped by these outsiders. And these ‘outsiders’ are not seldom networks in the army, police, politics, cooperating with normal businessmen who do the laundry work.

In the rural parts around the Bokor Mountain massive are estimated 50,000 people living. Since ever they lived from the forest resources, collecting wood and plants, hunting, also logging in a moderate scale. This model was sustainable for thousands of years. Just since the second half of the 20th century the equilibrium is out of balance. More and more is taken out and can’t recover in time.

Population growth and particularly poverty are the reasons for the overcrop, so far it concerns the simple people in the villages and hamlets. They even lack basics as clean water, food and healthy housing. When it comes to the networks and companies behind them, it’s all about profit and money making for those who are rich anyway. The trouble for the villagers is that the process destroys their ecological and economic basics, while big money just moves to another place after one is wrecked down.

Back in time, before the invention of chainsaws it took several men a week of work to cut down and prepare a single big, old tree. Now, equipped with a chainsaw, a single logger does that work within an hour.

By the way, when moving around up on Bokor Hill Station and the wider surrounding one does not see a single old, giant jungle tree anymore. The remaining forest there is all young, most of it of the same age and height, secondary forest it seems or remaining primary forest, while the ‘best pieces’ have been cut out. The remaining old trees grow in steep slope positions, unaccessable for the loggers. Some are to see when coming the new road up to Bokor Mountain.

The Park Rangers…

The Wildlife Alliance has payed salaries and training for the park rangers for many years. The support also covered trucks, radios, more equipment and the ranger station on Bokor Hill.

In 2008, when the Sokimex Group took over the National Park in a 99 years lease contract from the government, the rangers were displaced from the Hill Station down to the entrance point to Bokor at the foot of the mountain.

There was not even a consultation with the Wildlife Alliance when doing that. Superfluous to add, that the rangers can not do their job properly anymore. As a reaction to that, the Wildlife Alliance suspended all their payments and support for the rangers.

Compared to the building activities on Bokor now, the illegal logging caused comparably limited damage to the nature. Now some ten percent of the National Park is getting logged legally and a new city, designed for a 100,000 people, is getting built within the National Park. This cancer might grow in the future, when big money develops more investment opportunities.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Bokor’. Read here the whole article on Bokor National Park.

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A Sketch of Kampot’s History

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Places with tags , , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Records of Cambodian History after the decline of the Angkorian empire from the 14th century on are rare. From the late 18th century there is a royal dynastic record, but it’s more about family history and Cambodian politics in general. Rural Cambodia and the coastal regions are barely mentioned. Kampot was always far from the capital as the center of the state. Kampot region was known as a salt supplier for ancient Angkor. As a town it has no long record. The coastal region was not under much control of the central government, for most of the time there was no land traffic connection to the capital and it was the territory of pirates and bandits. While Cambodia was declining and loosing territories to Siam and Vietnam, Kampot came under Vietnamese control in the first half of the 18th century. Vietnamese presence was weak, they even had to employ Cambodian mercenaries for their support. On what is now the fishing island there was the house of the Vietnamese governor placed. A Vietnamese fortification was built in Kampong Bay (Kompong Bay). The place was mostly inhabited by Khmer, but also by a number of Vietnamese, a Chinese community and a thousand Malays. The Vietnamese presence led to two insurrections, of whom the second one in 1741 was supported by the Siamese and proved successful. The Vietnamese were driven out and after that Kampot remained in the hands of the Cambodians. In the following time the Cambodian king Ang Duong let construct a road between the capital Udong (Oudong) and Kampot. A journey on this road lasted eight days on an oxcart and four days on an elephant. At around 1800 some 3,000 people lived in Kampot, and the first Westerners settled down here, namely a French priest who built a small church at the right bank of the Theuk Chhou River. He managed a parish of 30 Vietnamese families who were Catholics. On the other side of the river was a royal garden which sent durians, pineapples, mangos and other fruits to the palace every year. Trade flourished, and in the following decades it came very much in the hands of Anglo-Chinese merchants from Singapore who were welcomed by the Cambodian king. Kampot was in that time the only connection of inner Cambodia with the seabased trade. British merchants paid a visit to Kampot in 1854 and met the notables of the place. In 1863 Cambodia became a French protectorate. Since France had occupied both, Vietnam and east Cambodia, the former border between the two countries didn’t exist anymore. The Mekong River was now promoted by the colonial regime as the favourite trading route in the region. This lead to a decline of Kampots trading position, and of the meanwhile 5,000 inhabitants 3,500 left the place. In 1885-1887 there was a great insurgence in Cambodia against the French rule. The French military tried but couldn’t reestablish control over the country; after two years of guerilla war they had to agree to compromises with the insurgents. In Kampot were only three Frenchmen stationed and they were easily driven out by a hundred isurgents. When the French navy and later marines came back there were struggles who last for two years. At the end the French army succeeded in a small battle in 1886 and reestablished French rule over Kampot. Kampot’s population in the second half of the 19th century was very much dominated by Chinese. Henri Mouhot wrote already that 90% of the inhabitants of Kampot were Chinese, and that was in accordance with other reports. It seems the Kampot Chinese were somewhat different from the Chinese elswhere in the Cambodia of the time. They were seen as a potential threat for the French rule, and, in fact, the uprise of 1885/87 in and around Kampot was triggered and forced mainly by Chinese. The Kampot Chinese were very aware of what was going on in other parts of the world, particularly the Japanese-Russian war (1904-05), the Chinese revolution of 1911 and the events of the First World War. The French administration tried to restrict information access from outside, but failed, for the Chinese business networks to other countries and China were also a mean of communication and weren’t to control. There was also an empoverished lower Chinese class of coolies and plantation workers in and around Kampot, who were seen by the French administration as vagabonds and (potential) criminals. Sanctions were set on them, arrests happened not seldom. Besides there were also conflicts among different Chinese groups, as well as activities of Chinese secret societies. Generally the Chinese societies were very closed for the French administration and they got little information about what the Chinese discussed and planned. The coastal line between Kampot and Kompong Som (now: Sihanoukville) was notoriously a refuge for pirates and their activities. Henri Mouhot mentioned that for the time around 1860, and although it ceased until the First World War, piracy was then still existent. The Elephant Mountains along the coastline provided many hideouts for the pirates, and they used peaks to watch the sea on the search for commercial ships as a prey. Also banditry on the coastal land route happened. Gangs of bandits also robbed whole villages and plantations. Later, in the 1970s to the late 1990s the Khmer Rouge used the same area as a base for their activities against the Cambodian government and the local population. In 1872 Kampot got a telegraph connection to Phnom Penh; additionally a new road was built. The travel time decreased to three-and-a-half days. Later the road was paved to introduce automobiles. The road was named Route Coloniale No. 17; after the Cambodian independence it became renamed into National Route No. 3, as it is still today. What is now the old market in Kampot is a construction first established in 1905, together with the boulevard and the basic shape of contemporary Kampot. In the next years a waterworks (1907-1910) and electricity (1925) were installed. Kampot town in the first half of the 20th century was a colonial administrative center with a Khmer quarter, a Chinese quarter and a Malay quarter. There were very few Europeans, namely French, living in Kampot. It had a vivid, lively center around the market place, but just a few meters apart the liveliness paled out. When Cambodia gained independence in 1953, Kampot town had merely 5,000 inhabitants. Nowadays Kampot is clearly a French colonial heritage. It dates back to the 1880s and became it’s shape in the years before the First World War. The former Kampot of the time of king Ang Duong, which served as Cambodia’s seaport in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century, extinct after the French colonial administration used the Mekong River as the main waterway, connecting Saigon and Phnom Penh with the oversea water routes.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Kampot’. Read here the whole article on Kampot.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Movies: City of Ghosts

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Movies with tags , , , , , , on June 18, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The movie is a ‘film noir’, a thriller who was made mostly in Cambodia, partially in Thailand and the beginning in USA. The plot is not too interesting, but it’s nevertheless a thrilling movie. It’s particularly fascinating to watch for those who know Cambodia or are interested in the country, because much of the atmosphere of the country is caught in the picture, and that’s done very well. Parts of the movie play in Phnom Penh, others in Kep, the climax and final showdown is placed up on foggy Bokor Hill Station and in and around the old colonial Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino ruin. Matt Dillan, as the director, took time to show places in Cambodia as they really look. That gives the film a touch of a documentary as well. (…)

Click the link to read the whole and illustrated article on City of Ghosts.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender