Every year, I hope for a legendary bash to ring in the New Year. Usually, New Years parties have never live up to their hype. At New Year’s party a few years ago, we got into a brawl at Lane’s house after consuming a serious quantity of Absinth I had brought back from the Czech Republic. That was interesting. Last year I went to Vail, CO with some friends. We found a good party, only to have it end abruptly when my friend Raj was head-butted by a Scotsman (how is your nose doing Raj?).
Being in Southeast Asia this New Years, I had to find a party with some style, so when I heard about the annual party at Bokor Mountain a few months ago, I knew I had to go. I visited Bokor a few months ago (see my entry “Sleeping with the Monks”), and was very impressed by the place – especially the abandoned French casino from the 1920s where the party was to take place. I had heard good things from past celebrations on the mountain, and so was eagerly anticipating the party.
On the Wednesday before the party, I rented a Honda Baja 250 dirt bike from a local shop for the journey. We weren’t leaving until Friday, but I wanted to drive it around for a few days to make sure it was working properly. Sure enough, the clutch was bad, so I had the shop replace it before I left.
Four of us were making the trip. Two of my housemates, Omry from Israel and Rozy from Wales were coming along, plus our friend Andrew (who happens to be from St. Paul). Our planned route would take us 140 km south to Kampot, then another 30 km on the road up the mountain – one of the worst roads in Cambodia.
We left at around 12:30 on Friday, New Years Eve. Everything was fine for the first hour or so. We had stopped for a coconut on the side of the road but when we went to leave, Andrew’s bike wouldn’t start. His bike had only an electric starter (not a kick start like Omry’s or my bike), but we were able to fire it up by pushing it and then popping the clutch. It seemed to run fine though whenever he had to start his bike, he would have to go through this same process (this would prove to be a big annoyance for Andrew, especially if he stalled out going uphill). About 20 minutes later, Andrew had more problems. His bike died and gas was leaking out of a drain hose. He called up the rental shop, they said that the “floaty-thing” (the shop owners words) was probably clogging the intake line. We jostled the bike around for a bit and sure enough, we got it running again. These two delays amounted to at least an hour lost on the road, so we set off again hoping for no more mechanical problems. The ride was great aside from the problems we had. Here is an action shot of Andrew and I. Another with us riding off into the sunset.
We arrived at the base of the mountain at around 4:30. A few pickup trucks and SUVs ferrying people were ahead of us, kicking up loads of dust. The road is made up of softball-sized stones that threw the bike around. We were still climbing as the sun set and made the rest of the climb in the dark. As we pulled up to the casino, a cold win had picked up though the scene was pretty amazing. Bonfires were spread out in the field and people were setting off fireworks, lighting up the building as if it were a lightning storm. Occasionally, a roman candle would get carried by the wind, and explode very near to someone’s car or tent. Some friends of ours hired a car, and we hung out in there for a while to escape the cold. Excitement was already brewing and it was only 6:00. I threw on my North Face Fleece (I finally got to use it after carrying it for 6 months!) and sought out some well deserved beers for my comrads
Inside the casino the organizers set up a bar and a DJ booth in front of the dance floor. I was immediately surprised at how many Cambodians were at the party. Entire families made the trip – there were even a few 5 year olds dancing in their pajamas getting busy next to some westerners. The party got going pretty good after awhile, though the Cambodians who did come up neglected to bring any girls with them. The Cambodian men set about trying to dance with any western woman who stepped on the dance floor and used techniques such as pinching asses to try and get some attention. All of the girls we were partying with seemed to be very upset with them, though after a while most of them went to bed.
As for the party, it was pretty good. The music was not the greatest and they could have used a bigger sound system, but all in all I had a great time. I think I was dancing until 4 or 5 am when I grabbed a piece of wall and passed out for a bit.
The next morning, people were still partying after the sun had already come up. It was pretty cold and I just wanted to get out of there and head for the warm beach. Once again, our bikes gave us problems. It took us at least an hour to get the bikes started because of the cold. I had to pay someone to clean my spark plug and I exhausted myself pushing Andrews bike around trying to get it started.
Once down the mountain (it was much easier driving in the daytime), we headed for Sihanoukville for some warm sun and surf. Of course we went straight to Chiva’s Shack for some of Mama’s cooking. I had a great nap in one of the hammocks and a pretty chill night partying on the beach. The next day, we headed back up to Phnom Penh. The road from Sihanoukville to the capital is new, so the ride was pretty nice, though my ass was in serious pain after 600 km of riding over 2 days.
Overall, the journey was long but well worth it. I had one of my most memorable New Years ever and I couldn’t have chosen a more incredible venue.