documentary

Kampot Pepper Farm

Perched between sea and mountains at Cambodia’s bucolic south-eastern coast, Kampot’s pepper plantations benefit from a unique soil and ideal climatic conditions for growing. But it is not only the rich minerals in the soil, the right amount of rainwater and sunshine that performs the magic. It is also the farmers’ traditional cultivation methods that play a crucial role.

Most of the farms started replanting about ten years ago. Nowadays some twenty tonnes are harvested every season on a total area of about ten hectares.

It remains a mere fraction of the 2,000 tonnes that were grown before the Khmer Rouge regime destroyed the fields, a fatal combination of plummeting world prices of pepper and nearly two decades of war and conflict saw Kampot pepper being wiped off the international market.

Today the farmers and traders are upbeat about the future. The once-forgotten king of pepper is fast on its way to becoming Cambodia’s first export product with Geographical Indication (GI) status such as Parmasan from Italy and Champagne from France.

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Bokor Hill

Frequented by the French colonialists and Cambodian elite, Bokor Hill was abandoned first by the French in the late 1940s during the first Indochina war, then again in 1972 by Cambodians as Khmer Rouge seized the area. During the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Khmer Rouge entrenched themselves on the mountain and held on tightly for months. Up until the early 90s the area was still a no go area, land mines, poachers and bandits still being a danger.

Today the allure of "wild" Bokor and its ecotourism potential is rapidly disappearing, clearing swathes of nature to be replaced by tasteless casino resort buildings, concrete parking lots, housing estates, golf courses, fast food restaurants and artificial playgrounds. Plans are underway for a complete "City in the Clouds" overhaul.

A new road was completed in early 2012 that was once a 32km bone jarring motorbike ride through the jungle. Now the best quality road in the country can be driven in less than an hour, wide enough to accommodate gambling bus tours from neighbouring Vietnam.

The once centre piece French colonial era Grand Palace Hotel still stands overlooking Kampot bay and the surrounding hills of Bokor national park. But sadly many of the old buildings are being demolished. The site is owned by the government but is under a 99 year lease to the richest man in Cambodia, Mr Sok Kong (Sokimex Sokha company). Sokha’s plans to redevelop the plateaus is said to be completed in 13 years.

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Kampot Zoo

Eight kilometres from the Cambodian coastal town of Kampot, the surreal and tranquil Teuk Chhou Zoo sits in a idyllic valley at the fringe of Bokor National Park, where the Elephant mountains meet the plains of the Kampot River. The private zoo was realised in 1999 by His Excellency Senator Nhim Vanda, still the owner today. Over the years lack of finance and public interest rendered the zoo dilapidated, animal enclosures deteriorated and became unliveable, the animals were underfed and seriously neglected. Consequently many were malnourished and emaciated, culminating in sickness, depression and death.

After visiting the zoo in 2011 Rory and Melita Hunter, an Australian couple living in Cambodia pledged to do what they could to save the zoo's dying residents. Collaborating with Nhim Vanda and utilising the animal care skills of Nick Marx of the Wildlife Alliance, the situation was temporarily reversed and many of the animals were saved.

From this came Footprints, an NGO dedicating itself to the management and transformation of the zoo. A lease was signed with Nhim Vanda and plans for the future were slowly moving toward a "Teuk Chhou Wildlife & Educational Park".

In early 2013 the deal between Nhim Vanda and Footprints was abruptly broken over an unknown dispute and the future of the animals is uncertain once again.

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