Back in the day, Kep and Kampot along the coast was the place to go to escape the Cambodian heat. One of the attractions there was Bokor Hill Station, around 30km away from Kampot, high up on Preah Monivong National Park. It was a resort town set on the cliff top with stunning views over the Gulf of Thailand built in the 20’s where the French elitists could escape the heat altogether. The icing on the cake for this resort town was the Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino complete with its post office, apartments and a catholic church. Due to the remoteness of the location, over 900 lives were lost during its construction,
In the 1940’s during the Indochina War, Bokor Hill station was abandoned and in the 70’s was used by the Khmer Rouge as one of their final strongholds and was the scene of a bloody shootout against the Vietnamese prior to their defeat. Since then it’s been recently cleaned up slightly with a new layer of rendering put on it to cover up the bullet holes and weathered exterior. There’s talk of further development and turning it into a museum.
You can go on an organised tour to Bokor Hill Station but to be honest there’s not too much history that you cannot get from a guidebook or the internet. In my opinion, the best way to get up and around is by scooter. It was the first time I hired a scooter in SE Asia but after a few minutes of riding around the backstreets, it was fairly easy to become reacquainted with it again. At times heading up the windy roads to the top of the mountain I had to refrain from becoming too cocky and going too fast. Although the street signs around the corners are quite conservative, set at 20km/h you can easily go 40km/h. For $5 you can have it for a day but make sure you fill the tank up to the brim as you’ll need it to get there and back to the nearest gas station. There’s no clear markers or maps up on the mountain, but also it’s not easy to get lost as all of the roads seem to loop back to the entrance.
It’s a bit of a weird feeling riding through Bokor Hill station. At each site I visited, there were new developments that made no logical sense or did not fit in with the environment: A function centre that sits a thousand people next to a waterfall that is reduced to a trickle for half of the year, an apartment development near a temple and an abandoned church, and finally a huge resort that can sleep thousands of people. I was hoping to explore an area that would give me the creeps that would give me goosebumps from the stories of its past, but what I found was some old buildings buildings with food stalls setup up the front for tourists and surrounded by tacky developments. All of this in what is classified as a national park. Nevertheless, It’s an interesting ride that will take half a day depending on how long you stay at each of the locations.
If you’re in Kampot and feel like getting away from the heat then a morning trip here is the perfect way to escape the heat. Make sure you bring something warm as the ride up through the mist half way up the mountain has a chill in it. As soon as you clear the mist and find your way to the top of the mountain, the sun does have quite a bite to it so lather up on the SPF 50.
To get there, head over the bridge west of Kampot and head along National Highway 3. At around 8km out look for signs for Bokor Hill Station on the right. A US$0.50 admission fee is charged at the entrance and from there it’s a 30min ride up the hill.
Have you ever seen an abandoned town like Bokor Hill Station?