Located close to the Cambodian town of Kampot, the eerie and desolate Bokor Hill Station is a stark reminder of the traumas that the country faced in the not-so-distant past.
Originally built in the 1920s as a hill top retreat for wealthy Europeans, construction of the once-decadent complex claimed almost 1,000 Khmer lives. Abandoned by the French a short time later in the 1940s, during the First Indochina War, the area was later brought back to life by fun-seeking Khmers. The revival was short-lived though, with the Khmer Rouge moving in and keeping a tight control of the hill station during their reign of terror.
The resort remains deserted today, with the former grand buildings decaying and decomposing; a forlorn reminder of what happens with the passing of time.
Visit Bokor Hill Station and wander around the ghostly buildings, imagining what the complex was like in its heyday.
Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino
The colonial-style building was initially built as a grand hotel, later being used as a flashy casino and hotel during the rule of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The drab and graffitied concrete shell still shows flashes of splendour here and there, but, for the most part, is a sad reminder of times gone by. Look around as you walk up the steps to the main entrance, thinking about how the now lonely lobby was once filled with laughter and gaiety.
The decorative floor tiles are pretty much all the beauty that remains, with the once-gorgeous guest rooms having been stripped of all furnishings and lavish features, bare walls in place of attractive décor and open spaces where luxurious items once stood.
A favourite haunt in the past for affluent Europeans visiting from the capital of Phnom Penh, all that haunt the hill station now are whispers from the past and the ghosts of happier, livelier times.
Step onto the grubby balconies and terraces and peer through windows that are now devoid of glass and enjoy the timeless views of the hilly countryside and natural landscapes. Admire how nature can always bounce back and see the contrast with the (lack of) survival of buildings constructed by mankind. Take a walk into the rear grounds and soak up the spectacular views from the top of the craggy cliff.
Another deserted building on Bokor Hill is a small Catholic church. Formerly a revered place of worship, thick moss now covers the steps and lichen decorates the festering walls. Eerily peaceful, the bullet holes in the bricks tell a story of a less-than-peaceful past. The area’s tumultuous history has left many scars, with those at the church perhaps some of the most striking and startling. Religious buildings are supposed to be places of sanctuary, safety, and spirituality… seeing how a church was desecrated in the conflict really hammers home the brutalities that the area saw in its former life.
Veang Khmao / Black Palace
A short distance before the hill station, you can wander through the slightly creepy remains of a former royal summer palace – Veang Khmao. The name means the Black Palace, due to its original construction using black wood as well as bricks. Built in the 1930s, it was used as a summer retreat by the Khmer royal family, its elevated position allowing people to enjoy the cooler temperatures and beautiful natural surroundings. King Sisowath Monivong spent his final years living at Veang Khmao and it was later a favourite leisure spot of King Sihanouk.
The former shine has long gone, the palace having stood empty and unused for several decades. It is quite difficult now to visualize any regal trappings, with graffiti covering the inner walls and moss and weeds having well and truly taken over.
Other attractions around Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Hill Station sits within a wildlife-rich national park, which offers numerous opportunities for hiking and exploring. Popokvil Waterfall is a lovely place for a visit and the new Thansur Bokor Highland Casino seeks to emulate the glitz and glamour of times gone by.
Many visitors explore Bokor Hill Station as part of a group tour. It is possible to book tours with a variety of agencies in the towns of Kampot and Kep. It is also possible to visit independently with a rented scooter. Admission fee to the park for scooter riders is 2,000 KHR (approximately 0.50 USD), whilst those travelling by car must pay 10,000 KHR (approximately 2.50 USD) per vehicle.
Take a step back in time and visit the interesting and scenic Bokor Hill Station when travelling around Cambodia.
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