The Ghost’s of Bokor Mountain
I first visited Kampot on my second trip to Cambodia in 2014 and had read of the “ghost town” abandoned by the French in 1950, so I was eager to take a look and explore Bokor Mountain. But there is a lot more to the story of this Hill Station, built for the colonist’s elite and the Cambodian royal family to escape the heat of summer. The plateau sits at 1100 m above sea level and the moderate climate on the mountain and the panoramic views of the Gulf of Thailand, made this an inviting place to come and relax.
I hired a motorbike to make the journey to the top of Phnom Bokor. I could only imagine how difficult this trip would have been in days gone by, and I have heard that during the wet season it was all but impossible to make the arduous climb. These days there is a sealed road which is in very good condition, albeit sometimes a little steep and relentlessly windy, it does make for an excellent motorbike ride. Zipping up the mountain on my Honda Dream I could feel the temperature cool as I ascended, and the panoramic views became impossible not to be in awe of.
The French colonists developed a small resort town, Bokor Hill Station, in the 1920’s which initially flourished. They built a post office, a catholic church, and various other buildings, including the Grand Bokor Hotel, which opened in 1925. Over the ensuing years the hotel closed and reopened many times, and since the end of the civil war Bokor Mountain was all but abandoned, leaving the buildings to fall into a state of disrepair.
The old catholic church is a sight to behold with its burnt orange hue caused by the green moss from the wet season parching in the dry season. The building is a photographer’s dream sitting alone on the side of the hill, just a skeleton of its former glory. There are some other old French colonial buildings around in various states of disrepair, and one in particular has some awesome graffiti painted on it. But the jewel of them all is the old hotel, which in 2014 had been scrubbed clean of all the old moss and was sitting there lonely on the edge of the mountain.
On my return in 2016 I rode up the mountain again with a friend and the heavens opened up and it started to pour with rain. It was the wet season and it was beautiful to see Bokor Mountain so green and ant this mist from the low clouds gave it an eerie kind of feel. We too refuge from the heavy rain in the old catholic church, which since I was last here had been ransacked of a few statues that had been there last time. When the rain eased, we rode further up to the old hotel which had scaffolding around it and men working inside. Apparently, the lonely old building was being renovated and a new hotel would bring life back into this charming piece of architecture.
And now, 2 years later, I am returning to Bokor Mountain and am pleased to find out that the hotel is now completed and open for business. I cannot express in words what a magnificent job they seem to have done on the renovation. So far, I have only seen photographs but towards the end of November I will be staying in this beautiful 6 star hotel. Now called Le Bokor Palace, it sits resplendent on the edge of the mountain with wonderful views as far as the eye can see. I will be sure to take a lot of photographs to include in a follow up blog once I have enjoyed the hospitality of this beautiful hotel with so much history behind it.