Established by the French as a hill station in 1925, Bokor has since been abandoned twice, during World War II and the Khmer Rouge period. The area including Bokor 'mountain' was established as a national park in 1993 with its 1,500 square kilometres spanning four Cambodian provinces. Despite substantial illegal logging, it's still home to gibbons, hornbills, civets and sunbears. Recent development of a new casino, hotel and hangar-like convention centre may have affected the ghostly ambiance of the hill station, but included building a wonderful curving road to the top of the hill, making Bokor much easier to access.
The entire Bokor region saw fierce fighting between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge -- at one stage one side was holed up in the Catholic church and the other in the casino -- all the while trying to shoot each other to pieces. Both buildings still bear the scars today. Further back, stories abound of bankrupt gamblers choosing between confession at the church and oblivion over the edge of the casino terrace.
Some buildings have disappeared or been repurposed during the new complex development, but walking through the crumbling casino/hotel and other buildings dotted across the Bokor ridge is still a little spooky, particularly if one of the frequent mists roll in. Views from the top of the casino across the sea to Phu Quoc island are spectacular (so long as that mist keeps away). Smaller, overgrown villas provide a more intimate insight into life-that-was on the hill, and you'll also find these days a concrete mushroom sunshade and post office.
At least one Vietnamese horror movie has been filmed on Bokor, along with the reasonably well-known Matt Dillon film City of Ghosts and we suspect more may be in the pipeline.
If time allows it's worth spending a night on Bokor; accommodation options have been upgraded from the dorm beds of the rangers' station to the attractions of the Thansur Bokor Hotel. The hill is an interesting and very beautiful place to visit, and the best weather and views are often early in the morning, before day visitors arrive.
The two-tier Popokvil ('swirling clouds') Waterfall is worth a trip to see, especially in rainy season, though as it's about four or five kilometres from the casino, it's best to have your own transport.
The easiest way to get to Bokor is on a motorbike, either self-driving or hiring a motodop -- the swooping curves and breathtaking vistas are a reward for riders. The upwards journey can take an hour and a half and be sure to check your fuel tank before you set off -- petrol can be difficult to find and comes at a premium at the small village near the waterfall. Only determined cyclists should attempt the climb; mountain bikes are available to hire in Kampot town. Private taxis can also be arranged through guesthouses and tour desks or you could take Kampot's Tic Tuk, a fun tuk tuk-car hybrid.
Don't miss a stop at the Black Palace, two-thirds of the way up. The surprisingly modest former holiday residence of King Sihanouk is covered in startlingly orange lichen. It's close by the new and very large Buddha statue, and the cafe for refreshments before the top. Options at the summit are limited to drinks stalls by the old casino, the hotel restaurant and snacks by the waterfall.
Visitors must pay an entrance fee of 2,000 riel for motorbikes and 10,000 riel for a car, at the entrance to the park.
The climate at the top can be surprisingly cool, especially when misty so you may want to pack some sleeves.
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Text and/or map last updated on 16th June, 2014.
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