Bokor Hill Station in Preah Monivong National Park, Cambodia was built in the 1920s by French colonists wanting to escape the heat and humidity of the capital Phnom Penh. They built a luxury mountain resort on Bokor Mountain, 37km from Kampot. Its idyllic mountain location and more temperate weather made it popular for the colonial residents who were more familiar with European conditions.
The main feature of the resort was the Bokor Palace Hotel, built in 1925. Because of the remote mountain location, building the resort was labour intensive and nearly 900 people lost their lives during the 9 months of construction. Besides the Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino there was the elegant villa of the Résident Supérieur, a post office, shops, church and royal apartments. At the time of its operation it was known for its luxury and grandeur and was one of the crown jewels of France’s South East Asian colonies.
The resort was abandoned by the French in the first Indochina war of the 1940s. By the time that ended, the new Kingdom of Cambodia was created and Bokor Hill Station was used by the royals and nobility of the country. When the renamed Cité du Bokor opened again in 1962, a casino had been added alongside two hotels – the Sangkum and Kiri. The resort prospered again for a short time.
In 1970 the Khmer Republic was created when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Bokor Hill Station was abandoned again. Such elegance created by their former French colonial rulers had no place in their socialist plans. The Khmer Rouge used Bokor Hill Station as a stronghold during the Vietnamese invasion of 1979. It was one of the last locations they held onto as their power came to an end in the 1990s.
Following another short period of being left abandoned, the Cambodian Government took over the site with a view to redeveloping it. Bokor Hill Station now gets a large number of tourists and the government has leased the site to Sokimex Group who have undertaken repair to access routes. It is seen as an important cultural site, giving an insight into the former colonial rulers. New hotels and leisure facilities have been built nearby returning the area to the purpose intended by the French nearly 100 years ago.
The following is an account of a trip to Bokor Hill Station by an American couple, Steve and Stef.
The day after we arrived in Kampot, we saw examples of the Khmer Rouge rampage when we visited Bokor Hill Station near Kampot. In it’s hey-day, there was a hotel, casino and church on top of Bokor Hill, that thrived on the exuberance of the wealthy. However, when the Khmer Rouge took over, they completely decimated the place, and it’s true to say the place is a ghost town. Walking through the old hotel you can almost sense the spirits. The Khmer Rouge took everything from it, including the wiring inside the walls. You can see where mortar shells have blown through windows and blown apart stairwells. As the mist drew in as we were there, it gave a real sense of the ghostly sadness of the place; not a place you’d want to be at night. However, it is a good place to visit to see the effects of the Khmer Rouge years, without having to see the torture that took place.