Dark Tourism at Bokor Hill Station? For one reason, or another Bokor Hill seems to be a controversial choice for traveling to. Located on the outskirts of Kampot it is former French Colonial Resort that has seemed to be on perpetual rise and fall. Nowadays it is largely a ghost town full of (mostly) abandoned buildings, but it is the “mostly” that causes the controversy.
What the Kampot?
Kampot is a city in the south of Cambodia. Nowadays it is very much on the Bamboo trail, or “hippie trek”. The town is extremely pleasant and located on the Mekong River. Stoners seem to have descended on the place like wildfire and it is now the kind of expat haven where people buy “happy pizzas” and decide that they should give you lots of advice on things.
One piece of advice we were recently given was “Don’t go to Bokor Hill Station Man”. The reasoning being that because there are some new buildings there it lacks the “authenticity” it used to have. Worse still it might even be too cloudy for a sunset!
I shall deal with these points later, but if you want advice on the best sunsets in Kampot click here .
What is Bokor Hill Station?
The 1920’s were a very different time everywhere, but particularly when it came to empires. The French were certainly of the opinion that nothing could go wrong and that the natives were happy as Larry.
Being colonial overlords meant they decided that as Cambodia was rather hot they would build a resort for soldiers up on Bokor Hill Station. You see it is cool in the mountains and much more fitting for European comforts.
By the time the resort was finished in 1925 it is estimated that up to 1000 locals had died building it. It was events like these that would lead to the next big event in Bokor Hill, the fight for independence.
A casino was built, houses, a post office and of course a church. Things were going swimmingly until a chap called Hitler went to war.
To read about if Hitler was from Liverpool click here.
Enter the Khmer Issarak
The Khmer Issarak were the first independence movement in Cambodia. They undoubtedly had links to the Viet Minh, but also consisted of many different factions, not all of the Rouge variety. Although with that being said they could certainly be considered a forerunner of what would become the Khmer Rouge.
The French were driven out as Cambodia gained independence and were thus replaced by the Cambodian elite. Booker Hill station was to enjoy an almost 20 year renaissance.
Golden Age of Bokor Hill Station
Few might have realized it at the time, but from 1953 until the early 70’s Cambodia despite its location was enjoying relative peace. During this time Bokor Hill was a cool place to be. Sihanouk had a house here and in 1962 many new buildings including casinos were opened. This included Hotels Sangkum (the name of the ruling party) and Hotel Kir.
Sihanouk was to be overthrown in 1970 and then everything that had made Bokor Hill appealing to resort makers was to make it a perfect place for guerilla warfare.
Enter The Khmer Rouge
When the Khmer Republic was proclaimed Sihanouk was led into an unholily alliance with the Khmer Rouge. This not only bolstered their ranks, but made them much more popular with the masses.
By 1972 the Khmer Rouge had taken over Bokor Hill Station. It turns out that the mountain area made a great base and a base that was extremely hard for people to take from you.
From here they were able to initiate the Battle of Kampot in 1974. This would lead to an opening yo Phnom Penh and the eventual establishment of Democratic Kampuchea. Of course we all know how that played out.
Even after the fall of the Democratic Kampuchea regime in 1979 it was to remain a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge until the early 1990’s when they were to retreat to their last stronghold of Anlong Veng.
To read a guide to Anlong Veng click here.
The Khmer Rouge finally disbanded in 1998 and it was from here that Kampot and indeed Bokor Hill Station started to become popular with tourists.
Cambodia decide to develop Bokor Hill Station
And this is the point that makes people angry! In 2008 The Cambodian government decided to lease much of the land to be used for new buildings. These included a new casino and high end apartments among other things. Many an expat now claim that these buildings make the area “not special”.
I’ll throw two things into the mix here. Firstly the Cambodian government needed to do something with the land, this makes total sense, but they have also left most of the old buildings intact. There is still a hell of a lot to see up here. Something we will move onto next.
What is there to see on Bokor Hill Station?
If you like Dark Tourism and Urbex then atthis place you have really hit the motherland. Old empty, spooky and allegedly haunted buildings litter the area.
To read more about Dark Tourism click here.
To read more about Urbex click here.
Summer Home of King Sihanouk
Pretty much the first place you stop and opposite the huge Buddhist Statue. The building has seen better days, but the fact that it is littered with graffiti and you can stroll in the Royal Toilet is amazing.
Catholic Church on Bokor Hill
Kept in alarmingly good shape everything considered, but still extremely spooky. Potentially haunted too, at least if you listen to the locals.
Wat Sampov Pram
One of the weirdest and therefore most interesting parts of the whole area. These are mostly Buddhist temples, but resemble European style architecture. This offers one of the best views of the lowlands that you can get in the area.
Le Bokor Palace
Originally built in 1925 this building is now nearly 100 years old. Another one that is supposedly haunted. Was recently given a renovation and is now a high end hotel and restaurant. No guests there, but the restaurant was in 1920’s style and looked amazing.
There are also a ton of old European style abandoned buildings around here that you can explore to your hearts content.
Is it worth visiting Bokor Hill Station?
In case you have missed any of my subtext here, it is freaking amazing here! If you are in Kampot then coming here is a major highlight. Yes there’s new buildings too, but how often do you get to explore abandoned places from the 1920’s where kings used to live?
With coronavirus as well even the new buildings add to the atmosphere. Essentially Bokor Hill Station represents 100 years of Cambodian history, and nowhere else is this better represented than here. Yes, it is worth visiting.
How do you get to Bokor Hil?
It will cost about $25 to hire a Tuk-Tuk and takes about 4 hours to do everything. If you are feeling kind bring food for the monkeys.
Alas we do not visit on our Cambodian Dark Tourism Tour, simply because of how long it takes to get here, but the tour is still rater amazing!
To join our Dark Tourism Cambodia Tour click here.
And that is the YPT guide to Bokor Hill! Should you go here? Yes, yes, and yes.