Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Mountain sits 1,101m (3,600′) above Kampot on the southern coast of Cambodia. In the 1920s, the French built a hill station at the summit as a resort and retreat for the social elites who were living in Cambodia and needed an escape from the humidity and heat of Phnom Penh. The centerpiece of the resort was the grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino, complemented by shops, a post office (now demolished), a church and the Royal Apartments. Bokor Hill was abandoned first by the French in late 1940s, during the First Indochina War, because of local insurrections guided by the Khmer Issarak, and then for good in 1972 as Khmer Rouge took over the area.
Bokor Hill Station is now partially a ghost town, but also experiencing a resurgence. Cambodian authorities maintain Preah Monivong National Park in which the site is located, but a private group has taken over redevelopment of the area to create a larger Bokor City. A glistening new casino, the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, opened in 2012 and plans are underway for a 15-year, $1 billion dollar expansion.
In Kampot, I rented a motorbike for the day and wearing only a tank and board shorts, set off under the blazing sun for the 30 km journey up the mountain. The climb up Road 32 was beautiful with impressive views back down to Kampot and the distant coast, but the winding road was taking me into the clouds again. Entrenched in the fog, Bokor Hill Station was eerie – I felt I had the entire mountain and ghost town to myself. Even upon entering the new resort/casino for a coffee and a quick try at some slots (totally rigged slots because I did not win), I saw only a couple of employees and nobody else. There was obviously some big construction going on all over, but despite it being a Monday, all projects seemed to be on hold. And putting around on the motorbike for a few hours, I passed a only handful of oncoming cars and construction vehicles the whole time.
It was pretty cool, but the place was weird. Really weird.