Bokor National Park is a 45-minute drive from Kampot, Cambodia. You can book a tour through many of the guesthouses in Kampot. We booked directly with the tour the night before at their pickup site on “Guesthouse Street”. The tour leaves at 8:00 am and picks up guests at several local hotels. This was an all-day tour that includes lunch and an evening river cruise.
Lok Yeay Mao monument
The roads leading up Bokor Mountain are now well paved. I’m told that it was a hazardous trip before. Just after the ranger station, you will come upon the newly built (2012), 29 meters tall Lok Yeay Mao monument. Our guide did not really tell us who she was other than to say she was a “protective spirit” and that it was unlucky not to pay her tribute. Wikipedia tells me that she is the protector of travelers and hunters. You can buy incense sticks and fruit at a nearby stall if you want to pay your respects.
The Black Palace
Across the road from this monument is the “Black Palace” (Damnak Sla Khmao), built by King Sihanouk in 1936. I’m guessing that this small ruined building was a summer cottage. There is not much to see here but there is a beautiful view from the back terrace.
You can view Popokvil waterfall safely from the paths along the top. Our guide encouraged us to climb down a slippery path to a rock outcropping to get a better view. This was not a great idea as most of the group was wearing cheap flip-flops and the rocks were wet.
A young French women fell and began sliding over the edge of the rocks while her boyfriend just stood there staring and doing nothing. Of course my husband ran over to help her and nearly went over himself while trying to stop her fall. They were both okay aside from some cuts and scrapes but I swear that I aged 20 years in the few seconds where it looked like Micheal was not going to be able to stop her from falling over the edge and would go over himself. There are no guardrails or safety precautions near the waterfall. Wear appropriate shoes. Also, if your boyfriend just stands there and watches you fall off a ledge, you should probably dump him as soon as possible.
Wat Sampov Pram
We stopped for lunch at Wat Sampov Pram. Wat Sampov Pram (Pagoda of 5 boats) was built by King Monivong in 1924. The name comes from the five rocks near the wat. There were many complaints from other people in the tour group that the included lunch was a simple rice dish, fresh fruit and a bottle of water. I’m not sure what they expected. The meal was more than adequate and is probably what the tour guide eats every day himself. The rambutan fruit was delicious.
Old Catholic Church
There is an abandoned Catholic church on the mountain, built by the French in the 1920s. While the building still appears to be structurally sound, the inside is stripped to bare walls and covered with graffiti and bullet holes.
Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino. If you have seen photos of this ruin shrouded in mist, please know that it is now under re-construction and it looks very different from the photos I had seen. The entire mountain is under construction with a large casino and hotels being built.
The Bokor Palace Hotel was built by the French colonials in the 1920s as a resort to escape the heat in Phnom Penh. Hundreds of workers (some say thousands) died during the construction of this resort and the mountain road. The French abandoned Bokor Hill in the late 1940s. It was reopened in 1962 as a casino and became a favorite of the Cambodian elite. I’m told that more than one young man jumped to his death from the cliff behind the casino after losing his fortune at the tables.
The Bokor Palace’s dark and bloody history doesn’t end there. In 1972, the Khmer Rouge took control and made this their base. Prisoners were thrown off the cliff with their hands tied behind them. During the 1979 Vietnamese invasion, this was an area of heavy fighting. You can still see the bullet holes in the tile that hasn’t yet been removed and cemented over. In one of the bathrooms, there are bullet holes in the tile at a level that suggests the person who was shot was sitting on the floor against the wall. I don’t know what the future plans for this building are. I have heard that it might be turned into a museum or back into a hotel. If they turn it into a hotel, I would never want to stay in a place haunted by such a history of death and violence.
The Future of Bokor National Park
The final stop on our tour is a showroom with an elaborate scale model of what the developers expect this area to look like in the future. Sokimex Investment Group acquired a 99-year lease from the government to develop the area. There are plans for hotels, casinos, golf courses, shopping centers, and row after row of little holiday villas. This plan is quite controversial.
Our tour included a sunset river cruise but we decided to skip it in favor of going out to dinner.