Nov 1, 2014
Tour of Bokor Mountain, Kampot, Cambodia
GPS waypoint: 10°37'42.8"N 104°01'21.3"E
Elevation: 1,075 MASL (meters above sea level)
Location: Bokor Mountain, Kampot, Cambodia
DIY (do it yourself) Tour?
High on the to-do-list in Kampot is to visit Bokor Mountain, and view what was once the resort playground of the French elites and the royal family. Most of it is abandoned now, except the grand development of the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort. It's a good 42 kilometers away from Kampot proper on paved road, taking you to an elevation where you might need warmer clothing. Backpackers usually advise renting out a motorcycle for $5/day + gas and do your own tour. But I've heard too many stories - running out of gas, engine failure, drenched in the driving rain, muffler burns, etc. For $10, I could be chauffeur-driver on an air-conditioned van with no worries whatsoever about gas, breakdowns and rain - not to mention it would cost me just as much. I booked my tour with Captain Chims where I do all my bookings - so far, they have proven to be reliable.
Bokor Hill Station
Built in 1921 as an R&R resort for the French settlers in escaping the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh, Bokor Hill Station has since seen the upheavals in Cambodian history from the French colonizers and their abandonment in the 1940s due to the the First Indochina War, to the Vietnamese siege in 1979, to the entrenchment of the Khmer Rouge that lasted until the 1990s, and finally now in the renovation currently taking place. Bokor Hill Station is a collection of everything on top of Bokor Mountain - the Black Palace, Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino, Lok Yeay Mao Monument, the waterfalls, etc.
King's House (Black Palace)
This was the first stop. The King's House (King Norodom Sihanouk) is a small run-down structure that seem to have been burned down. A few steps away is another structure, said to be the party place. Both are in a state of disrepair with graffiti and workers' clothes hung out to dry on its walls. Grass has overgrown and the grounds are muddy. For a king's house, it seems too modest. It didn't look more than a small bungalow in a suburban neighborhood. The saving grace for this house is that it's perched right on top of the mountain cliffside, offering a panoramic view of the mainland. My thought bubble, "if this house can only be restored back to its original grandeur and offered as a hotel suite, the aesthetics will be there and it will generate money for the economy. Right now, it's just languishing."
Lok Yeay Mao Monument
Standing 29 meters tall (the monument, not the woman), Lok Yeay Mao is a mythical (or historical?) heroine who existed around 1863-1953. She is deemed the protector of travelers and hunters. Legend has it that she was a beautiful wife of a powerful warrior. When her husband died, she took leadership of the armies against the Thai - that is one version of the legend.
Thansur Bokor Highland Resort
This 5-star casino hotel is the latest of 3 grand developments that will soon domination the mountain top. Its has an imposing presence on the almost bare summit of Bokor Mountain. Its presence is a strong statement about the commitment to revitalize Bokor which has since been a ghost town for decades.
Old Catholic Church
It feels dreary. The abandoned church holds a patina effect from neglect, weather and age. When the Vietnamese invaded in 1979, the Khmer Rouge held themselves at the casino while the Vietnamese held themselves in the church. The Vietnamese suffered casualties due to the land mines and eventually left Bokor for the Khmer Rouge.
Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino
Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino is an imposing French colonial building perched on the edge of a cliff face, providing an excellent view of the surrounding waters. It languished for years, but now, it is currently being renovated.
This is a 2-tiered waterfall set against a jungle environment that has been made accessible. You can't see the entire waterfall as you would be on top of it. Around the area is a flower-like carnivorous plant (Utricularia Striatula) that grows on wet tree trunks. There is a big structure beside it housing vendors and restaurants for the visitors.
Taking a package tour wasn't as bad as backpackers say it to be - it was worry free, I got to spend as much roaming-around time as I could in a location, it didn't cost me any more money from doing it on my own, I got a tour guide who explained the history of the place, and the better part of it all was meeting and bonding with some of the travelers I've shared the van with - Kier, Donna, Graham, etc.
Bokor Mountain can better be appreciated if you are briefed about its history - about the fighting that went on with the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese, about the land mines that had to be cleared before any reconstruction work could be done, the new Bokor with hotel and casino, etc.
Some of the people I traveled with, did not agree with the present-day construction and development of Bokor Mountain - the hotel renovation, the casino, etc. This is just my humble opinion. Left on its own, it's nothing but a collection of burned-down buildings (burned by the Khmer Rouge) with a story to tell. With renovation (granting there are funds for it), the buildings can be restored to its former grandeur for everyone to appreciate in the here-and-now (instead of referring to "it used to be"). More importantly, it will generate more tourism dollars that the local economy badly needs. Again, my humble 2 cents.
At any rate, Bokor Mountain remains a must-see if you find yourself in Kampot - self-tour or packaged tour.
- if you choose to do your own tour and rent a motorbike, make sure you fill the gas up and even bring bottles of spare gas. I heard a few backpackers running out of gas since they underestimated the duration fo the ride
- bring an umbrella or rain coat as rains just pour down even on hot sunny days
- it could get cold up there so bring warm clothing
- you can either take the packaged tour offered by many tour operators/agents in Kampot, $10-12/pax, which includes lunch and water
- you can also rent a motorcycle and do it on your own with a map, $5/day on the motorcycle, plus gas
Nov 1, 2014
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