Bokor Hill Station and National Park

Introduction

Set in Preah Monivong National Park (colloquially known as Bokor National Park), at 37km from Kampot, you’ll find Bokor Hill Station. Bokor Hill Station is a mountaintop collection of buildings (hotel & casino, church, royal residence and more), constructed by French authorities in the early 1920s as a complement to the already popular Kep resort area. In the 1990s, a travel author referred to Bokor as ‘the eeriest place in the world’, and it lived up to that reputation.

The movies Rose de Bokor (1969), by King Norodom Sihanouk and City of Ghosts (2002), by and with Matt Dillon, were partially filmed at Bokor.


Bokor National Park

Preah Monivong National Park (Phnom Bokor National Park) was established by Royal decree in 1993. Named after its shape, Phnom Bokor (ox hump mountain) is part of the Elephant Mountain range.

The park spans an area of about 1580 square kilometers of protected, dense primary rainforest, bordering the Cardamom Mountain Range in the East, Kirirom National Park in the North and ending less then a kilometer from the coastline in the South.


Flora & Fauna

WildAid started monitoring wildlife on Bokor in 2001. Aided by trap cameras they found Bokor Mountain’s lush and moist forest the perfect habitat for a wide variety of rare and threatened animals, including the Indian elephant, leopards, Asiatic black bears, Malayan sun bears, pileated gibbons, pig-tailed macaques, slow lorises, red muntjac deer, lesser mouse deer, pangolins, yellow-throated martins, small Asian mongooses and various species of civet, porcupine, squirrel and bat. As most of these animals are notoriously shy and nocturnal, they tend to reside very deep in the forest. Some flora and fauna are found exclusively within Preah Monivong NP. The photo results of the trap cameras are still on display at the entrance of the national park.

Greater Hornbill
Greater Hornbill

It is estimated that there are over 300 species of bird, including several types of the stunningly elegant hornbill.


Bokor Hill Station History

In its time, Bokor was an elegant getaway for French officials and foreign visitors to old Indochina – a classic colonial ‘hill station’ located in the mountains to allow visitors accustomed to more temperate climates to escape the tropical heat. The construction was completed in 1925, and it is claimed to have cost 900 lives in 9 months’ time.

During the First Indochina War, late 1940s, the French abandoned the Hill Station and the Cambodian upper class moved in. The Hill Station experienced its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961 plans were created to rebuild some of the French villas and to build a casino. Peter Hahn’s 1963 article ‘Bokor – dreariest casino in the world’ for Asia Magazine describes the slow early years of the casino.

The Khmer Rouge took control of the area surrounding Bokor in 1972, causing the Khmer elite to abandon the hill station as well. During the 1979 Vietnamese invasion the Khmer Rouge battled back, and there were fights between the Khmer Rouge located in the casino and the Vietnamese who were holding up in the church. The bullet holes are still evident in the church.
The Khmer Rouge managed to maintain Bokor as a stronghold until the early 1990s.
The area was established as a national park in 1993, leaving a small collection of ghostly ruins peaking through the fog and clouds.
Cambodia’s leading English language newspaper ran an interesting article in August 2014 on Bokor’s history, with a brief interview with Mr. Tree, a Kampot native, about his escape to Bokor during the Khmer Rouge era: ‘Faded glory: The many lives of a Kampot palace’

For a treasure trove of information on Bokor (historical prints, maps, photos and videos), please check out the French language site ‘Bokor Palace Hotel › Là où tournent les nuages’.


Bokor Hill Station current situation

In recent years, one of the ruins, the old police station, has collapsed entirely.

The first part of the investment project has already been realised; a large casino and hotel have been built on the top of Bokor, on a newly developed site.


The road

If you have visited Bokor in the past, you will undoubtedly remember the hellish, bumpy ride. The only road that led to the Hill Station, once paved by the French in the 1920s, used to be in such a shocking condition (not helped by the uncomfortable pick-up truck seats) that most visitors would be unable to sit at the end of the day.

Old bridge on road to Bokor
Old bridge on road to Bokor

Thanks to an enormous investment project, that horrible ride is now history. The entire road is in great condition, making the trip o-so-much-more comfortable and more time-efficient. It is still just the one road up to Bokor. In some places you will see some evidence of the old road, including a couple of the old bridges.

If you pay attention, you may see the ‘Guardian of the Forest’; a rock formation along the road resembling a face with a prominent nose. There are plenty spectacular views of the coast, jungle and Kampot along the way.


Black Palace

About two-thirds up the road, you will come across a new large statue (Lok Yeay Mao – a female buddhist divinity) on the right hand side. Easily overlooked, but do have a peak on the left hand side of the road, where Black Palace is found. This Black Palace was former King Sihanouk’s summer retreat which was abandoned decades ago.

Bokor Black Palace
Late King Sihanouk’s summer retreat (‘black palace’)


Wat Sampov Pram

Wat Sampov Pram (Pagoda of 5 boats) was built in 1924 by King Monivong. The five oddly shaped rocks near the wat gave the pagoda its name. Great views over the rainforest to the coastline below, and across the sea to Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island – on a clear day.


The Church

The Old Catholic Church was built by the French in the early 1920s as part of the French township on Bokor Mountain. You can still see bits of stained glass that are hanging from the window.


Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino

Sitting atop a cliff, overlooking an enormous drop into lush rainforest, Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino is a lovely colonial building.

Bokor Palace Hotel
Bokor Palace Hotel

It was constructed by French settlers in 1917 and completed in 1925 for the French social elites who were living in Cambodia and needed an escape from the humidity and heat of Phnom Penh.

Entrance of Bokor Palace Hotel
Entrance of Bokor Palace Hotel

The once sweeping staircase of the hotel had already partially collapsed when a private investor decided to do an intensive renovation. This project is well underway and we are looking forward to the end result.


Popokvil Waterfall

Popokvil, meaning swirling clouds, is possibly named after the lingering mist over its two tiers. The waterfall is set in lush jungle and is located a couple of kilometers away from the Hill Station site. The falls run dry at the end of the dry season, but swell up during the rainy season. Great place for a swim on a sweltering day.
Around Popokvil you can find the Utricularia Striatula, a small (barely 1 cm in diameter) carnivorous plant that grows on wet rocks or tree trunks. The tiny plant appears to be a flower, and can be found in white, pink and lilac.

Carnivore: Utricularia striatula
Carnivore: Utricularia striatula


Maps



Old French map of Bokor Hill Station
Old French map of Bokor Hill Station

Map of Bokor Hill Station (VSO, 2003)
Map of Bokor Hill Station (VSO, 2003)


Climate

The weather on Bokor is best described as temperamental. Fog may seem to appear out of nowhere or you could be surprised by a sudden downpour. If the weather is clear, the views are outstanding.
The cool (sometimes cold) mountain air is a nice refresher on a steamy day down at sea level.


Visiting Bokor Hill Station and National Park



The entrance to the national park is now 10.000 for a car and 2.000 for a motorbike.

Group tours

All tour agents in town offer Bokor group tours in minivans for around US$15 US$12 per person. These day tours include basic lunch and water, tour around Bokor and visit to Popokvil waterfall. You will return back to Kampot, where you have time for a drink or a shower. A basic sunset boat trip is included in the price.
It is also possible to include a hike on the way down. This hike takes between 2 and 3 hours. The cost for this tour is US$25 per person, which includes the fee for the park ranger.

Private taxi

Private tours in a taxi are possible at about US$42.50 for a taxi with non-English speaking driver or about US$65 for a taxi with English speaking guide.

Private Tic Tuk

Absolutely unique in Kampot province, the Tic Tuk is half car, half tuktuk. The hybrid offers the best of both worlds – a smooth ride, while the passenger seats offer great views and a comfortable breeze.
Cost: $30 (1-2 passengers) or $35 (3 passengers). Lunch is optional ($10 pp for Buffet Lunch) Includes park entry fee. For more information, check their website at www.tictuktours.com

Apologies, this tour is currently unavailable.

Scooter

Another option, is by privately rented 110cc or 125cc motorbike. Expect this (return) trip to take roughly half a day. A fee of 2.000 is charged for each motorbike entering the National Park. You could easily spend the remainder of the day exploring the area by motorbike.

Trekking

The options for trekking up Bokor are currently limited; there are no organised tours. It is possible to organise a private hiking tour. A good level of fitness is required, as the up-hill trek is about seven hours. The hike takes you past caves and a waterfall. The minimum number of participants is 2; the cost is US$35 per person, which includes a guide, water, a sandwich for lunch, transport to the starting point and transport from Popokvil falls on Bokor back to Kampot. It is currently impossible to trek up to Bokor Mountain.

Mountain bike

A downhill mountain bike tour is also a possibility. Good quality mountain bikes are used. The tour start with transport from Kampot to Bokor Hill Station. From there, you will cycle downhill for 30km past several sights and beautiful viewing points, and ride a further 8 kilometers from the exit of the National Park to Kampot on a flat road. The cost is US$25 22-25 per person and includes the use of a bicycle helmet, lunch, water and transport.

* We organise all tours and transport for our in-house guests without charging commission.


by Rikitikitavi




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