The Abandoned Bokor Hill Station In Cambodia

Bokor Hill Station, nestled within Preah Monivong National Park in Cambodia, was conceived in the 1920s as an escape from the sweltering heat and humidity of Phnom Penh by French colonists. Perched atop Bokor Mountain, approximately 37 kilometers from Kampot, this luxury mountain retreat offered respite in its idyllic mountain setting and milder climate, reminiscent of European conditions.

The focal point of this retreat was the Bokor Palace Hotel, constructed in 1925. Given its remote mountain location, building the resort was a labor-intensive endeavor, tragically claiming the lives of nearly 900 individuals during its nine-month construction period. Alongside the Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino, the resort featured the elegant residence of the Résident Supérieur, a post office, shops, a church, and royal apartments. It was renowned for its opulence and grandeur during its operational years, representing one of France’s prized possessions in Southeast Asia.

The French abandoned the resort during the turbulence of the first Indochina War in the 1940s. Subsequently, with the establishment of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Bokor Hill Station served as a retreat for the country’s royalty and nobility. It reopened as Cité du Bokor in 1962, now with a casino and two hotels, the Sangkum and Kiri, flourishing once more for a brief period.

In 1970, the Khmer Republic emerged with the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Bokor Hill Station was abandoned once again, as its former colonial elegance clashed with the socialist vision of the new regime. During the Vietnamese invasion of 1979, the Khmer Rouge used the station as a stronghold, holding onto it until their decline in the 1990s.

After another period of abandonment, the Cambodian government assumed control of the site with plans for redevelopment. Today, Bokor Hill Station attracts a significant number of tourists, and the government has leased the site to the Sokimex Group, which has improved access routes. It is considered an essential cultural site, offering insight into the legacy of the former colonial rulers. New hotels and recreational facilities have been constructed nearby, returning the area to its original purpose envisioned by the French nearly a century ago.

The following account shares the experience of an American couple, Steve and Stef, who visited Bokor Hill Station:

“When we arrived in Kampot, we embarked on a journey to explore the remnants of Bokor Hill Station, a haunting testament to both time and tragedy. Once a thriving hub of luxury, boasting a hotel, casino, and church atop Bokor Hill, it catered to the elite. However, when the Khmer Rouge seized power, they left no stone unturned in their devastation of the place. Today, it stands as a ghost town, where wandering through the old hotel, you can almost feel the lingering spirits. The Khmer Rouge stripped it bare, even plundering the wiring from within the walls. Evidence of mortar shell impacts on windows and shattered stairwells tells a harrowing tale. As the mist enveloped us during our visit, it imparted a palpable sense of the place’s eerie melancholy, making it an unsettling destination after dark. Yet, it serves as a poignant reminder of the Khmer Rouge era’s profound impact, allowing us to witness the aftermath without confronting the horrors that transpired.”

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