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Near the coast side town of Kampot in Cambodia is a cluster of old, abandoned buildings closely related to the recent history of Cambodia. This haunting place is the Bokor Hill Station, consisting of many crumbling buildings scattered around a hilltop area.
Bokor Hill Station was originally built by the French colonialists as a refuge for themselves from the hurling of Phnom Penh. It consisted mainly the Bokor Hill Resort & Casino (also called Bokor Palace), shops, post office, a church, and the Royal Apartments (a little summer palace).
Construction and History of the Bokor Hill Station
The construction of Bokor Hill Station started in 1921 and lasted for 9 months. It’s told that 900 workers were killed during the construction, but the French thought it was worth the sacrifice.
What the locals are saying about this place is that; “the ghosts there are many.” And after visiting these decaying facades of glory and colonialism, I’d say it’s true without a doubt.
Bokor Palace was the center of amusement, gambling, and whoring for many years. It was abandoned by the French for the first time in 1940, during the first Indochina war.
One of the stories goes, that many of the unfortunate gamblers who had lost too much at the casino threw themselves off the extremely steep cliff behind the old casino building. Not all of them were suicides, either. The dropping off the cliff was a certain death. I remember how I felt dizzy when I peeked over the stone wall into the depth unfolding below.
The second and the final time the Bokor Hill Station was abandoned by the French was in 1972 when the Khmer Rouge took it over and made it one of its bases. It also remained as one of the last strongholds of Khmer Rouge, as late as to the early 1990s.
A New Life Emerged in Bokor Mountain
Cambodian government owns Bokor Hill, but it was leased for 99 years to a company called Sokimex Group. This company had plans from the start to make this place a real resort paradise again, starting from the construction of a new tarmac road.
A new casino and mega resort have already been completed. Also, a golf course and a full renovation of the old casino was included in the plans.
When we were visiting the site, they had already begun the renovations of the old casino, the Bokor Palace, and it was full of construction racks and workers.
Unfortunately, it had also lost its old, haunted, and rotting charm. We went inside for a brief exploration, but couldn’t climb upstairs or do anything more thrilling. We were too late already.
The old fireplace inside the Bokor Palace, Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
I’ve heard since, that nowadays the Bokor Palace still stands as an empty shell, but the exterior has gone through a tacky “renovation.” It’s a shame. I also think that the ghosts, of which this place is said to be full of, aren’t so happy about the renovation. They should have let it be and crumble away slowly in the course of time.
However, the surroundings of the old casino remain as haunting as ever. The overgrown grass enveloping the sporadic, decayed columns, standing alone. The almost collapsed wall separating the hilltop and the vertical fall behind. When I walked towards the stone wall, I could almost imagine how the desperate gamblers have stood at the brim of the fall, before jumping into their doom.
And when the eerie mist started to gather around, I felt an urgent desire to leave. It’s was like suddenly being in the middle of the Silent Hill. Creepy? Oh, yes! Interesting? Yes, that too, but I think I would’ve not wanted to stay there at night.
The Ruins Still Left on the Bokor Hill Station
Despite the old casino being already “renovated”, the other buildings which the French built in the 1920s are still left virtually untouched. Some of them are totally collapsed, though, like the post office.
There is the Catholic church standing secluded on the roadside. The roof is almost collapsed, as is the interior, but it looks thrilling when the sun shines through to the stone altar in the middle of the main nave.
The former summer palace of King Sihanouk called “Black Palace,” is another building made out of the same red, crumbling stone. This place still has the feeling of the old days inside it.
The ceramic tiles have partly fallen off the walls. The roof looked like it could collapse on you, suggesting that you may not want to go upstairs if you don’t want to misstep and fall through. All windows were long gone, the holes offered stunning views down to the valley and the town of Kampot.
In one room the walls were full of writings of people who’ve visited here. I have to admit, that I carved our names in there, too. I usually never do that, but maybe I did now because there was some symbolism; the walls won’t stand forever. Just like we, they will one day crumble down and turn to dust.
On one hill there’s also a small, Buddhist temple. There was an old monk who blessed us for the rest of our journey. I still remember that moment in the tiny room, thick with incense smoke, and the old man sitting alone in the corner. Not much light came through the windows and the atmosphere was so tranquil.
We didn’t have a mutual language, but in that brief moment, I experienced some real understanding and even something mystic. I felt peace. It’s funny, how some transient and random moments will stay with you through the years like they would’ve happened just yesterday. This was one of those moments for me.
The vertical drop behind the old Casino, Bokor Palace, in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
Behind the Bokor Palace and Casino in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
How to Visit the Bokor Hill Station?
All these buildings are scattered around the Bokor Hill in different locations. To visit them all, you’ll need to either hire a scooter or a taxi to drive you around.
We were staying in Kampot while visiting here and I’d say it was by far the most convenient way. If you want, you can also stop by for a day visit, like from the nearby town of Kep.
Reserve the whole day to explore around. There is a beautiful waterfall where you can sit in the shadows during the day and chill out. Best enjoyed if you bring along some snacks. Watch the Buddhist monks walking by and gather your strength before continuing your exploration.
The Bokor Hill is definitely worth a visit, even though the primary interest, the old Bokor Hill Casino & Hotel, is gone.
Have you visited here? What did you think about the Bokor Hill Station?
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