A FORGOTTEN TOWN IN CAMBODIA: BOKOR NATIONAL PARK, CAMBODIA

A few hours south of Phnom Penh lies the sleepy riverside town of Kampot. It’s one of those ‘at one with nature’ places;  morning yoga on a terrace overlooking the tranquil river, old school movies in tiny private movie theatres and human rights cafes (For example: Epic Arts Cafe, staffed by young people who are deaf or have a disability). It favours early mornings over late nights and is the perfect place to wind down after too many wild nights in the Capital or just a few hectic travel days.

Around 11km from the centre of town lies Bokor National Park. Bokor Mountain was found by the French in 1917 and developed into a resort in 1921. It was built with the completion of a school, post office, a church and an entertainment complex called “Le Bokor Palace”. “Le Bokor Palace” was a casino hotel built for French social elites who were very wealthy travelled often for leisure. All of which are abandoned today and makes for a fun day of exploring to be had!

GETTING THERE:

We took advantage of the slow pace and rented ourselves some scooters for about £2.50 a day (we got them from Mr Chim’s Guesthouse where we were staying which cost around £3 each a night to stay, was reasonably nice (bar the death stairs) and was close to the river and nice restaurants. From the entrance to the top is around 32km, which took roughly about an hour and a half to ascend, the road is windy but empty so safer than the main roads. We only passed a few locals and maybe 3 tourists on the way up. The entry fee was just 2000 riel (35p) per bike and is free on foot.

If you aren’t so confident on a scooter there is also the possibility of:

  • Group Tour – running from most travel agents in Kampot. Most include a light lunch and water, tour around Bokor, visit to Popokvil waterfall and a basic sunset cruise for around $12 each
  • Private Taxi – $42.50-65 depending on whether you opt for an English speaking driver or not
  • Private Tik Tuk – half car, half tuk tuk $30 for 1-2 people $35 for 3 people
  • Mountain Biking – $22-25 per person and includes the use of a bicycle helmet, lunch, water and transport – rather you than me – those hills are STEEP!

*Prices in US dollars

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WHAT’S THERE TO SEE AND DO?

Before you come to the mountaintop collection of abandoned buildings you will reach Lok Yeay Mao Monument. A large meditating Buddha that overlooks the coast. You can park up and walk up the stairs to get a closer look. It was under renovation when I went (previously really colourful) and reminded me of the film Hellraiser! (photo above) To the right of this statue you will find The Black Palace which was former King Sihanouk’s summer retreat.

Continue up and you will stumble upon the very modern 5 star development Thansur Bokor Highland Resort which houses a hotel, casino, restaurants and cafes. We went inside to tactically dry off as we’d got caught in a dash of rain and grab a snack only to end up playing blackjack for over an hour (I won $10 – SHEBANG!)

And then theres the good stuff. Derelict buildings. An abundance of them. They’re great fun to explore. We only had time to check out the inside of the former ‘Le Bokor Palace‘ before hopping back on our bikes in a desperate bid to beat the rain.

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That’s me up on the balcony!

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There’s an Old Catholic Church (built by the French in the 1920’s – you can still see bits of stained glass hanging from the window), Popokvil waterfall (which is most impressive during the wet season, and sometimes runs dry during the dry season) and Wat Sampov Pram (Pagoda of 5 boats) which hosts great views over the rainforest to the coastline below, and across the sea to Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island on a clear day.

WEATHER

The weather is said to be temperamental, the skies certainly opened up on our descent. It also became so foggy that we had to make a quick pit stop at restaurant until it cleared a bit – as well as to purchase a plastic ponchos, although by this point it was a bit too late! Pack a hoodie and a waterproof jacket unless you want to shiver all the way down whilst looking like a drowned rat!

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