Bokor Hill Station
Good for: Photography
Not good for: disabled
- Phnom Bokor
Lonely Planet review for Bokor Hill Station
The eerie ruins of the old French hill station of Bokor, high atop Phnom Bokor (1080m), are known for their cool - even chilly - mountain climate and dramatic vistas of the coastal plain, one vertical kilometre below.
The road up to Bokor was built from 1917 to 1921 by Cambodian indentured labourers, many of whom perished. By the early 1920s a French holiday settlement had been established and a grand hotel-casino, the Bokor Palace, was inaugurated in 1925.
The hill station was twice abandoned: first when Vietnamese and Khmer Issarak (Free Khmer) forces overran it in the late 1940s while fighting for independence from France, and again in 1972 when the Lon Nol regime left it to the Khmer Rouge forces that were steadily taking over the countryside. It has been uninhabited ever since - except for the presence of either Vietnamese troops or Khmer Rouge guerrillas during much of the '80s and '90s. Because of its commanding position, the site was strategically important to all sides during the long years of conflict and was one location the Vietnamese really had to fight for during their 1979 invasion. The Khmer Rouge held out for several months, with one unit holed up in the Catholic church while the Vietnamese shot at them from the Bokor Palace, 500m away.
Today, Bokor Hill Station and its abandoned buildings have an eerie, ghost-town feel accentuated by a bright-orange lichen that carpets the exterior walls, giving them an otherworldly cast. Mountain mists float through the abandoned buildings, and the sea views are either breathtaking or a complete white-out. The foggy showdown that ends the Matt Dillon crime thriller City of Ghosts (2002) was filmed here.
Debate rages over whether to redevelop the hill station. Some preservationists say it should be left untouched, while entrepreneurs salivate over its tried and tested potential. The mainstream environmentalist position is that it's most sensible to compromise, allowing limited redevelopment of the hill station area in order to generate much-needed funds to help protect the actual national park, much of which remains remote and relatively defenceless.