Kampot is a great little city in southern Cambodia. It was colonized by the French and some parts still show that influence with cololonial buildings and a thriving cafe culture. The city itself feels like a mini and relaxed version of Phnom Penh and out of town there are quaint guest houses dotted along a very pretty part of the Mekong.
A one hour drive from Kampot is Bokor National Park. It covers a huge area with long winding roads that ascend one kilometre above sea level. The drive is really nice so it’s definitely better to rent bikes instead of doing a tour. That way you can take it slow and admire the views in your own time. Luckily it was a beautiful clear day so we could see the coast and several islands.
Driving up we stopped and had a ganders at some derelict buildings including Black Palace. It was originally the summer holiday residence of the former King Sihanouk and is surprisingly small in size (if we’re talking about regal homes!) Graffiti art covers most of the walls and although we were stood in the former home of a Cambodian King it somehow felt like we were stood in an urban carpark. I loved looking closely at the walls to see little well-wish messages from others who had passed through. There are also some bold messages, a personal favourite being “Fuck Trump”.
The next stop was a BIG blue Buddha statue. It’s near Black Palace and is a relatively new addition to the park.
The main attraction is the former Bokor hill station which comprises of several desolate buildings that exhibit Cambodia’s former colonial days. Originally established as a hill station by the French in 1925, Bokor later became the home of grand hotel and casino known as Bokor Palace. Colonial residents came to the luxury resort to retreat from the hot and hectic city life in Phnom Penh. Bokor was was abandoned twice, once during WWII and again during the Khmer Rouge regime. What’s left is the architectural skeleton of a bygone era. It’s eerie yet romantic and weirdly beautiful. The building has weathered and withered from natural and human interventions and despite the dark atmosphere, it has retained its original charm. Looking from afar at this derelict mansion you can only imagine how significant it would’ve been in its full glory.
Stepping inside made it so much easier to imagine Bokor Palace in its heyday. The walls have moulded in parts and dust covers the floor, but the tall ceilings and the angular pillars supporting them embody its former decadence. We galloped around the hall pretending we were at a 1920s dinner dance, although some lessons definitely wouldn’t go amiss judging by our skills!
There’s a myriad of small corridors and staircases that lead to different sized rooms and balconies. It would be great for a game of hide and seek! Construction to maintain the building is ongoing and there has been talk of restoring the building as it has so much potential. I really hope they don’t. Bokor bears so much history and is so unique as it currently stands.
Also on the hill station is a old Catholic church. It’s extremely striking and looks and feels incredibly eerie. There’s still an alter inside but the the walls are covered with graffiti messages and there are damaged religious statues in the corridor.
What’s not so pretty is the new developments in the park. The park is government-owned but leased out to a Chinese company who plan to redevelop the site. An unsightly yellow casino/hotel/conference centre was built a few years ago but it sticks out like a very sore thumb. If anything it makes the park even more strange with its peculiar mix of old and new.
Driving back we stopped at a waterfall, but dry season is obviously not the best time to go!
Going to Bokor National Park is a highly recommended day out. The only thing I wish I did was bring a jumper! The temperature really drops up there when the sun sets and the drive down was very chilly! Back down to the lowlands we were greeted by a gorgeous sunset. The perfect end to the day.