On a Baja to Bokor

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December 28th 2006
Published: January 12th 2007
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The old Catholic Church at BokorThe old Catholic Church at BokorThe old Catholic Church at Bokor

It is quite eerie to encounter these buildings at the top of a mountain in Cambodia. This alone made the trip worthwhile.
Mat: Trace is writing a bit of a blog on our time in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, so I will leave her to it and just post this quick blog on my day visiting the abandoned French Hill Station at Bokor. Seeing as I could hire a 250cc Honda Baja for 8USD I did so and headed out for a days ride by myself. The hill station is about 1000m high nestled on the plateu of a small mountain. The area is now a Cambodian national park, which I wouldn't have thought would have counted for much, but the rangers seem to be trying pretty hard and there are even three camera trap photos on the information board of two different tigers that were photographed in the area, as well as a few other interesting species.

From Sihanoukville the turn off to the Bokor National Park and hill station was about 140km or so. But took me a good 2 hours to get there along straight flat roads because of the townships and road works.

Because I am lazy here is a bit of info from Wikipedia about the hill station:

"Bokor Hill Station is an abandoned French town built
Bite/sting from the mystery critterBite/sting from the mystery critterBite/sting from the mystery critter

Oh how I long for the cuddly harmless insects of NZ
in 1922 high upon Bokor Hill, just outside the town of Kampot, southern Cambodia. The town was built as a resort by the colonial French settlers to offer an escape from the humidity and general insanity of Phnom Penh. The hill station consists of a once elegant hotel and casino, a Catholic Church, former royal residences and other buildings. Political instability and warfare in Cambodia have caused the buildings to be left in a perpetual state of neglect since WWII. Due to its elevation and strategic location, Bokor was fiercely fought over by the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese. Enshrouded by clouds and fog, the moss covered buildings provide an eerie atmosphere to wander around in and exploring them is a sometimes spooky and exhilarating experience. The entire mountain area around Bokor has recently been placed under protective status as a National Park by the Cambodian government.

Now abandoned, most of the buildings are still standing and the hotel in particular can still be explored. The strategic importance of the location is underlined by the fact that the Cambodian authorities maintain a Ranger Station on the site, and this doubles as a youth hostel with basic dorms and cooking
The turn off to the National parkThe turn off to the National parkThe turn off to the National park

Beautifully signposted in true Cambodian fashion. I drove past it of course, turned around, and only found it because I stopped to get petrol and asked the guy where the National park turn off was. It was opposite the petrol stop!
facilities for those intrepid souls who make their way up here. The only other "inhabited" building on the site is a small temple. There is also a waterfall which tends to be dry in high season and in full flow during rainy season - hence few tourists ever see it in full flow, as travelling up the hill to Bokor is highly inadvisable in rainy season.

Today the site is beginning to attract significant numbers of tourists. Reaching the top of Bokor Hill requires a 32km grind from sea-level to the top of the 3000ft peak up a broken road that is barely passable under optimum conditions and takes 3 hours to complete in either direction. Most travellers hire a local driver-guide and travel on the back of a motorbike or in a 4x4. It is possible for the more intrepid travellers to hire their own vehicle in Kampot and tackle the road themselves."

There, its official, I'm intrepid...

And I got from sea-level to the top in 1 hour 20 mins. But it was pretty hellish. The "road" was rocky, potholed, and annoyingly there was still 20% left of the old asphalt road (put in by
The road upThe road upThe road up

It hurt my kidneys
the French?) which often stuck 30cm up from the dirt/rock road. After riding for over 2 1/2 hours up and down it I had had the bejesus shaken out of me. I pulled weird muscles that I had never pulled before. At least I was not one of the poor punters that endured 6 hours on the back of a 4x4, easier on the body but a long time on that road.

The ride made arrival at the top quite rewarding, and I enjoyed wandering about the buildings. The Casino would have been very cool, perched on a massive cliff that seems to drop down to sea level. Apparently a few gamblers who had experienced a particularly bad night have taken a dive from the cliff.

On the way to Bokor I stopped to take a photo and something stung/bit me on the underside of the arm. I think it might have got caught in my jacket as I was riding. It stung like hell, and over the next week got worse with the skin dying a bit. Now, more than 2 weeks later it is finally healing well. I wish I knew what is was...

The road upThe road upThe road up

These two photos make the road look better than it was
got back to Sihanoukville to meet Trace and Nicki at about 7.30pm for beer on the beach. Tasted good.

Additional photos below
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Church from the backChurch from the back
Church from the back

I intended to look inside, but for some reason I forgot, daydreaming, or maybe my brain had been shaken a bit on the way up
Looking out from the casino towards the seaLooking out from the casino towards the sea
Looking out from the casino towards the sea

Gamblers cliff can be seen in this photo
Gambler's cliffGambler's cliff
Gambler's cliff

As always, photos do not do the drop from here justice

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