Bokor Hill Station – Mountain escape from Kampot, Cambodia

The most popular day tour for visitors to Kampot is a visit to the Bokor Hill Station. It includes a visit of a nearby temple, a giant Buddha statue, an abandoned palace and a church ruin. While none of the sights would be worth a trip on their own, it makes for a relaxed day trip through the countryside with some interesting sights. If Kampot is on your itinerary, you didn’t come for the action and excitement, so this daytrip goes with the theme.

Kampot is all about relaxing by the riverside, a swim in the cool river and enjoying the views at sunset, plus doing a lot of nothing. It’s a place to let your thoughts wander and contemplate life. If you want to do a little more than “nothing”, the popular tour of Bokor Hill Station advertised all over town is one option.
Bokor Hill Station was built by the French as a retreat during colonial times. The hills and lakes enjoy a cooler climate than the lowlands an coast, making for a pleasant stay. You also get great views over the surrounding lands and the ocean.
Today it is a national park, leased for 99 years by Chinese investors. On the road up, you’ll see a few parking spots giving you those views. Halfway up the road, you’ll find the abandoned “black palace”. It consists of three small ruins that formed a former country retreat of the king. Across the road you’ll find the Yao Mao monument, a 30m high Buddha statue.
Near the top of the hill is the ruin of a small stone church, the former Catholic Church of Christ. Just a short ride away is the Sampov Pram Pagoda and temple complex. The small temple is perched on the rock cliff, which makes for a nice views! It’s still an operating temple and the most interesting site of the Bokor Hill Station area.
The guest house on top of the hill was destroyed during the civil war and left as a haunting ruin. To avoid disappointment up front – the ruin has been “renovated” and turned into a hotel, eliminating the main attraction of the trip. There is nothing to see here anymore. Near the station is a massive casino development which is ruining the views and probably will destroy the relaxed mountain feel sooner or later. During the rainy season, you can add a stop at the Popokvil Waterfall, but it was dry during my visit.

Travel Tips: All of these sights are packaged into day tours offered in Kampot. They all still use the photos of the haunting ruin in their advertisements, so it’s a bummer that the main attraction is gone. Some also promise a lovely lunch by the waterfall – which was replaced by a plate of cold rice at a roadside stall in my case. None of the sights are worth the trip on their own and the tour guide was really a driver and didn’t add any useful information to the trip. Also be aware that you are not really buying a specific “tour” the different drivers will swap guests at random, depending on whose van is full or not.
I’d recommend to skip the tours and instead rent a motorcycle for the lovely ride up the hill through the National Park. You can check out the small sites, enjoy the views and have lunch at a place of your choosing for a relaxed day – before heading pack to Kampot for some sunset drinks and doing more of nothing!

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