That’s Bokor Hill Station.
Kept as a reminder of a past not to be repeated, this is a full guide to visiting this eerie destination located just outside of the charming Kampot town.
Quick History of Bokor Hill Station
If you have ever been to Cambodia you know the heat and humidity here is no joke. Nothing we can’t bear but back in the early 1900s, the French imperialists decided they just couldn’t.
So a refuge for the elite and the military was built up in the colder air of Bokor Mountain, the second-highest point in the country.
Fun fact: The highest point in Cambodia is Phnom Aural, which has an elevation of 1,810 meters. Bokor National Park peak is at 1,081 meters.
Instead of a simple outpost, Bokor Hill Station was a luxurious resort that boasted numerous amenities such as a grand hotel, post office, church, cinema, and even a royal residence for the Cambodian king.
The French colonial government spent a fortune building the hill station, which was renowned for its beautiful scenery, cool climate, and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and coastline.
But as no colonial story is, in reality, glorious, the blood, sweat, and lives of thousands of Cambodians went into building the station in under 9 months. The death toll was nearly 1000.
And as if doomed from the start, the station‘s glory days were short-lived. With the onset of World War II, the French left the country and lost the colony. Whatever efforts the French attempted to regain control of Cambodia failed as the Khmer Rouge regime took over the country in 1975.
Bokor Hill Station was abandoned and fell into ruin…
A lot’s been done recently to partially restore the area and this eerie forgotten land now attracts tourists from around the world.
We could argue that the restorations destroyed its appeal but well, it’s still worth a visit!
Also read: 3 Days in Siem Reap – The Perfect Itinerary
Top Attractions at Bokor Hill
Today, visitors can explore the ruins of the grand hotel, church, medical center, as well as the old royal residence. The hill station is also a popular destination for nature lovers, as it is surrounded by a national park with lush forests, waterfalls, and wildlife.
Some of the top attractions at Bokor Hill are:
1. Giant Statue of Lok Yeay Mao
Lok Yeay Mao is a revered figure in Cambodian culture, often depicted as an elderly woman and associated with protecting women, children, and families from evil spirits. The statue is located by the road up the mountain and with its 29 meters you really can’t miss it!
2. Popokvil Waterfall
The waterfall is located about 8km from the entrance of Bokor Hill Station, and it is a great place to visit on a day trip from Kampot (or even Kep). The waterfall is about 20 meters tall, surrounded by lush greenery and natural pools where you can swim or relax in the nearby rocks.
Hot tip: Popokvil Waterfall is honestly quite touristy but there’s a secret one following the river! We learnt about it from Leighton’s post which you can see here. He visited with the help of a guide, and since we didn’t go, we can’t say if you can do it by yourself.
3. Wat Sampov Pram
This Buddhist temple sits right on the edge of a cliff! It’s still used to this day and one of its highlights is a giant statue of a reclining Buddha, which is said to be one of the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia.
Fun fact: the temple is also known as “Five Boats Pagoda“ due to its five large rocks shaped like sailboats facing the sea.
4. Bokor Palace Hotel
The most famous attraction in Bokor Hill, the Grand Hotel was originally intended as a refuge for for the French colonial elite. Located right on top of the hill, it offers stunning views of the surrounding forest and coastline.
Fun fact: in addition to its historical significance, the hotel is also rumored to be haunted, with reports of ghostly apparitions and strange sounds 👻
It’s been renovated into a six-star hotel and re-inaugurated in 2018 as the Le Bokor Palace. It was closed when we visited in the first months of 2023 and it was already getting all moldy again…
5. The Old Catholic Church
Despite being abandoned for many years, the church – built entirely out of stone – remains remarkably well-preserved, with its towering spires and ornate stained glass windows still intact.
The interior of the church is dimly lit, giving it a mysterious and almost eerie feel. Visitors can walk through the nave to the altar, which is still adorned with religious statues and symbols, although the walls are filled with nasty graffiti.
6. Military Buildings
Best described as ruins, these buildings have not been renovated and are still consumed by the jungle and that The Last of Us mold we mentioned before. There’s a training and research center, an old hospital, a water tower, and something that looks like a block of accommodations.
7. The Black Palace
The Black Palace was built in 1937 by King Sisowath Monivong, who ended up spending his last years of life here. The palace is more of a cottage than a palace and it was used by his successor, King Norodom Sihanouk, as a summer residence for his wife and children. Some other buildings were also built around it, such as a royal dining hall and a guesthouse.
How to Visit Bokor Hill Station
Getting to Bokor Hill is relatively easy, as it is situated just one hour from the center of Kampot. The road leading up to the hill is well-conserved and offers a scenic drive with plenty of greenery and wildlife (including lots of monkeys!). You can usually see everything in half a day and there’s no entrance fee to visit the complex.
There are two ways to visit the hill station: on your own with a rented car or motorbike, or joining a tour. Let’s break it down:
🛵 DIY: Most of the tourists visit the area by themselves, usually by renting their own transportation. You can easily rent a scooter in the center of Kampot for around 5-10 euros a day (we also spent around 3 euros on fuel). If you prefer to rent a car, you can expect to pay around 60 euros a day.
There’s only one road up the mountain and the attractions are all located very close to one another so finding your way up there is pretty easy.
🎟️ Guided Tour: If you prefer to join a tour, we’d recommend one of the following which includes pick up and drop off from your hotel in Kampot as well as an English speaker Guide:
If you’re in Phnom Phen and want to do a full-day trip to Bokor Hill Station, then this tour might also be a good option for you.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Bokor Hill Station is from November to April, which is the dry season in Cambodia. The rainy season, from May to October, can bring heavy rainfall and flash floods, which can make travel up the mountain more difficult.
🌡️ As you ascend to an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level, you will find cooler temperatures and refreshing mountain air. So, if you are going very early in the morning, we recommend you take a sweater or a coat with you!
🥐 The only place where you can have something to eat at the top of the mountain is the Champa Café by Thansur Sokha Hotel which may or may not be open at the time of your visit, so we’d recommend taking some snacks with you.
🛌 If you want to spend the night on the hill, you can do so at the Thansur Sokha Hotel or at Le Bokor Palace (although they’re currently accepting reservations, we recommend calling and checking beforehand if it’s actually operational).