After flying over my mortorbike handles and badly hurting my ankle, I decided against my better judgement that I “didn’t want to waste the day,” and set out on a 20 mile motorcycle trek to the top of Bokor Mountain. I didn’t know what to expect and the whole ride was quite strange. All I knew is that were about to tear down some eerie historic buildings and replace them with an effing massive casino and resort on top of this crazy mountain in this random Cambodian town, and I had to see it for myself.
Apparently prior to 2011, the top of the mountain was only accessible by jeep but because of the casino project, travelers can now blaze up world-class roads. The ascent was steep but smooth. At the top of the mountain, there are 3 main historic sites: an abandoned hill station, an eerie, burned-out palace hotel and casino, and a catholic church which can only be described as creepy (I will share pictures of the creepy church in my next entry). Interesting fact: all of these sites were the setting for the climax of the 2002 Matt Dillon crime thriller, “City of Ghosts.” I really wanted to see and walk through the old casino, as I had heard they would soon be tearing it down, but it was closed off and covered in scaffolding. The construction of the new resort and casino (called the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort) is well underway, and there is even a stop mid way up the mountain where you can see a small scale model of the entire project. I was in total disbelief, I just keep looking at it and thinking “what the hell?!”
Along the route, road workers were working brick by brick, bucket by bucket to finish this new road. There were hundreds of workers along the 20 mile stretch installing lamp posts and guard rails under the hot Cambodian sun. I took my time winding up the mountain, stopping to chat with the workers and take some portraits of them. Some were eager to smile for the camera, others were confused, wondering why I would want to photograph them. I chatted with them as best I could given the language barrier and tried to understand how they felt about this new casino on top of their town’s historic mountaintop. Most seem pleased, as it would provide many with jobs, but a few expressed concern, speaking about the natural landscape and history of the mountain top.
Bokor mountain is not only a national park, it was a once a resort town for party goers, built by the French in the 1920′s, then abandoned in the 50s, and used as holdout for the Khmer Rouge in the 70s. It is ridden with scars of war, and the vibe is downright haunting. It was even named one of the top ten haunted places in the world by Travelihub. I wouldn’t disagree. There’s a lot more I could write about Bokor, and in fact, I returned the following day with a fellow traveler Steve to experience it again….there’s just something about being up there… it just gives you a strange feeling… the natural beauty and the colonial history now clashing with the sparkling modernity and resort for the rich…there’s even a structure that resembles a UFO, as if it weren’t weird enough up there.
Here are a few additional reads about Bokor, if you’re interested. The Bokor Palace. Faded Grandeur.
All images copyrighted by nyc travel photographer Erica Camille. Do not use without permission.