Bokor Mountain Hill Station was built in 1924 by the French elite as an escape from the heat of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Only to be abandoned some two decades later the ruins are now being restored. The crumbling art deco building rises out of the clouds like a ghost house from an Enid Blyton book. Part of the Cardamom Mountain range stretching across the South of Cambodia and creeping on into Thailand there are new species to be discovered in this primal place. It’s said the soft padding of uncounted wild tigers still move through the undergrowth. There are flora and fauna that no books contain descriptions for.
Currently adding a new chapter to Bokors’ recent history is the petroleum and land development company Sokimex. As they say on their website “Bokor Mountain majestically overlooks the coastal town of Kampot like a sleeping giant…Well not for long”. To wake the giant Sokimex talk of a long term plan to build ‘Bokor City’ but for now they concentrate on a huge hotel, a casino and ‘Buddha Land’. The workers live in shanty houses of sorts, some in the old catholic church, not so long ago inhabited by the Khmer Rouge. Gun eyesights remain in mould ridden walls. They are paid well I am told, the workers, women alongside the men on building sites with contrasting flashes of Hello Kitty jumpers as they wield angle grinders in the afternoon rain.
There are ghosts up here so the locals tell me. ‘Many, many ghosts.’ There are stories that a ledge I stand on that hovers over a forest so deep and lush, so loud with cicada’s and beasties with no name, was a place where the Khmer Rouge literally tipped non-supporters of Pol Pots’ regime over the edge from the back of trucks. Although we walked for a good hour or so through the thick forest to get here the last of our journey, through the construction area, was made in a flat bed truck.
Our last stop is at ‘Five Boat Temple’ named so because of five boat shaped rocks that remind me of Dartmoors’ great lava stones. We walk amongst the pagodas and shrines of the few mountain dwelling monks. Coated in a rust like mould the buildings the same deep orange as the mens robes. Macaques call ‘whooooop whooooop’, through the haze of the clouds. As we approach a shrine area our guides give us a monkey photo opportunity. I got a little too close…best head massage I have ever had. What contrasts Cambodia contains.