Sunday, February 23, 2014

17. Kampot - Bokor Mountain

85 km

This is the best road in all of Cambodia, hand down!

 The Chinese-built 40 km road up 3,500 ft. Bokor Mountain from either Kampot or Sihanoukville is a fabulous motorcyclist's dream come true! It connects the flat coastal regions of Kampot with a newly-constructed hotel and casino complex of extraordinary ugliness, also Chinese-designed. But let's close our eyes and forget about the casino.

Big Buddha statue, half-way up the mountain, popular with visiting monks.

We enjoy taking pictures of ourselves! Locals visiting Bokor Mountain.

The road is fabulous, the almost 360 degree views from the top to the Gulf of Thailand to the Northwest and Vietnam are great, and, last but not least, the unfinished French casino, build in the 1920s, the Grand Bokor Hotel & Casino is an impressive, ghost-town site. French authorities conceived the mountain resort as a refuge from the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh; however, the French abandoned the hill complex twice, for the first time during the first Indochina War in 1940, and later at the eve of the Khmer Rouge horror regime. The Khmer Rouge occupied the hill for a long time, resisting the Vietnamese 'liberation forces', much longer than Phnom Penh, for example. In fact, up into the 1990s the Khmer Rouge still held some remote positions on the mountain, some of the last one's in the country.

French-built 'Grand Bokor Hotel & Casino', unfinished since some 90 years.

Of course, for movie goers, Bokor Hill and the ruins of the old French casino are known for being the site of the final showdown in 'City of Ghosts' (2002, Matt Damon, Gerard Depardieu) and 'R-Point' (2004, Arpointeu, South Korea.)

Visitors at the big master plan model, showing the extent of the development on Bokor Mountain.

The Chinese and Cambodian investors (on the Cambodian side again Sokimex/Sokha. lease for 100 years from the Cambodian government ) hope for a massive development up on the hill, a huge physical model in a metal building shows the extent of the plans. But maybe history will proof again that Bokor Hill is resistant to such folly and the mega projects are abandoned once more, for whatever reason.

50,000 inhabitants?
Model of the Bokor Mountain development

French-designed Grand Bokor Hotel & casino (1920), front right.

What can be seen until now is of such mediocrity and ugliness that one can only hope for an early interruption of the plans. In 'City of Ghosts' the architect character unveils the plans for a mega casino adjacent to the fantastic French building, and one is shocked by that thought and the look of it (Quote: "...Indoor shooting range for M16, AK47 and grenade launchers..."). But it is just a move, right? Well, the movie simply was ahead of its time by some ten years, as we can see by the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort hotel.

Inside the French casino ruin.

During the rainy season the mountain is typically in the clouds, it rains very frequently. Even now, in the dry season, clouds move in and obscure the panoramic view.

However, the road leading up is great! One has to pay a small fee (Motorcycle 50 cents), and has the pleasure of "100 curves" and excellent asphalt!

The hill is popular with locals who come out here in mini-busses to see the Povokvil waterfall (no water during the dry season), the French casino ruin, the old French catholic church, Prince Sihanouk's palace, and to have a picnic.

Dennis, his girlfriend and myself are exploring all asphalt there is to be used by a motorcycle and circle the mountain with great enjoyment!

Dennis and his girlfriend head down first to get gas, I stay a few minutes at the steel building which houses the big physical model of the development. As it later turns out, I was passed on my way down by Guillaume and his wife Laure, the young couple from Paris, who care touring the world on their HONDA Africa Twin. But more of that later.

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