Sunday, April 11, 2010


My next stop was Kampot, a seaside town in the south. In the past, Cambodia had been under attack from both Thailand and Vietnam, so eventually France offered protection in exchange for control over the country. Cambodia agreed, and thus began years of French influence, which is most noticeable in towns like Kampot. One of the strangest and coolest things I saw in Kampot was the Bokor Hill Station. It was established in the 1920's as a kind of resort for the Europeans who were living in Cambodia. There are other hill stations in places like India and Africa, but what is unusual about the Bokor Hill Station is how often it's been taken over and used by guerrilla fighters, first when Cambodia fought an independence war in the 1940's, and later when the Khmer Rouge were fighting in the 70's, 80's, and 90's.

First, we hiked up part of the mountain, in the foggy jungle.

On the way, we checked out the former vacation residence of King Sihanouk, although he never actually used it. Notice the strange red moss growing on the walls, and the bullet holes.

Then we kept hiking, until we reached the actual hill station, which was a grassy area surrounding a reservoir. This picture isn't too impressive, but I thought it would be good to give a general idea of the area.

We ate a quick lunch at the station (we = myself and a bunch of sulky Europeans) and then went off to explore on our own. The buildings right near the lake are a bunch of small, abandoned hotels, like the one below.

The insides are covered with moss and rust. There is broken glass and dirt everywhere, with weeds and flowers growing in every crack. It's a pretty incredible sight. Here are some more remnants of a small, colonial resort town:


Post Office


In the distance, up a winding road, is the main attraction of the hill station - a large, opulent former casino. I've tried to find some photographs of what it looked like in its heyday, but a cursory internet search turned up nothing. You'll have to use your imagination. Below are some photographs of the burned-up casino exterior, the ransacked ballrooms, and the battle-wrecked walls.

In addition to the fascinating clash of Colonialism and Communism, it was just a very eerie and atmospheric place to be. I know this is going to sound melodramatic, but it smelled like death. At this point, I've been in fairly close quarters with dead animals and a dead body, and I know what it smells like. I'm sure, in this case, it was due to something animal-like, but still - it lent a sense of morbid reality and history to the place. I was standing where people lived, and probably where people died.

After our trip to the Hill Station, and a sobering talk with a Cambodian man who had lost his father during the Khmer Rouge, we took a boat ride down the river. It was very, very beautiful and we stopped at a tiny inlet at sunset. I thought a lot about things I've since forgotten, but I mostly just felt lucky to be there.

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