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Have you heard of Bokor Hill Station in Cambodia? A French resort of fancy villas and casinos,
abandoned in the forties, then hidden out in by various resistance groups until
the seventies. It was built on top of a
misty mountain (so the colonialists could escape the heat and humidity of Phnom
Penh) and wandering the derelict hotel, curled about by clouds, it feels like
the build up at the start of a scary film right before someone goes missing.
The atmosphere is made even stranger by how you have to
travel there: Bokor is a national park, one of the only places in Cambodia with
wild tigers, but was sold to a Chinese construction company who are clearing
vast swathes of jungle to build new hotels and casinos. Tourists can only travel to the Hill Station
with a Chinese approved guide in the back of a Chinese approved pickup
truck. But the building work has made
part of the road up the mountain prone to landslides and apparently a French
tourist lost a leg and sued, so all foreigners (not Cambodians – they don’t
have insurance so don’t need to be compensated in the event of an injury) have
to get out and hike several kilometres through the jungle before it’s safe to
meet up with the road again. The route
is so steep you basically have to climb up strangler fig roots like a ladder –
it really makes you wonder how bad the road is if this is the ‘safe’
alternative. Meeting tigers is pretty
rare but the guides all have rifles just in case. No one is allowed to say anything critical
about China or mention environmental issues during the trip or else they will
be expelled from the mountain.
I could go on for pages with the stories the Cambodian guide
told me– a truly weird place.
That sounds like an incredibly fascinating place and thank you for sharing that story. I’m going to google it now… Did you actually visit it yourself?
I did visit although I was unsure of my decision to do so: the Cambodian guides claimed they got to keep all the money they earned but I’m sure the Chinese took a healthy cut. That’s Cambodia all over, though. There are several places similar to Bokor – Western style luxury that was abandoned under the Khmer Rouge and left to rot. The seafront at Kep was lined with trendy villas in the sixties and now it looks like a post apocalyptic Tracy Island. But not for long: they’re being bought up and knocked down to make way for modern resorts.
It sounds absolutely incredible. It’s also a shame these things won’t be there for much longer. I doubt everyone appreciates the dying earth school of architecture!
It is a shame – but I think the value we place on old objects, buildings and places is a very Western thing which people from other cultures find a bit weird. Anyway, I always enjoy your abandoned/dying earth posts.
© 2013 Mark Charan Newton