Bokor Mountain remains one of the main tourist sights around Kampot. Formerly a French colonial hill station resort and site of a royal summer vacation home, modern Bokor has made itself much easier to access and has more “attractions.” While many claim that Bokor has lost all appeal to tourists, just scratching the surface one can see a picture of past and present Cambodia.
As with many historic areas around Cambodia, Bokor Mountain and many of the old buildings on it have been restored rather than preserved, and rights to develop the land nearby have been sold to foreign business owners. However, the new road means that visiting Bokor is possible not only during the Water Festival, but year round.
Bokor Mountain is about 37km from Kampot. A taxi will set you back around $40 and minivan tours can be had for $10 per person, but the easiest way to get there is by moto. To get there from Kampot town center, go across the New Bridge and go straight through the roundabout (second right-hand turn for those unfamiliar with roundabout orientation). It is a straight shot on National Road 3 until you reach the checkpoint and park entrance. On a moto, you’ll pay 2,000 riel per vehicle to enter. Make sure to keep the stub for the checkpoint at the top of the hill!
If you are on a moto and didn’t fill up in Kampot, we recommend getting a liter or two at the fuel station just outside of the gate — we saw prices jump 50% on the mountain and places to fuel up can be a bit far between. It is about 29km from the base of the mountain to the old Casino (the 60km round trip is about a liter and a half on your typical 2011 100cc Honda Wave), plus another 12km or so each way if you are visiting the waterfall as well.
Beware of reckless drivers, slick wet sections of road, and pockets of fog and rain that can cluster on the side of the mountain on your ride up. Even if the day is clear down in Kampot, weather going up and on top of Bokor Mountain is unpredictable. After taking on the seven or so hairpin turns on Road 32 up the mountain, you will know you’ve hit smoother riding when you see a giant statue on a small hill close to the road on your right. Lok Yeay Mao is a deity to protect travelers, and this is the biggest and highest shrine to her. On the opposite side of the road, there is a small pull-off area and an old brick and concrete structure. This is the remains of King Norodom Sihanouk’s modest “Black Palace.”
When you get to the checkpoint at the top, there is a traffic circle — take a right to the Popokvil Waterfall, the Japanese Farm, and the field of One Hundred Rice Fields; and left to the new casino, the ghostly Bokor Palace Hotel, the Catholic Church and Wat Sampov Pram. Google Maps is not particularly helpful on Bokor Mountain, but there are signs pointing to many of the main points of interest, and Thansur Bokor Resort has a helpful map.
Popokvil Waterfall is literally the end of the road (OK, you can go about 50m further to an empty guard shack where you realize you need to turn around). Oddly, the parking area is dominated by a billboard for Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, but if you walk in, past the large mint green food area on the left, you will see the river hitting wide, flat blocks of rock that make up the two-tiered falls. There are no official paths here, hike around at your own risk. The falls are most impressive during rainy season.
Coming back towards the roundabout from the waterfall, if you take a right at the big turnoff for Japanese Farm (private, no visitors) and carry on for about 5km you will see the 100 Rice Fields on your left. We didn’t see any official sign marking the site, although we were staring through rain and thick fog (apologies for lack of photo). The 100 Rice Fields are not really rice fields of course. You can see those anywhere in Cambodia. They are a rock formation with grass growing in between the straight-line crevices, allegedly making it look like an aerial view of a bunch of rice fields. If you have time to kill on the mountain or want to take this road as a back way to Wat Sampov Pram and/or the 500 Rice Fields Meditation Area.
Wat Sampov Pram is named for five rounded rocks that are said to resemble boats (sampov) that stand near the path between the buddha statue and the main wat. During our visit, the lower parts of the compound were being renovated, but we had great views around the small pagoda covered in colorful lichens (remember to take your shoes off if you want to go inside) and down the escarpment to the ocean. If you took a left at the roundabout, you can also get to Wat Sampov Pram by turning right just before the Chinese pagoda after the New Casino and following the road past several rows of new shophouse/apartment construction.
Further down this left arm of the road, you will find the Old Catholic Church on the righthand side. The building is striking and although now mostly empty save some modern offerings, has a stillness that can be serene or creepy depending on the weather. Off to the left and behind the church is a path up a small hill; there are some large rocks to climb back here so be careful if knees, ankles or general mobility is an issue. At the top is the remains of the floor of a structure and fragments of old tiles, but on a clear day the view down to the coast is beautiful.
A few more kilometers brings you to the Bokor Palace Hotel, also known as the old casino (right side, parking on the left). You can wander through the old corridors, grand halls and winding stairs and imagine what it must have looked like with chandeliers, huge windows and ornate furnishings. Some of the walls (interior and exterior) have been patched up, but it retains that sense that “things happened here.” Off of the courtyard behind the old casino is a low wall and, yes, more great views down the steep side of the mountain to the plains and rice flats below and out to sea.
The top of Bokor Mountain is often misty and much cooler than the area below, so we recommend taking a raincoat or at least long sleeves, even if it is not rainy season.