Trip Start Feb 01, 2008
Trip End Jun 2008

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

We arrived in Kampot expecting to only stay a day or two.  Just enough time to get in, see the haunted Bokor Hill Station and get out.  Somehow though we got sucked into the laid back, relatively untraveled riverside culture of the town and ended up staying twice as long as we expected.   In truth, we just didn't want to leave Cambodia.  As I've already explained ad nauseum, Cambodians are awesome and Cambodia is awesome.   It is just the best country EVER!

The highlight of the Kampot area is the Bokor Hill Station.  It's quite literally a ghost town built by the French colonists in the 1920's.  It rests on a 3540 ft plateau on the edge of the Elephant Mountains reaching almost to the coast.    It was built as a resort and they spared no expense.  It consists of a hotel, casino, church, library, post office, police station, a water tower and even a little umbrella kiosk to escape the midday sun.   After the French abandoned it  in the 40's, it became a popular destination for rich Cambodians.  And then the Khmer Rouge took it over in the 70's and it became a strategic location for them when the Vietnamese invaded in 1979.

To get to the top requires an hour and a half of your time and an excellent seat cushion (they're currently working on the unpaved roads to make it more accessible for it's third reincarnation as a modern resort).  Once on top, the plateau opens up into a small community of run down, abandoned buildings.  Then the fog rolls in.   It must be some sort of atmospheric phenomenon or maybe it's just the ghosts.  For some reason though, Bokor Hill is perpetually enveloped by fog.  Sometimes it's half a mile visibility and other times it's 20 feet.  The reason we know it's ALWAYS foggy is because from Kampot you can see the peak of the mountain where the hill station lies.  And without fail, morning, day and night, there is a cloud covering just that piece of the mountain.

Cambodians are incredibly superstitious.  We heard more than a few local ghost stories while we were there and the looks on the faces of the narrators clearly showed that they believed in what they were telling.   The same matter-of-factness was in our tour guide's voice when he explained that the casino was desperately haunted.  Apparently the Vietnamese were bunkered down in the casino and the Khmer Rouge were stationed in the church half a mile across town.  A lot of people died in both buildings when the Vietnamese invaded, and apparently those people are still rolling the dice and shuffling the cards.

In Cambodia's raw, unpolished tourism, I've discovered that breaking away from the crowd tends to provide the most rewarding experiences.   So as we entered the crumbling casino Tracy and the tour group went up and I went down.   Tripping across the the holes in the first floor, I realized that most haunted part of any building was just below my feet.  I then went on a mission to find the stairs leading to the basement.   

It's hard to describe what it felt like as the fog rolled through the few broken windows of the bottom floor.  It was much different than Tuol Sleng where there was just this incredibly heavy energy.  In that basement...by myself... surrounded by darkness, I could feel something(s) watching me.  I got goosebumps, the hair stood up on he back of my neck...whatever horror movie cliche you can think of, it applied.  It was creepiest experience of my life.  

Cambodian Cultural Difference - Women's Pajamas: It's just another thing that makes Cambodians so endearing.  One of current trends in feminine fashion is matching pajama bottoms and tops.  Day or night, casual or formal, flannel or cotton, flowers or bunny rabbits, it doesn't matter as long as you can hop straight from the office into bed without changing your clothes. 
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