One Ghostly Cambodian Ruin

It used to be a retreat. 90 years ago, the French spent 9 months building Bokor Hill Station up as the ultimate getaway: escape from the miserable heat and humidity of Phnom Penh. 900 laborers died while building it, but to the French all these ghosts were worth it. There was a casino, a ballroom, a hotel, and when all the sinning was done, a Catholic church.

But this was a century ago.

In the 1940s, the French fled. Cambodia was no longer theirs. The wealthy Cambodians, and even a few royals, moved in and took over. The dancing and gambling and whoring continued anew. Life was rich. When too much was lost, it’s been said, the unlucky rollers would just hurl themselves off the cliff… a fast, drunk, rolling death. They weren’t all suicides, either. The fog rolls in thick, fast and unexpected like a Val Lewton movie. A single wrong step, and you’ll slip out of sight. One minute, it’s a clear blue sky. The next, you can’t see your feet.

“The ghosts,” locals say. “The ghosts here are many.”

In 1972, the year I was born, Bokor Hill was taken by the Khmer Rouge. It was the end of the ballrooms and casinos and Catholic churches. Instead of fine wines and romps and giggles, this casino became a space for target practice. It was a Pol Pot hotspot, and stayed that way until the 1990s. It was one of the last few places for the Khmer Rouge to keep a grip. How many lives were lost here during their time? How many lives were lost across Cambodia? How many ghosts are here?

The fog rolls in again. The walls are moldering and rotting in the damp air, and collapsing. So are the floors. I’d feel a step give under me, a significant downwards shift, and I’d move back. “Maybe I’ll try another room,” I’d laugh, nervously.

Bullet holes still line the walls. Green and orange fungus wallpaper it all. There’s human feces on the floor, grass growing from unlikely places, and graffiti absolutely everywhere. Some of it is in Cambodian, but much of it is foreign. “RedRum,” some cad carved into a stairwell. Comparisons to the Overlook Hotel are possible.

Down the street… if street is the right word to use, as it’s long gone… a bombed out post office and the crumbling Catholic church remain. The altar has been cleared, and the walls are plastered in scrawling. Outside, a tile pathway has been ripped up, and is mostly concealed by overgrowth.

Three years ago, the entire area was leased, and a new road is today being built. A golf course is on its way. So is a hotel. A new hotel. Perhaps there’ll even be a casino. Perhaps it’s time for some new ghosts, as well.

Hipstamatic pix by me. Others by Woo

Historical Wonders, Modern Ruins /

12 Responses to One Ghostly Cambodian Ruin

  1. blake says:

    So spooky! Next AO adventure should involve an overnight campout in the ballroom.

    • Dean Pickles says:

      Now that would be amazing…. or we could just roast marshmallows at the Abandoned Disneyland near Badaling….?

  2. Kowloon says:

    A Korean horror film was actually shot there, ghost story of a vietnam soldier squad getting there to rescue another missing squad calling for help.
    Check it out :

    • Dean Pickles says:

      Oooh… “The best military-guys-meets-supernatural-evil flick since Dog Soldiers“? Sounds awesome! There’s also City of Ghosts, I’ve heard, which I haven’t seen either… I guess I need to see both of these!

  3. Kowloon says:

    Man, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this flick makes The Shining look like child’s play. It’s not really bad either though, some good ideas, not your average summer popcorn slasher, it’s watchable. But anyways, my point was to say it really features the Bokor scenery prominently, which precisely led me to try and learn more about it, thus directing me to your website – and I like it 😉

  4. Mark says:

    I just came back from there today. Its a shame after I looked at your pictures, but in the long run I guess it is a good thing. It has been cleaned up. No moss or plants growing anywhere & has been giving a re-sealing in a new coat of concrete. I guess it will last a bit longer now as a popular tourist attraction, as it seemed. I only saw one human poo on this visit 🙂

    • Andy Deemer says:

      So sorry to hear it’s been cleaned up… half of the charm was the desecration. Would love to see pix if you post them somewhere!

  5. Sroy says:

    Jan 2014: we visited the hill station last week: there is now a new, massive, empty Chinese casino on the way to the old hotel. According to Wikipedia the park (as many others these days, like Ream national park) has been leased to a Chinese company for 99 years. On the upside, the road up to the park is now done and spectacular.
    The old Palace looks very different these days: it’s been cleaned up and now looks like a white ghost. The plan is to re-open it.
    I would have loved to see it in the state it was during your visit!

  6. Sroy says:

    Oops please edit my previous comment. We visited in jan 2015.
    We also found an abandoned, new Chinese resort while in ream national park.
    We could see a structure on Google earth and got a dirt bike to get to it. By Silver Beach.
    You have a very interesting site!

  7. Sroy says:

    Hello again!
    I posted some of my Bokor pictures on Flickr.
    If I did this right, a search under SROY41 in Flickr should make them accessible.
    Best regards from a jet-lagged couple in Calgary,

  8. Pingback: កំពត – Joe in Khmer

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