It was built in 1925 and reopened in 1962 and 2018.
If the walls of the Le Bokor Hill Palace could talk, they’d be screaming tales of debauchery, devastation, death, and a great renaissance.
It has had a difficult journey, but it is now a hilltop oasis of luxury and exquisite hospitality. It has undergone many changes as a result of decades of war and turmoil, but it is now a jewel on the Cambodian skyline.
The Official Launch…
Its history dates back to 1919, when construction on the top of Cambodia’s mist-covered Bokor Mountain began for French colonial immigrants seeking to escape the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh.
The 1925 Bokor Hill Palace Hotel was the centerpiece. It was decadent. The three-story art deco building was built in Palladian design and decorated in Italian. Massive fireplace, gorgeous parlor, large dining area, and 18 rooms with bathrooms and electric heaters greeted guests. Large terraces and pergolas offered views of the “Opal Coast”
That evening, a small group of guests were treated to a spectacular six-course feast that included gazpacho, crawfish prepared in a “American style,” luscious foie gras, and strawberries with Chantilly cream for dessert. The final visitor didn’t leave until five in the morning, so the hotel was completely empty by then. To think, that was just the beginning! The wealthy local elite, foreigners, and even monarchs were forced to walk a hard mountain road built by prisoners over the next approximately 20 years in order to get to their refuge. This road connected two mountain passes.
The Dark Years…
In 1946, the First Indochina War broke out, putting an end to the celebrations that had been going on. After the hotel was shut down, it was used as a military hospital for a short time before the hill station was completely deserted. The Khmer Issarak is a guerrilla group that fights against communism and monarchy. They are also known by their other name, “The Black Dragon.” They broke into the hotel when no one was there and ransacked it.
The hotel was a burned-out, weathered shell of what it once was at the end of the 1960s.
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In those days…
Around the beginning of the 1960s, the hill station was once again open to the public. Following extensive restorations, the hotel has reclaimed its former splendor and grandeur, and now also features a glitzy casino. The hotel was filled to capacity with rich Cambodians who had come to bet and party.
However, disturbing tales of people killing themselves because of their addiction to video games have been spread through hearsay. It was said that a large number of dissatisfied gamblers committed suicide by throwing themselves from the spectacular cliffs located behind the hotel after wagering their entire life savings on a single round of dice.
City of the Ghosts
After Sihanouk was deposed in 1970, the highland station was once again compelled to close its doors due to lack of funding. In 1972, the Khmer Rouge took control of Bokor Mountain and created strongholds there. They hung on for several months after taking control of the mountain. In the early 1990s, one of the last strongholds held by the Khmer Rouge was located at Bokor Hill Palace.
Following the conclusion of the war, the hotel, the Catholic church, and the royal mansions were all deserted. The crumbling walls covered in red lichen and the empty hallways covered in graffiti mesmerized the curious travelers who visited the abandoned hill station. The graffiti filled the empty hallways. The Cambodians rapidly began to refer to the hill outpost as the “ghost city,” believing that it was a final resting place for the spirits of the soldiers who had lost their lives there.
The mountain resort was made famous during this time by the Hollywood film City of Ghosts (2002), starring Matt Dillon, James Caan, and Gérard Depardieu.
The Risen One…
The historic hotel eventually reopened in 2018 after being closed for several years for the purpose of undergoing an extensive renovation by Sokha Hotels & Resorts, which resulted in the establishment becoming even more lavish and spectacular than it had been in the past. The historical grandeur of the hotel has been preserved by preserving many of the building’s original features, maintaining the establishment’s sumptuous colonial ambience, and, of course, preserving its expansive views of the shore.
Visitors are invited to stay in luxurious accommodations that feature hand-made furniture and gorgeous Italian furnishings. The French colonial era is depicted at the Thansur Restaurant, which features a menu that dates back to the early days of the hotel along with a few dishes that have been updated.
War’s ghosts have been put to rest, making room once more for romantic meals, dancing, and laughter.
There are several rumors that they intend to renovate the outdated hotel and build a cutting-edge casino and dining facility. If true, it’s really sad to think that the history ingrained in the building that once housed Bokor Hill Station will soon be lost to commercial development.
Most tourists only spend a day at Bokor, but if you happen to be passing through on your way from Kampot, stop by Le Bokor Hill Palace for a drink and to take in the scenery from the terrace at the back of the palace. If you like to stay for an additional night, room rates begin at $466 (£345). The neighboring Thansur Sokha Hotel has accommodations starting at around $70 (£55).
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