Bokor National Park overview
This immense national park in Kampot Province covers an area of 1,400 km² and incorporates mountains, ruins and old French colonial settlements – making it an awe-inspiring place like nowhere else in the world.
The park is also known as Preah Monivog Bokor National Park and Phnom Bokor National Park. This is only one of two parks in Cambodia that is protected by the ASEAN Heritage Parks scheme in Cambodia. Located in the highlands of the Damrei Mountains, most of this national park is located 1,000 metres above sea level, with the highest peak being Phnom Bokor – which is 1,080 metres and the namesake of the national park as a whole. This also marks the second highest point in the whole of Cambodia. ‘Bokor’ itself is a Khmer word that means ‘hump of an ox’, which is what the mountains in the national park are said to resemble. Bokor National Park is also part of the Cardamom Mountains, which span across south west Cambodia and into Thailand.
Get off-the-beaten track, imagine mountain communities from previous eras and make the most of one of Asia’s most celebrated green spaces in the Bokor National Park.
See and Do
The Bokor Hill Station is one of the most talked-about places to visit in Bokor National Park. Built by French colonialists in the 1920s, Bokor Hill Station refers to a collection of buildings built by the settlers, which were designed to collectively form a luxurious mountain resort. Given the height of the location, it was particularly attractive for those who wanted to escape the heat of cities such as Phnom Penh during the hottest months of the year. There was a hotel, palace and functional buildings such as a post office, which has since been demolished. The hill station was only used for less than 30 years before it was abandoned due to the Indochina War. It was used again for a short time in the 1960s before the Khmer Rouge took over the area in the 1970s. Nowadays, many of the buildings are abandoned and accessible to view by curious visitors.
Some buildings in the vicinity of the Bokor Hill Station have been restored or added to, and this includes the modern Thansur Sokha Hotel. This lavish resort has a wide choice of amenities, including a spa, casino and multiple bars and restaurants. For those who want to stay in luxury while exploring the impressive surroundings of Bokor National Park, this is the place to go. A nearby lake is a place where kayaking, canoeing and fishing can all be undertaken.
One of the most popular ruins in the Bokor Hill Station area is the Catholic church, which was constructed when the French colonists first arrived in the 1920s. Surrounded by verdant jungle scenery, this brick church is an unusual sight in an otherwise remote Cambodian region. As well as a remnant of times past, this spot also offers magnificent views over the national park.
The man-made features of Bokor National Park make up just a small, albeit popular, proportion of what the park has to offer. With an abundance of nature and wildlife, there are ample guided hiking opportunities available. The verdant forests here are home to a range of rare animals, from the Indian elephant, the tiger and the sun bear, to leopards, macaques and red muntjac deer. There are also hundreds of species of birds that call the jungle in Bokor National Park ‘home’, including many amazingly colourful species. A natural phenomenon popular to visit in the park is 100 Rice Fields (Veal Sre Mouy Roy), which is an unexpected geographic wonder. Although it is a field of rocks in reality, many say it looks like a series of rice paddies.
A visit to the Povokvil Waterfalls also makes a good hiking opportunity, which involves around a three-hour round trip on foot. It’s an uphill trek through pristine greenery, and it’s totally worth it.
The old Black Palace isn’t too far from the waterfalls either. This was the former summer palace of King Sihanouk, who ruled between 1941 and 1955. It has been abandoned for a few decades now, but is still a fascinating place to catch a glimpse of.
As well as embarking on hiking tours, many visitors to Kampot or Kep decide to hire a motorcycle or moped and have an adventurous self-guided tour of the main attractions in the national park. For those who like a little more comfort, tours in four wheel drives are also popular.
Culture and Arts
A place of history and nature, Bokor National Park isn’t a destination with an abundance of artistic attractions, but there are some interesting points of creativity to look out for.
One of these is a 29 metre high statue of Lok Yeay Mao, a mythical heroine from Cambodian Buddhism. Particularly popular in Kampot Province, Lok Yeay Mao is seen as being the protector of travellers and hunters.
Wat Sampov Pram is a temple in the mountains in the national park that is worth visiting as much for its religious roots as for the amazing statues and artistic architectural features. Built by King Monivong in 1924, this is a working temple that is home to a community of monks. It’s a popular place for visitors to the area to visit, but it also attracts a steady stream of Buddhist worshippers. The monks regularly have meditation, music and chanting sessions and they welcome visitors to take part or observe. Many of these religious folk bring food offerings, which also has the effect of attracting local monkeys. Some of the worst monkey offenders are now in cages as the monks have had to limit the effect they have on religious offerings! As well as the cultural insights to be found here, the location also offers amazing views over the national park when the clouds aren’t too low.
For those who want to soak up some of the spiritual feeling of Bokor National Park, there is an area on Bokor Mountain known as the Bokor Meditation Areas. This is said to be a particularly powerful location for meditating, improving energy flow and feeling healthier and happier. Some local resorts run guided meditation sessions here.
Festivals and Events
The Damrei Mountains are sacred in Khmer culture, so Bokor National Park and Wat Sampov Pram in particular are popular places to visit for Buddhist Festivals and holidays.
One of the most important of these holidays is Khmer New Year, Cambodia’s biggest annual celebration, which falls in around April each year. In Bokor National Park, many religious locals will visit the temple to receive blessings from the monks and leave offerings.
Pchum Ben (‘Soul Day’ or ‘Ancestors Day’) is another public holiday when local people flock to temples across the country, including Wat Sampov Pram. This is a 15-day Buddhist festival that takes place in September or October each year and is an occasion when Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives. Locals also bring food offerings to temples and pagodas.
Sport enthusiasts should take advantage of the annual international half marathon and bike race that takes place on Bokor Mountain. Taking place over two days in October, there are various categories of race, meaning people of all abilities can get involved. Bike races range from 10km to 51km circuits, while runs vary from a 3km fun race to a half marathon of 21km. Set in the amazing mountain scenery of Bokor National Park, this is an opportunity to test your fitness in a truly unique environment.
Those looking to celebrate international holidays such as Chinese New Year, Christmas and the New Year festivities at the end of December will find plenty of parties and fireworks at the hotels and resorts in Bokor National Park, such as Thansur Sokha Hotel.
Food and Drink
This region of Cambodia is most famous for Kampot pepper, which can be grown in black, white and red varieties. This pepper has been grown in the area since the first Chinese settlers arrived in the 13th century, with even more pepper plantations popping up throughout the 19th century. Bokor National Park was one important location for this crop, although the departure of the French and the civil war hindered production for a number of decades. While Kampot pepper is still grown on a small scale in the national park, many of the pepper plantations that are available to visit are just outside the geographic area of the park.
Most of the food available to eat in Bokor National Park is in the hotels and resorts, which serve a variety of international and traditional Cambodian cuisine. Thansur Sokha Hotel has a fine dining buffet restaurant, a noodle bar and an immense daily breakfast buffet. Le Bokor Palace serves traditional French cuisine, in a nod to the colonial Past of Bokor Hill Station. All French favourites can be found on the menu, from beef tartare to foie gras. Given the proximity of the national park to the sea and the celebrated seafood that is sourced on this particular stretch of coastline, there is also an abundance of seafood on the menu that can be served flambéed at the table.
Halfway up Bokor Mountain near the Lok Yeay Mao monument is a range of food and drink stands, with some traditional Khmer dishes available to buy such as noodles. A few vendors near the Povokvil Waterfalls and behind Le Bokor Palace hotel have a similar offering.