This is the main attraction in and around Kampot. Unfortunately at the time of writing it is largely closed to visitors as the road is being repaired. Bokor hill station was built by the French as a high-altitude complement to the fashionable seaside resort of Kep across the bay. Both are now faded and crumbling in a very atmospheric fashion. Bokor was also the scene of fierce fighting in the '80s, with Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops battling it out across the mountaintop for control of the buildings and the rest of this strategic area of high ground. After you've spent some time in Cambodia navigating overcrowded Phnom Penh and the tourist rush at Angkor, you might see why the French sought out quiet, cooler climes, building this sanctuary to privilege on a mountaintop far from the madding crowds. Bokor Mountain is part of the larger Bokor National Park, a thick jungle sprawl of giant ferns and thick vegetation. Tigers may exist and if so are rare (and very shy), as well as leopards, Asiatic black bears, and slow lorises and other monkeys, as well as a unique grouping of jungle birds, snakes, crawlies, and even a small population of Asian elephants. To get down-and-dirty with the local flora and fauna and do some trekking, contact Mr. Sok Lim at his tour office Sok Lim Tours on the north end of Kampot (at riverside north of the central bridge; tel. 012/719-872).
Note: At the time of writing Bokor Mountain is closed to visitors, with the occasional exemption for an organized tour. If that can be negotiated, although the rules change frequently, be prepared for a 3-hour hike up the hill and then a 3-hour hike down again. By the time you read this, the situation may have changed and the road may be open and brand-new. It is not clear at present what renovations are planned for the hill station itself, although it looks like the words "luxury" and "resort" may figure prominently. It is a prime and unique location. Ask at your guesthouse or contact Sok Lim Tours to get the latest updates before heading out for this trek.
If you manage to get up this mountain, you'll be rewarded with beautiful views; be sure to stop along the way at the few landslide areas where the trees have been cleared. The top of the mountain is a large plateau and, after tracing its length, you'll reach the crumbling hulks of the Bokor Palace Casino and Resort, now stripped bare and covered in moss and graffiti. On the approach, you'll first pass a few villas worth a look, as much for their vantage point over the flatland as the sea below. Next, you'll pass a small temple and a turnoff to a small waterfall (not worth it in dry season), and another leg leading to the main hotel compound.
One can only imagine what life was like in this opulent little casino. You can climb to the top of the old colonial edifice for great views. Ask for a map when you pass through the entrance gates at the bottom. There's a small church, a school, post office, and other minor residential buildings, as well as an old worn-out Vietnamese gun emplacement. There are rustic accommodations available, too. Ask park officers for information.
The entrance fee was $5 before closure and the gate was open from dawn to dusk. This too may change. The whole trip takes half a day. The turnoff to the mountaintop is 8km (5 miles) from Kampot to the east and 95km (59 miles) from Sihanoukville. The road up to the top from the main road is 32km (20 miles) of twisting and turning.
Caves & Waterfalls
The whole area around Kampot is dotted with limestone mountains rising steeply out of the deep green of the rice fields. Some of these contain caves with bizarre rock formations and Buddhist shrines. Caves require good shoes and a flashlight. Phnom Chhork is a place of stalactites and stalagmites and small religious structures from the pre -- Angkorian Funan era. There are two caves. If you look closely at the entrance of Cave One, you will see limestone formations resembling elephants. The entrance to Cave Two is about 300m (984 ft.) from Cave One. There are fewer formations, but it is quite deep, requiring quite a lot of clambering if you choose to attempt it. Phnom Sla Ta'aun contains a less interesting cave but it is worth it for the climb, which is interesting. Phnom Sasear is known as the "White Elephant Cave" because of the shape of a rock formation at the base of the mountain. It is next to a pagoda, and once up the steps on the outcrop you will get some good views of the countryside, especially during the rainy season when the vistas will be lush and green. If you cross the river and drive north for 3.2km (2 miles) you reach the scenic area of Tek Chhou falls. They are not really spectacular since they don't fall very far, but it is a very pleasant area by the river to enjoy a sandwich and a cold beer. It is very popular with locals on a Sunday afternoon when the sun is shining. To see the caves and waterfalls, hire a guide or a motodup who knows where he is going; they are tricky to find on your own.
Twenty to 40 minutes by local boat from Kep is Rabbit Island. A place of white sandy beaches and coconut palms, it is an idyllic day trip from either Kampot or Kep. Although the waters are clear there is no coral, but don't let that put you off donning a mask and flippers. Rabbit Island is a place of psychedelic fish. There are some beach bars in which you can stay the night for about $10, though conditions are very basic. Seafood here is great. Most likely when you order crab on Rabbit Island, your restaurateur will wade out into the tepid ocean and haul your lunch directly from one of the crab pots. It doesn't come fresher than that. A boat for the return trip costs $20. Guesthouses offer a package for $7, but you won't get to pick your own boat, beach, and crab buddies.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.