It was with fate that when my partner and I landed in Kampot we met a tuk tuk driver named Jack. He was a clever, friendly Khmer person who had spent most of his life in Kampot. He told us when he was in school, they learned about Kampot’s history and their iconic landmarks. We were immediately interested. We had negotiated for the next day to be spend visiting these historical landmarks on Bokor Mountain, with Jack as our experienced tourist guide.
We set off early in the hot, humid morning, as Jack told us we would want to spend a few hours looking at the sites, and so he can also inform us of the history and culture of each icon. We both drove motor-scooters. I was frightened going up the hills and the roads, but over time I became used to it.
The first sight we stopped to see was Lok Yeay Mao. Jack explained that she is protector of the mountain and has been well-known for keeping peace in both forest and coastal provinces of Cambodia, Kampot, Kep and Sihanoukville. Lok Yeay Mao was a large statue of an older woman built onto Bokor mountain. The stone had bright colours capturing travellers attention from miles away.
We then proceeded to visit the then King of Cambodia’s “holiday retreat.” There was lots of beautiful artwork near by. We also saw a temple which had a ancient story, featuring carved images ingrained in the wall. It was fascinating and not only that, but Jack knew the story behind it. Looking back at it, I vaguely remember parts of it. I wish I had my journal with me to write it down! what I do remember is that it had something to do with a King and Queen who gave their child to a neighbour to look after. The neighbour abused him and the child escaped and eventually during the years grew up to be a very strong warrior. We also visited the Catholic Church. It was very old and fragile. It looked like what an old tradition church would be like.
From there on, we travelled to Wat Sompov Pram (Old Pagoda)-our tourist guide told us that the King of Cambodia named this place, the five sailing boat monastery, because of the rocks located there. The then King of Cambodia wanted the temple to be used for practising Buddhism. He thought of the name from the pre-existing myth of Preah Thorng and Neang Neak.
There was also an old eerie French ghost Casino/Hotel. We were told that, It was built by the French in the 1920’s and abandoned during the 1940’s during the Indochina War, and then later abandoned by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s.
The French underestimated the success of building this attraction. Bokor Casino/Hotel now stands as an empty reminder of a lost era. We stopped to buy coconuts there and immediately this dense fog rose over the Casino. Jack told us that people who placed betts at the Casino were really invested in betting and if they lost, some of them would commit suicide and jump off the mountain. It was scary! I don’t believe in ghosts but maybe after that I sort of do! Apparently we were told that a new Casino/ Hotel is to be built shortly next to this one.
If you wanted to, you could do the Bokor Mountain tour on your own, but I would advise hiring a tour guide, because It’s so fascinating learning about the history and culture of a country you’re travelling in.
***Please note: Lok Yeay Mao Image was sourced from the link below. All other images are my own 🙂