The story of Bokor National Park is a fascinating but sad one. Wandering through the crumbling, chilling remnants of the 1920s French colonial hill station, often swathed in thick fog, has been the area’s most popular attraction for the past decade, but in 2007 Hun Sen’s government effectively sold the mountain in its entirety to the Sokimex Group (owner of the Sokha Resorts and Sokimex Oil among others) for US$100m. The Chinese conglomerate now owns a 99-year lease and has begun an extravagant development project that will see the refurbishment of the dilapidated hill station (which was also the scene of a dramatic showdown between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese in 1979) and the construction of a towering casino complex comprising hotels, golf courses and water parks. The plans extend to the coast, where a major port is being built with a view to landing cruise ships there then helicoptering guests to the plateau.
The first foundations have been laid and a new 32-kilometre road carving a thick ribbon of tarmac into the steep hillside is almost finished. The whole mountain was closed off to visitors while the road was being built and now there is a charge to use it. It is impossible to visit without going through local tour operators who have been forced to up their prices to accommodate the toll. At $20, the day out no longer offers value for money. Depending on the developer’s rate of progress and their attitude towards them, the tours may soon be a thing of the past anyway.