The Story Behind … Le Bokor Palace

by Cambodia, The Story Behind

Le Bokor Palace – risen from the ashes of war …

If only the walls of Le Bokor Palace could talk … they’d be screaming stories of decadence, death, destruction – and a grand renaissance.

A hilltop haven of luxury and sublime hospitality, its journey has been an arduous one. After twists and turns through decades of war and uncertainty, it’s now a jewel on the Cambodian skyline.

The Grand Opening …

Its story began over a century ago in 1919 when work began on the top of the mist-shrouded Bokor Mountain in Cambodia to build a hill station for French colonial settlers to escape the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh.

The centerpiece was the Bokor Palace Hotel – inaugurated on Valentine’s Day in 1925. The result was the ultimate citadel of decadence. The imposing three storey art deco building was built with Palladian architecture, embellished with Italian style. Inside, guests were greeted by a huge fireplace, a small elegant lounge, a vast dining room and 18 large rooms equipped with bathrooms and even electric heaters. The rooms led out to large terraces and pergolas with far reaching views of the ‘Opal Coast’.

That evening a select list of guests sat down to a lavish six-course menu including gazpacho, ‘US-style’ crawfish, rich foie gras, and strawberries served with Chantilly cream. The last guests didn’t leave until 5am. And that was just the start! For the next 20 years or so, local elite, expats and even royalty endured the bumpy drive to the luxury retreat along a mountain track built by prisoners.

The Black Years …

The fun and frolics came to an end in 1946 when the First Indochina War broke out. The hotel closed and was used as a military hospital for a short time until the hill station was abandoned. Left unattended, the hotel was ravaged by Khmer Issarak, the anti-communist and anti-monarchist guerrilla force known as “The Black Dragon”.

By the end of the 1960s the hotel was a burnt out and weathered shadow of its former self.

The Heydays …

In the early 1960s the hill station reopened. The hotel was refurbished and returned to its earlier glory and grandeur, this time with a glitzy casino. Affluent Khmer flocked to the hotel to party and gamble.

However – rumours relate grisly tales of gambling-related suicides. It was said that many unlucky players plunged off the dramatic cliffs behind the hotel after losing their life savings to the throw of a dice.

The Ghost City …

However, following the overthrow of Sihanouk in 1970, the hill station was forced to close yet again. In 1972, the Khmer Rouge took control of Bokor Mountain where they entrenched themselves and held on tightly for months. In the early 1990s Bokor Hill was still one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge.

After the war the entire hill station was forgotten – the hotel, catholic church and royal villas lay derelict – an eerie sight visited by curious backpackers fascinated by the crumbling walls covered in red lichen and the deserted corridors lined with graffiti. The hill station soon became known amongst Cambodians as the ‘ghost city’ – a haunt for spirits of soldiers who had lost their lives there.

During this time, the mountain resort was immortalised in the 2002 Hollywood film, City of Ghosts starring Matt Dillon, James Caan and Gérard Depardieu.

The Resurrection …

And then in 2018, after decades of slumber the historical hotel reopens – even more luxurious and grand than ever before – having been lovingly restored by Sokha Hotels & Resorts. The elegance of the hotel’s historic past has been preserved with many of the original features, the grand colonial atmosphere and of course, those far reaching views over the coastline.

Guests are welcomed into elegant rooms with handmade furniture and fine Italian accessories. The Thansur Restaurant evokes the French-colonial times with a menu that dates back to the hotel’s early days albeit with a modern twist.

The ghosts of war have been laid to rest and have made way once again for dining, dancing, laughter and romance.

Please contact us to find out more about Le Bokor Palace.

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