Visit Choquequirao Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

What would it be like to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds? How incredible would it be to wander around the temple at your own pace, soaking in the silence and leaving no stone uninvestigated? While you’ll probably never get a private visit to that storied temple, there is another temple in Peru, similar is size and design, yet visited by less than 20 people a day. What is this elusive mystery? The secretive and secluded Choquequirao Temple.

For those intrepid travelers with a taste for adventure, Choquequirao offers a rare opportunity to take in Incan architecture and splendor without the crowds. A guided tour can cost hundreds of dollars, but if you are willing to take the plunge, hiking to Choquequirao without a guide can cost less than $200 and offer up the adventure of a lifetime.

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Photo by Danielle Pereira

All About Choquequirao

Pronounced “CHOCK-ey-keer-ow” this little known Incan temple is similar in style and structure to Machu Picchu. It was constructed in the 15th or 16th century, making it slightly younger than Machu Picchu. Choquequirao was also one of the last strongholds of the Incan warrior Manco Inca Yupanqui during his final resistance against the Spanish.

The site has been “rediscovered” multiple times throughout the centuries, most notably by Hiram Bingham in 1909. Excavations on Choquequirao only began in 1970 and are still ongoing today.

The temple sits at 3000m (9,800ft) above the Apurimac River, on the very top of a mountain ridge. The only way to get to Choquequirao is by trekking for four days across hot, dry, and steep terrain.

There is also an extension of this trek which can take you all the way to Machu Picchu, through some of Peru’s most legendary scenery, over the course of 9 days, which I will cover in an upcoming post.

A note on when to hike to Choquequirao: the dry season will make for the best conditions, between March and October. However, should you attempt it in the wet season, know that it is possible but the trail may become slippery and dangerous, and your views will probably be obscured by cloud.

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Hike to Choquequirao Without A Guide

Day 1: Cachora – Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca – Marampata/Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao – Chiquisca
Day 4: Chiquisca – Cachora

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Get to Cachora

If you’re going to hike to Choquequirao, first you’ve got to get to the starting point: Cachora. From Cusco, get any bus headed to Abancay, the earlier the better if you plan to start hiking on the same day. When I made the trip in June 2014, we were able to get a 5am bus, which got us to Cachora before lunch.

Ask the bus driver to stop at the Ramal de Cachora. At the Ramal, there will be several taxis waiting to drive you the 13km to Cachora. Should cost about 5 soles to share the taxi.

If you need to pick up last minute supplies like snacks or an extra packet of ramen noodles, Cachora is the place to do it. You can also allegedly hire a muleteer or even a guide, but I am not qualified to give you advice on that. You wanted to do this hike solo, right?

A note on timing: if you get an early bus from Cusco, you should be able to start hiking before or around noon. This gives you enough time to get to Chiquisca before dark. However, if you get a later bus and arrive at Cachora in the afternoon, you should probably wait a day before you start trekking. As I recall, there are a few affordable hospedajes in Cachora along with some upscale options.

Now let’s get to the good stuff: hiking to Choquequirao.

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca

The views on this hike begin immediately, as Cachora sits on the edge of a steep canyon, commanding panoramic views of the snowcapped peaks across the divide.

From Cachora, head downhill on the main road through town until you hit the farmlands. You should find a sign indicating the trail to Choquequirao. Take a left, cross a small stream, then take the path up to the road. Walk along the road until you come to the Mirador, an outcropping of land jutting into the canyon.

From the Mirador, it’s a long, steep set of switchbacks all the way down to Chiquisca at km19. If you got a late start, this is a good spot to camp. However, if you make it to Chiquisca early in the day, I recommend pushing on all the way to the river or even to Santa Rosa Baja.

Pro Tip: Day 2 is the most intensely grueling day of the entire trek, so the more ground you can cover on day 1, the easier day 2 will be.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of this itinerary, that you only make it to Chiquisca on Day 1. This campsite has streams for water, small shelters for cooking, and plenty of space to pitch a tent. Get a good night’s sleep because Day 2 is not a joke.

Apurimac River Valley

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 2: Chiquisca to Marampata/Choquequirao

The earlier you can start day 2, the better. The trail is a long, steep, and without shelter from the blazing sun. If you can get at least halfway up the mountain before the sun rises to its apex, you’ll be thankful.

From Chiquisca, the trail continues down the mountain to the river below. At the river, you’ll find a campsite and a suspension bridge. Take a moment of silence in honor of your strength, endurance, and capacity, because they are all about to be pushed to their limits.

From the canyon floor, the trail heads up steeply, in a series of switchbacks that go on forever. I made the mistake of thinking that I must have almost reached the top. Don’t worry. You haven’t. You’re in for a big climb and your legs are going to feel it.

You’ll pass Santa Rose Baja, and a few minutes beyond that, Santa Rosa Alta. There are stores here and a nice flat, grassy area. It’s a good spot to stop and enjoy a snack. Then, continue following the merciless trail as it leads you relentlessly upwards.

At long last and well beyond your breaking point, you’ll come to the top of a switchback and find the trail leveled out. A bench awaits you, granting a respite from standing and a view out over the canyon wall you descended the day before.

From there, it is only a short walk to the village of Marampata, where you can find shops selling snacks, beers, and even a campsite. However, if you have the energy, I recommend continuing onwards and camping at the site below Choquequirao. It’s quite a bit further, probably another hour of hiking, but well worth it to camp so close to the ruins.

On the walk to the campsite, you’ll get your first view of Choquequirao perched precariously on the edge of the mountain ridge.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 3: Choquequirao to Chiquisca

Today is the day! After the labors on the mountainside on day 2, you’ve more than earned the right to visit this secretive world wonder. Whether you’re camped at Choquequirao or Marampata, I recommend getting an early start to experience the majesty of this temple in the early morning light.

The trail cuts through thick jungle and muddy mountainside on its way to the sanctuary. A few steps out of the jungle and suddenly you find yourself on the main plaza, in the center of a temple equal in size and splendor to Machu Picchu.

The true joy of a visit to Choquequirao comes not from the structures themselves but from the serenity of the space. Take a seat beneath the single tree in the main plaza and appreciate the silence and the grandeur of this Incan Temple.

When you’ve basked long enough, stroll slowly through the structures, make your way down to the terraces, or climb up to the main temple plaza. From the top, you can look down and see all of Choquequirao spread out before you. Your mind will struggle to comprehend the idea of people constructing this massive complex nearly 600 years ago.

And yet, here it stands.

Allow a full morning for exploration and enjoyment of this wondrous landmark. Eventually, however, all good things must come to an end. If you’re taking on the massive nine-day hike to Machu Picchu, head uphill through the temple to find your Incan Trail.

For those who are only taking on the four-day trek, it’s time to tackle the long downhill and small uphill back to Chiquisca on the far side of the canyon.

Choquequirao view

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 4: Chiquisca to Cachora

The climb from Chiquisca up to the Mirador, so easy when it was a downhill, becomes somewhat more grueling on the way back up. Once you gain the Mirador, a well-earned beer awaits you at the small shop there.

Once revived by your adult beverage, only a short walk stands between you and Cachora, where you can easily find a room for the night or a taxi to drive you back up to the main road. In order to hitch a ride back to Cusco, you’ll have to do it the Peruvian way, when you see a car, van, or bus, hold out your hand flat and wave it up and down. Eventually, someone will stop and offer you a ride. If you’re nervous about it, negotiate a price up front.

Once back in Cusco, you are faced with a choice: do you tell other travelers about the majesty of Choquequirao, or keep the secret of this remarkable place close to your heart?


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Visit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the AndesVisit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the Andes

How to Ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

This post is for the people who seek the thrill and danger of backcountry adventure. Those whose greatest desire while traveling is to get off of the well-trodden path and discover roads that most people never stumble upon.

If you’re looking for an adventure through the wilds of Cambodia, it’s time you read a bit more about the little known Cardamom Mountains.

A quick word of caution, this is not a journey for the faint of heart. You will struggle, and you will probably be in pain. You will ride through mud up to your knees and you will possibly get lost. Yet when you make it out the other side and see the waters of the Bay of Thailand shining far below, the only thing you’ll remember is the outstanding beauty and overwhelming sense of awe.

cardamom mountains to o soam

Road through the Jungle

This rugged journey takes you from the city of Battambang, in Northeast Cambodia, through rural farmland, ascends into jungle-clad mountains, follows roads that haven’t been repaired since the day they were built, and spits you out, three days (or more) later in Koh Kong, Cambodia’s forgotten outlaw city on the Bay of Thailand.

Am I overselling this? Not at all. I’ve riding a mountain bike through these roads several times and I always come away feeling overjoyed that my life lets me experience something as great as this ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamoms.

Ready to tackle the adventure? Let’s get into the finer points of how to get from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains.

At the end of this post, I’ve included links to simple google maps instructions to illustrate the route that I describe.

Riding Through the Cardamoms: The Itinerary

Day 1: Battambang to Pramaoy
Day 2: Pramaoy to O Soam
Day 3: O Soam to Koh Kong

view of o soam cambodia

O Soam Village with Phnom Samkos in the distance

Tips for Riding from Battambang to Koh Kong

Choose Your Mode of Transport

This ride can be done on a mountain bike, motorcycle, or dirtbike. As far as I know, you cannot hire a car to drive you along this exact route.

I’ve completed a version of this ride twice, and both times on a mountain bike. It is easily one of the most challenging bike tours I’ve ever done. The roads are often in terrible condition and through remote areas with no villages, shops, or places to purchase supplies.

Pay Attention to the Weather

This trip should really only be attempted from November to June. Once the rains start, the road up to O Soam becomes completely impassable. Cycling it would be beyond dangerous. Same goes for a moped. Dirtbikes might still be able to make it but it is still dangerous.

Basically, don’t do this trip in the rainy season.

Why Battambang and Not Pursat?

You can easily find many blog posts that describe the ride from Pursat to Koh Kong as a great adventure. In fact, the first time I did the ride I started in Pursat. My advice now? Don’t do it. The road from Pursat is wide, paved, and boring. If you’re in it for the adventure, start from Battambang and take the mountain roads to Pramaoy.

Accommodation Along the Way

Hotels and Guesthouses are available in Battambang, Pramaoy, O Soam, and Koh Kong. You can make this journey on a bicycle without camping gear as long as you are very fit, accustomed to the Cambodian climate, and know what you are doing.

If you are an inexperienced cyclist and don’t know any basic bike maintenance, do not attempt this ride solo! This ride passes through remote areas without villages or support. If something happens to you, it could be hours before someone passes.

Make it a 5-Day Journey

Though I will outline this trip as a three-day itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to spend several days in O Soam. A man named Mr. Lim runs a homestay there with his family and it is the best-kept secret in Cambodia. Just go, and spend two or three days hanging out with Lim, visiting waterfalls, mountain biking in the jungle, and generally having a great time.

If you’re on a mountain bike, there are some sweet trails winding back through the jungle you could easily spend a week exploring.

Be Prepared!

This is an extremely remote and rugged ride. Whether you’re on a dirt bike, moto, or a mountain bike, bring the tools you need to make basic repairs along the way. Make sure you carry enough food and water to get you through each day. Especially on the road from O Soam to Koh Kong, do not expect to stop and buy supplies on the road as there are no villages! More than any other stretch of road in Cambodia, it is important to be prepared for anything in the Cardamoms.

Day 1: Biking Battambang to Pramaoy – 73 miles (118km)

Okay, first things first, Pramaoy is pronounced Pram-Ow-Ee, like pram as in the UK English name for a baby stroller, ow, as in ow my toe, and E as in the letter E. Pram-ow-ee. You’re welcome. Now you can at least ask for directions when you get lost.

Leaving Battambang, you want to head south out of town following the river towards Banan Temple. Follow the paved road as it winds through fragrant farmland with fruit stands dotting the side of the road. A canopy of trees offers much-needed shade from the rising sun.

After you pass Banan Temple on your right, the land opens up and you will start to see some hills rising around you. Finally, come to a roundabout with a statue the woman carrying a pot on her head. By this point, you’ve ridden 21.5 miles (34.6km).

This intersection is a good place to stop and have a coconut or buy some snacks. You won’t pass another shop for at least an hour, you’re probably hungry, and the sun will be beating you into the earth with its wild tropical heat.

From the rotary, continue straight for another 1.5 miles (2.3km), then take a left onto the dirt road. This road should, in a short while, cross a river.
Cross the river and continue straight for another 15 miles (24km) through the wide open farmland. You’ll begin to see the first ridge of the Cardamom mountains rising in the distance.

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

Nearing the Cardamoms

Follow the road in a more or less straight line until you come to a kind of T junction. Here you’ll find a small market and collection of buildings. If you’re lucky, someone will be serving lunch. Keep in mind that Cambodian markets generally stop serving lunch by 11am, 11:30 if you’re lucky.

From this T-junction, take a right and follow the road for 6.5 miles (10.5km) until you come to yet another T-junction.

tough cambodian road

This is a road in Cambodia

By now, the mountains will feel formidable, the weight of their presence pushing down on you, impressing the magnitude of the trials you are about to face on their steep slopes. At the final fork, you take a right and head on up into the mountains and your first massive climb of the journey.

If you’re one of the adventurous souls on a mountain bike, get ready for some serious climbing. Whoever built this road clearly skipped the day in urban planning class where they discussed switchbacks because this road is steep. Impractically steep. Relentlessly steep. As the road plies a straight line directly up the mountain all hope leaves your soul, your strength deserts you. Your lungs, heart, and legs beg for relief.

But you push on. You gain the first rise, then the second. You finally reach the crest of the hill.

From that point, you are blessed with the most perfect downhill of all time. It is gradual, flowing, and nearly neverending. You fly down a wide open valley between two steep mountain ridges. Cambodian villages cling to both sides of the road. The locals call out and cheer as you ride by but you’re too absorbed in the thrill of the downhill to stop and make small talk. The pain in your legs is replaced by euphoria as you fly ever downwards through the stunning Cambodian mountain scenery.

Cycling Battambang to Pramaoy

At the top of the downhill

You didn’t realize Southeast Asia could be this beautiful.

Eventually, the road heads uphill again, passing through jungle and farmland before dumping you out on the main road from Pursat to Pramaoy. It’s just 7 more kilometers (5 miles) along this road, then you reach your goal for the evening, the wacky and whimsical village of Pramaoy.

There are several guesthouses in Pramaoy. I like to use the one right off of the rotary in the middle of town. Rooms are $5 a night for a single bed and a private bathroom. There is a shop just next door on the corner that sells fried noodles and fried rice at dinner for $2 a plate.

What more could you need? Get to sleep early because you’ve got quite a day ahead of you tomorrow.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

Road to O Soam

Cycling Battambang to Koh Kong Day 2: Pramaoy to O Soam – 18 miles (30km)

Though each leg of this journey has its own beautiful moments, this leg, the second day up to O Soam, holds a special place in my heart. It’s the shortest day in terms of mileage, but possibly the most revelatory and wonderful in terms of adventure.

Waking up in Pramaoy is a real treat in and of itself. The town is bisected by a wide red dirt road that churns up dust in the dry season, giving the entire town a lost-in-time feel. It’s classic old school Cambodia. The houses and shops line either side of the road but are separated from it by a ditch, so everyone throws down a couple planks to act as bridges to their shops. Stand still for a moment and you’ll soon see Cambodians driving their motos across these makeshift plank walkways. It’s great. I love Pramaoy.

Once you’ve had your traditional Cambodian breakfast of Bai Sak Chru (rice and pork) or Bor Bor (rice porridge), it’s time to hit the road for the magical mystery tour that is the road to O Soam.

From Pramaoy, head south out of town from the rotary up towards the mountains in the distance. If you’re facing the main section of town, this is the left-hand road. The road will take you down a short hill and across a bridge. If you don’t cross a bridge almost immediately, you’ve taken the wrong turn.

cardamom mountain road

Looking Backwards on the way up to O Soam

From here, the conditions deteriorate rapidly, especially in the rainy season. The road will be swamped with mud and half of the adventure is riding through puddles without knowing exactly how deep they are going to be. Expect wet knees.

For the first 5 miles of the day, the road winds uphill through farmland, then through some rolling hills and small villages. Occasionally the jungle opens up onto farmland, offering stunning views back along the valley towards Pramaoy with rock-faced mountains rising beyond.

cycling battambang to koh kong

Up and Up and Up

After the final rolling hill, you’ll come to a small climb and then a sudden drop-off. Across the valley from you, a wall of jungle-clad mountain rises up, blocking out the sky. Please note the thin red line peeking out from beneath the foliage. That is your path. You have reached the climb.

Not as steep as the previous day by any means, this climb is no less strenuous and daunting. The road is generally in terrible condition. Even just a small amount of rain will turn the dirt into a thick and sticky clay that latches onto your tires and covers everything in a thick layer of muck. This mud is incredibly slippery so if you do run out of momentum, expect to slip and slide down into the dirt.

Compound these muddy conditions with sweltering heat and the savage glare of the Cambodian sun and you’ve got yourself an adventure. But don’t worry too much, as long as you head into it knowing it’s going to be tough, you’ll have a great time. This is easily one of my favorite single days of cycling. Something about the noises of the jungle, the challenge of the road, the beauty of looking around and seeing only jungle clad ridges rolling off into the distance makes this day unforgettable.

As you ascend, the road crosses several ridges before reaching the end of the final climb. On the way up, you will pass no shops and no homes. Bring enough water and snacks. There is a small hut a little over halfway up where you might run into some Khmer military types hanging out. They might give you water, or they might just give you funny looks.

cycling in the cardamom mountains

You’ll know you’ve made it to the top when you see a wide valley open up below you. Far in the distance, a small village sits on a lake. That is O Soam and your goal for this day.

After soaking up the view, it’s time for the downhill. The road heads downward at a steep grade, finishing in a ramshackle village perched on the edge of the lake.

From there, the road carries on and winds around the lake for a further 20km but it is not necessary to take the road. From the ramshackle village, it is possible to take a series of two ferries across the lake almost all the way to O Soam. The total cost for the ferries is, I believe, $2.50.

When you disembark from the final ferry, you have just a few miles left to go.

The road winds through the rich jungle and you’ll begin to see some signs telling you that the “O Soam Homestay” is only a few kms away. This is where you want to stay. There is no better accommodation in O Soam, or possibly even in Cambodia.

o soam community homestay cardamom mountains cambodia

O Soam Homestay

The O Soam Homestay is a slice of heaven in the middle of thick, mountainous jungle. Perched on the edge of the lake, a man named Mr. Lim brought his family up here to open a homestay and educate the local population on the importance of stopping deforestation and poaching. He is truly a wonderful human being and a delight to stay with.

If you have time, I can’t encourage you enough to spend a day or two relaxing in a hammock, eating family style meals with the Lims, swimming in their lake, or heading out on an adventure or two with Lim and his local guides.

You won’t find another place like this anywhere else in Cambodia.

cardamom mountains homestay cambodia

Cycling Battambang to Koh Kong: Day 3: The Final Marathon – 67 miles (108km)

The final day of the ride has the greatest change in elevation and is the most unforgiving and tiring. If you’re on a mountain bike, this day will challenge you physically, mentally, and spiritually. It will break you down into bits and build you back up into a better, if slightly traumatized, human.

If you’re on a motorcycle or moped, just be ready for a really long day with no shops and nowhere to buy food. I don’t know if it will break you as a person and motorcyclist, but it will be stunning, I can promise you that.

No matter what mode of transport you’re on, carry enough water with you! I had 4 liters with me and I barely made it.

This is a long day through mountains. Do not expect to finish in a few hours. An early start is key to success; it gets hot in them hills in the middle of the day.

From Lim’s place, cross the river and head into O Soam village. At the fork, take the right-hand road across the river and then out across the farmlands. The road here is in terrible condition but things improve quickly once you get onto the main road to Koh Kong.

After 6 miles (10km), you’ll come to a junction with some restaurants and shops, and a big sign pointing the way to Koh Kong. It’s a right-hand turn and very important not to miss this.

If you’re using google maps, it will tell you to go straight. Very important advice about riding in Cambodia: do not trust Google! They have no idea what is going on. That road doesn’t exist. You need to take the right-hand turn as signposted. The locals will make sure you don’t miss this. If you try to ride straight through, several people will shout at you.

From this turn, it’s basically a straight shot until you hit the paved road about 31 miles (50km) further down. But don’t let that relatively short distance deceive you. Those are a long and adventurous 31km. I won’t ruin too much of the surprise but expect several long climbs, many dramatic downhills, and a few truly horrendous Chinese-built dams. Yay globalization!

On a personal note, the first time I attempted this ride in November of 2016, I got a flat tire after only 40km and had to be driven out by some friendly Khmer people. As I stood on the side of the road hoping that anybody would drive by and save my dumbass (I was riding without any extra inner tubes or tools), I heard a whooping call echoing through the jungle. It sounded quite nearby. I gazed up into the trees, not sure what to look for, and I heard it again, a whoop whoop whoop sound. Then I saw it, a gibbon was hanging from the top branches of a tree just above me on the side of the road. Our eyes met, the gibbon paused, whooped at me one last time, then turned and swung off into the jungle. If I hadn’t had a flat tire, I never would have seen such a beautiful creature.

cardamom mountain road koh kong

The Road to Koh Kong

Back to the directions.

After many an epic downhill and some truly breathtaking views, you’ll come out onto a paved road. Turn right. Not too much further, you come to another split, and the signs here are misleading. The paved road heads to the left, while a dirt road heads right. The signs will tell you to take the dirt road, and you can. But you can also stay on the paved road to the left. This will take you down to a Chinese dam, through a workers camp, and then will meet up with the dirt road further on down the line.

Everyone I speak to who has taken the dirt road says it’s horrible. Take the paved road.

Not much else to it really. From there you just follow the road down to Koh Kong. If you’re cycling, there will come a beautiful moment where you break out of the jungle and see the ocean and river fanned out below you. Your legs will rejoice, thinking the end is nigh.

The end is not nigh. The end is still very far away. Keep your chin up and keep pedaling. You’ll get there.

koh kong harbor

Koh Kong Harbor

I could barely walk by the time I rolled into Koh Kong at the end of the day, but it was so worth it. And now, sitting here at my kitchen counter writing this post 6 months later, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

If you love bike touring, are going to Cambodia, and want to have a life-changing and stunning adventure in one of the last remaining mountainous wildernesses in Southeast Asia, I can’t encourage you enough to ride from Battambang to Koh Koh through the Cardamom Mountains.


As promised, here are the google map directions for each leg of the journey. I’m not overly tech savvy so I just broke it up into chunks wherever google maps didn’t want to let me plot the route as is. Sorry that it isn’t a KML or GPX file.

Day 1, First Part: https://goo.gl/maps/GfUBk1wr2F62
Day 1, Second Part: https://goo.gl/maps/MavkLdeEn8E2
Day 2, First Part (to the ferry): https://goo.gl/maps/YwtNsPfTfy92
Day 3: https://goo.gl/maps/Uhq4GPgB84q


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How to Ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia

How to Climb Bokor Mountain in the Rain

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

As part of my trip around Cambodia, I spent a few days resting and exploring the charming riverside town of Kampot. Driving into Kampot, the first thing you notice is the massive mountain rising up beside you. And sitting on top of that mountain is the fabled Bokor Hill Station, a must see if you’re wondering what to do in Kampot.

IMG_0019

French Resort in ruins

But since I was there in the beginning of the rainy season, I was a bit nervous to rent a moto and ride up Bokor Mountain in the rain.

Still, I’d been wanting to visit the famous Bokor Hill Station on top of Bokor Mountain for months. Back in the early 20th century, when Cambodia was still a French Protectorate, the French built an elaborate resort and casino on top of the hill. Today, all that remains is a shell of that decadent past. It makes for a great day trip.

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The resort, up close

Although I had ridden my mountain bike 600 kilometers to get from Battambang to Kampot, there was nothing that could make me ride my bicycle up to Bokor Mountain. The road is 35km uphill. Just no. I was relishing the idea of renting a moto and effortlessly driving myself up to the top. It was something I’d been dreaming about for a few days while I pushed my bike up the ruthlessly steep hills outside of Koh Kong.

Renting a Moto in Kampot

Renting a moto in Kampot is incredibly easy. It’s the main way that tourists get around town, so there are heaps of people willing to rent you a “new moto” for $4 a day. I saw one guy offering motos for $5 a day. I think he doesn’t get a lot of business.

I’m a brat and wanted a manual moto, so I wandered around town for 15 minutes looking for one. Most places only rent automatics, but eventually a found a shop, Hong Kimeng, and for $4 I had a Honda Wave for the day.

If you, also, want to rent a manual moto, you can find this place kitty corner from La Java Bleue.

IMG_0008

Moto entering the mists

When you rent a moto in Kampot, you have to leave your passport behind as collateral. As long as the moto comes back with no damage, you’ll get your passport back.

If the moto comes back damaged, they’ll hold on to your passport until you pay for the damages. And assume that you’ll be overcharged.

The Ride from Kampot to Bokor Mountain

Getting from Kampot to Bokor Mountain is pretty easy. Just head back out of town on the road to Sihanoukville for about 10km, maybe a little less, and eventually you’ll see a massive gate on your right hand side. The gate says Thansur Bokor Highland Resort but this is also the entrance for the national park. They’ve just built a massive, and massively ugly, modern resort casino up there.

IMG_0004

Gateway to Bokor National Park

Entrance for a moto is 2000 riel, or 0.50USD. You pay a guard at the gate and he gives you a parking pass. Hang onto that, you’ll need to show it again at the top.

As I drove past the gate, I looked up to see the mountain wreathed in fog and clouds. It had been raining earlier in the morning in Kampot but by now the rain had let up. Still, as I drove towards the mountain the rain began again. I hoped it would clear.

IMG_0011

Buildings in the fog

The road up the mountain is winding but easy. It’s uphill but not to steep, and the corners aren’t particularly tight. It’s a pleasant drive, but make sure you fill up your gas tank at the bottom of the hill.

Driving up, I quickly entered the clouds and with them came the rain. I couldn’t see to my left or my right, and even my visibility in front of me was limited. Still, I’m a stubborn girl and I was determined to get up to this ruined old resort.

After 30 minutes or so of driving, I came to another gate, and a sign indicating that the road would split into a T-junction. Showed my parking pass to a guard and passed through. Because the fog and rain was so thick, I had no idea where I was or what was around me. A sign showed the “old casino” was off to the left, so I took the left turn after the roundabout.

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Limited Visibility

The rest of the drive was incredibly spooky, in a really great way. Limited visibility. Every once in awhile people or buildings would emerge out of the fog. I drove slowly, headlights on, savoring the effect. The rain had let up a few minutes before but I was still soaked and shivering, even under my thin plastic poncho.

Eventually, confused and lost, I came to the end of the paved road. I couldn’t see anything. There were no signs telling me where to go, and nothing to indicate where this old casino was located. I was a bit frustrated but still game for an adventure. I parked my bike and wandered off into the fog.

Exploring Bokor Hill Station in the Fog

A large building emerged and I could see a path going behind it. As I followed that path up the hill, the fog began to clear, and I was suddenly confronted with a jaw dropping view out over the mountains to the ocean.

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The view begins to appear

I gazed out at the sea for a few moments, soaking in that uniquely euphoric feeling you get when standing on top of a mountain. After a few moments of stillness, I looked around and realized the fog had lifted. And with it, my location was revealed to me. I was standing on the edge of a cliff, with the old casino 100 meters to my right, and some other ruined buildings down below me on my left.

In the fog and the rain I had driven by everything, completely oblivious. Now that the fog lifted, I found myself in a stunning environment. The mountains rolled away behind me, the sea stretched out before me, and a ruined old resort sat perched a top the cliff to the my right.

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Bokor Hill Station

The casino itself was fun to explore. You can’t go inside the building but you’re free to wander around outside of it. There are some stands across the street that sell coconuts and snacks but I didn’t go check them out.

After some time taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere, I was ready to ride back down the hill. It was 4pm by this point and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I hopped back on my moto and cruised down the hill.

Home to Kampot

The way back down was wildly different than the way up. The fog, clouds, and rain had entirely disappeared and instead I was gifted with incredible views of the surrounding mountains and countryside. I passed an old church, the ugly modern casino, and a large statue of a meditating woman, which I believe was called Lok Yeay Mao.

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Lok Yeay

I flew back down the hill, mostly just coasting in neutral and enjoying leaning into the turns. If the ride up took about 45 minutes, the ride down might have taken only 25.

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Ugly modern casino up ther

If you’re planning to ride up to Bokor Hill Station in the rainy season, pay attention to the weather patterns. The few days I was in Kampot, it rained around midday then cleared up in the afternoon. My luck held and I was granted stunning views of Kampot and the countryside. Being up there in the fog, though pleasantly creepy, is nothing compared to the views you get when the sky is clear.

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Bokor Hill Station