I’m always desperately trying to find mountains to run up and down here in Cambodia. So, after asking a few regular runners in Phnom Penh (albeit it road runners), I discovered that Bokor Mountain was a potential option.
Bokor Mountain, at 1079 metres, is around 3 hours’ drive south of Phnom Penh. The Ultimate Cambodia Travel Guide describes the mountain as “a national park that has much to offer the visitor, with magnificent coastline views, clear streams, waterfalls, thick forests, and a former casino resort ghost town topping the line up”. It sounded ideal.
We decided to make a weekend of it, and opted to stay in nearby Kampot town. The mountain was laid out in front of us as soon as we arrived, a surprising long bump in the land given Cambodia’s normal monotonous flatness.
As soon as I arrived, I asked the owner of the hotel we were staying in how exactly to get to the base of the Mountain and any suggested routes up it. “There are daily tours that head up the mountain”, she said. “Cost around 20 USD. They bring you in a jeep half way up, then you get out and walk a bit through the jungle, and then you get back into the car and drive up the remainder of the track to the top”. I had to stop her there.
“No, no, that’s not what I was looking to do. You see, I’m a mountain runner. And I want to run up the mountain”. She looked at me as if I was crazy. By now I’ve seen that look so many times that I can recognise it now within a split second. “You can’t do that”, the owner said. “Oh yes I can”, I replied, thinking she was referring to my athletic ability whilst simultaneously pointed to my oversized mountain-running thighs that have seen many other similar mountains. “No, you don’t understand, the authorities won’t let you”, she said.
She went on to explain that parts of the National Park are currently being mined using TNT. And so the authorities want to strictly control where visitors go and how. “They only let those tourist jeeps in”, she said. “And they only let the visitors walk on certain sections of the trail”. It all just seemed to me like a good excuse to extract 20 dollars worth of entrance fees from foreign tourists.
But if I couldn’t go up the mountain, then I could at least look at it from afar. So I decided to hire a canoe instead from Les Mangiers and to paddle around the mountain for a few hours. The river headed north so I followed its path. And in addition to mountain views, I enjoyed watching the other river traffic of local Kymer going about their daily fishing and water travels.
When I get a chance, I’ll try next time to head to Chi Phat which is the heart of the Cardamom Mountains. Word is that it’s a great for hiking, biking, and kayaking. And maybe there they won’t charge me 20 US Dollars and threaten to blow me up with TNT at the same time.