By Alison Bate
I went up a mountain today, and came down much the wiser.
It was a glorious sunny day in Kampot, too hot as usual, and I hoped it would be cooler at the top of the mountain.
As we started up the winding road to Bokor Hill station, our Cambodian driver/guide said casually: “My grand-grandfather helped build this road. Nearly 1,000 people died during construction.”
Whoa. I stopped gazing at the view as he explained that harsh working conditions, backbreaking labour and malaria all took their toll on the prisoners/indentured servants before the road was finally completed in 1925.
We learnt some chilling history about the plateau. After the inauspicious start building the road, Bokor became a pleasant retreat for the French colonials and King Sihanouk to escape the relentless heat in Cambodia. But a few years after they left, the Khmer Rouge moved in and planted thousands of land mines at the base of the mountain to protect themselves and ventured out to intimidate and massacre the villagers below.