Bokor Mountain: A hub for religious tourism in Cambodia


Wat Sampov Bram, a temple built in 1924 by the Queen Mother of King Sisowath, stands atop Bokor Mountain, surrounded by mist. - PPP

PHNOM PENH: Preah Monivong Bokor National Park, commonly referred to as “Bokor” is a prominent destination for religious tourism. It features a diverse array of spiritual landmarks that cater to various faiths and cultural interests.

Wat Sampov Bram offers serene reflection and sightseeing opportunities. The old Catholic Church atop the mountain stands as a historical Christian landmark.

The Neak Ta Phnom Monument attracts thousands of visitors for traditional blessings and cultural celebrations, while an under-construction 108-metre-high Buddha statue is expected to draw Buddhist pilgrims from around the world.

What many people are calling the highlight of development in the park is an under-construction gigantic statue of the Buddha. Upon completion, the 108m figure will be the second-tallest in the region, behind only the Laykyun Sekkya Buddha in Myanmar, which stands 116m tall.

It should be noted that the Burmese statue represents a standing Buddha, while the Bokor example will be seated cross-legged in the lotus position.

The $30 million project, now 30 per cent complete, was begun in January 2023, with a groundbreaking ceremony led by Chea Sophara, former Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, and Sok Chantha of the Sokha Hotel Group.

“Sokha Hotel Group has taken the initiative to build this statue on the ridge of Bokor Mountain as a shrine for Buddhists to worship at and dedicate themselves to everlasting peace and prosperity for the Kingdom and its people,” said Sokha vice-president Chantha.

The 248m x 186m base will integrate staircases designed in the manner of Angkor Wat, symbolising the four cardinal points.

“Besides the central statue, there will be 84,000 smaller Buddhas, each corresponding to one of the 84,000 passages of Dharma,” explained Brinh Savuth, who represents Chanthy, group director of sales and marketing of Sokimex Investment Group, parent company of Sokha Hotels.

Some of the 84,000 statues - each representing a verse from the passages of Dharma - that will be on display in the base of the giant statue.

The smaller statues will be crafted from Bokor stone, known for its strength and durability.

Savuth said the statue's base will include religious platforms and intricate designs reflecting Khmer heritage.

Expected to be completed in four years, construction is being overseen by an inter-ministerial working group, to ensure it adheres to traditional customs, as well as environmental standards.

“We dedicated an area of about 90 hectares to the shrine where the 108-meter-tall Buddha statue will be located. It will be used as a religious tourist site for people to worship and meditate,” said Sok Kong, chairman of Sokimex Investment Group.

A more historic religious site on the mountain is Wat Sampov Bram, a temple built in 1924 by the Queen Mother of King Sisowath.

Wat Sampov Bram, built in 1924, offers a serene environment for reflection and meditation. Hong Raksmey

The temple, located on a tall hill and surrounded by large boulders, offers a serene environment for reflection and meditation.

Despite suffering damage during the Khmer Rouge regime, the temple has been restored and continues to attract both domestic and international visitors.

The pagoda, with its intricate carvings and stupa, reflects the rich architectural heritage of the region.

Besides offering a place of worship, the temple offers guests a chance to soak up the fresh air and enjoy the lush green forest on the mountains and the vast expanse of the sea.

“Today, this temple is a popular tourist destination for both local and international tourists,” said Thoeun Bunthan, sales manager at the mountaintop’s Thansur Sokha and Le Bokor Palace hotels.

He described Wat Sampov Bram as a stunning historical and cultural site that attracts numerous visitors each year.

“It is a must-visit destination for those exploring Bokor Mountain,” he said.

“The area provides a picturesque setting for photography enthusiasts and a peaceful retreat for those seeking solace and reflection in a historic environment,” he added.

Although it is no longer a place for worship, the abandoned French Catholic church on Bokor Mountain remains a distinctive landmark.

Constructed in the 1920s during the French colonial period, the church, built in a blend of Gothic and Romanesque styles, has withstood the test of time and conflict, including use as a storage facility and barracks by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

The interior of the church shows signs of decay and damage, although remnants of religious icons and a crucifix are still visible.

The walls bear the marks of conflict, with bullet holes and graffiti attesting to its use during the years of war.

“Today, it serves as a historical and cultural site, offering visitors a glimpse into Cambodia's colonial past and its enduring legacy,” explained Bunthan.

“The panoramic view from the church adds to its appeal as a destination for history enthusiasts,” he added.

Additionally, the Neak Ta Phnom Monument, built in 2014 and located near Thansur Bokor Hotel, caters to traditional beliefs.

The Neak Ta Phnom Monument, built in 2014, is popular with visitors seeking blessings and good fortune. Hong Raksmey

The monument is a popular site for visitors seeking blessings and good fortune.

Within the beautifully crafted “place” of the monument are statues of the goddess Kong Siv M and Lao I, as well as relics which have been prepared for worship. On the left and right walls are beautiful ceramic stone paintings and traditional Chinese phrases.

“Domestic and international tourists of faith come to pray for their health, prosperity and good luck for their families,” explained Bunthan.

He said visitors can also shake “fortune sticks” and a wise elder will interpret them and predict future disasters or fortunes.

“The annual ‘Spirit Possession Parade’, celebrated at Thansur Bokor Resort, also attracts numerous tourists who come to receive good luck in the New Year,” added Bunthan. - The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

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