Black Palace

“Black Palace” (Damnak Sla Khmao) was a little summer palace of King Sihanouk, abandoned sometime in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. It’s located on Bokor Hill Station in southern Cambodia. The “Palace” itself is not on a grand scale, but the overall spectacular location and many outer buildings must have been fairly impressive in its day.

The hill station was built as a resort by colonial French settlers as an escape from the heat, humidity and general insalubrity of Phnom Penh. Nine hundred lives were lost in the nine months during the construction of the resort in this remote mountain location.

The centrepiece of the resort was the grand Bokor Palace Hotel (which has never been a casino) inaugurated in 1925. See previous video- “Casino Rouge”. It was used as the location for the final showdown of the excellent Matt Dillon 2002 movie, “City Of Ghosts”.

Bokor Hill was abandoned first by the French in late 1940s, during the First Indochina War, because of local insurrections guided by the Khmer Issarak. It was only in 1962, for the reopening of the “Cité du Bokor”, that a casino was established in the new hotels near the lake, (Hotels Sangkum and Kiri). Some buildings were added at this time: an annex for the palace, the mayor’s office and a strange mushroomed concrete parasol.

The Bokor mountain was abandoned again in 1972, as Khmer Rouge took over the area. During the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Khmer Rouge entrenched themselves and held on tightly for months. In the 1990s Bokor Hill was still one of the last strongholds of Khmer Rouge.

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Casino Rouge

Exploring the ruin of the French colonial era Bokor Casino Hotel in Cambodia recently. The Casino was fought over by the invading/liberating Vietnamese army and the murderous Khmer Rouge from 1979 onwards. Due to it’s strategic place and size on Bokor plateau it was invaluable to either side to gain an advantage over the other. In recent years it has been cleaned up and somewhat structurally improved- unfortunately removing most of its neglected charm, tragedy and history in the process.

Gunkanjima

One of us was lucky enough to visit legendary “Gunkanjima” a few years ago. Hashima Island, known locally as Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)- is situated off the coast of Japan near Nagasaki. Mitsubishi purchased the island in 1890 and began the project of extracting coal from undersea mines. They built Japan’s first large concrete building (9 stories high) in 1916 to accommodate the burgeoning ranks of workers. Concrete was specifically used to protect against typhoon destruction. In 1959, the 6.3-hectare (16-acre) island’s population reached its peak of 5,259, with a population density of 835 people per hectare for the whole island. As petroleum replaced coal in the 1960s, coal mines began shutting down all over the country, and Hashima’s mines were no exception. Mitsubishi officially announced the closure of the mines in 1974, with the local workers/inhabitants having to vacate their island fortress immediately.

Gunkanjima is increasingly gaining international attention, not only for its modern regional heritage, but also for the undisturbed housing complex remnants representative of the period. In the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall, the island served as an inspiration for the lair of villain Raoul Silva, but filming did not take place on the island itself. One section was recreated at Pinewood Studios in England and the rest via CGI. In 2013, Google sent an employee to the island with a Street View backpack to capture its condition in panoramic 360-degree views and allow users to take a virtual walk across the island. Google also used its Business Photos technology to let users look inside the abandoned buildings, complete with old black-and-white TVs and discarded soda bottles.