Is this really Cambodia? Pine-clad national park is a dream for hikers and mountain bikers

  • Kirirom National Park, with its high elevation, lower temperatures and sun-kissed pine forests, is quite the contrast to the rest of Cambodia
  • A former royal retreat, today the park is back on the map for visitors thanks to new outdoor activities and accommodation

Stepping out of the steamy bus brings a wave of relief as a delightfully cold breeze blows by. As Cambodia settles into its hottest month of April, the cool provides a welcome contrast to the country’s mounting muggy heat.

But it isn’t only the climate that makes a visit to Kirirom National Park feel like a trip to another continent. With its high elevation, lower temperatures and sun-kissed pine forests, it wouldn’t look out of place in Europe.

It was the area’s cooler weather and pristine natural beauty that led the late King Norodom Sihanouk to make Kirirom an exclusive royal retreat for the country’s elite in the 1950s and ’60s, when a collection of stylish villas was built atop Kirirom Mountain.

The Khmer Rouge reign of 1975 to 1979 brought the country to a standstill, and an end to the Cambodian dream embodied by Kirirom. For decades afterwards, the area was abandoned and the villas left to fall into ruin. Only in recent years has Kirirom – which means Mountain of Joy – begun to make a comeback.
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