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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrKampot can easily be considered Cambodia’s quiet achiever. Part of a tourist strip of beachside towns (along with Kep and Sihanoukville), this is by far the most pleasant one to visit and, ironically enough, not even on the actual beach. Set just a few kilometers inland from the shores of the Gulf of Thailand, Kampot is a riverside gem which offers a relaxing vibe and quite a few different attractions. Perhaps it’s this variation which makes it so appealing for many. Where the other coastal hubs have become complacent, and been reluctant to work on anything other than offering a splattering of seaside bungalow guesthouses, Kampot has had to rely on more to draw in the crowds. And it’s working. More and more visitors are planning a few days’ rest here, and more and more expats are choosing to move here too.
When compared to chaotic and often-times overcrowded Sihanoukville, Kampot can is an oasis of tranquillity. With a good dose of excellent food establishments, lovely countryside retreats, and a couple of brilliant day-trip options, Kampot is the seaside town to head to, if one doesn’t mind not being seaside for a few days.
Brief HistoryKampot is a town steeped in history, with most it dating back to French colonial times, when it was the administrative seat of the coastal region. Plenty of old, decaying mansions are still standing here, perhaps more than anywhere else in Cambodia. In the early 1900s this was the administrative capital of the coastal region and the country’s first and foremost seaport. European and Asian trade began in Kampot, with famed Kampot pepper being one of the primary exports. Cambodians have been harvesting pepper in this region for well over a thousand years.
After a brief but brutal stint under the rule of the Khmer Rouge , Kampot finally regained its peace at the turn of the last century.
The town has changed very little since then, so you won’t see any high-rise buildings or major hotels. Just a few kilometers out of town you’ll come across farming villages which seem to have survived the country’s troubled times, utterly unscathed. The authenticity of Kampot is, by far, its biggest allure.
HighlightsThere’s enough here to keep you busy for a few days and, if you include a few days’ rest in one of the gorgeous country lodges, you could easily stretch your visit to a full week. Perhaps two.
Bokor Hill StationKampot is beautifully framed by the Bokor Mountains, part of a national park of the same name. The mountains are splendid to explore with a car or scooter, and a trip here makes for an invigorating day out. The road leading up to the peak of the mountains will take you past an old French resort which dates back to colonial times (Bokor Hill Station). The shelled remains, set against an outstanding natural landscape, are incredibly striking to photograph. A new resort is being built and you’ll find an operating casino which is nothing more than a white elephant, although at least provides food and drinks refreshments. The commercialisation of Bokor is a sore point with locals, many of whom would prefer this part of nature to remain just so. Nevertheless, if progress is any indication, the resort will be ready in a few centuries or so, so for now at least enjoy the fact that the road to get here is perfectly tarred. Travel during or just after the wet season and you’ll come across some quite stunning waterfalls in the park.
Sunset Boat TripsAt 5 p.m. every afternoon, a conglomerate of boating vessels departs the central dock for a delightfully relaxing one-hour ride up and down the river. The ‘cruise’ costs $ 5.00 USD per person and includes a free beer, depending on who you book through. This is a popular activity with touring locals so is a great way to socialise and make new friends.
Teuk Chhu RapidsAbout 7 km north of town (cross the New Bridge, turn right at the roundabout and head straight) is where you’ll find the Teuk Chhu Tourist Aea’ which is just the fancy pants name for a lovely stretch of riverside which has been developed for tourism. All of this is, naturally, quite basic. Development comes in the form of a few food stalls, thatched-roof benches, 101 hammocks, and several spots where bathing in the beautifully refreshing river is possible. A few locals have armed themselves with inner tubes, hoping to create a Vang Vieng -type boom in tourism. Let’s all collectively hope they don’t, for their own sake.
The spot is super easy to reach with a scooter from town and blissfully relaxing. You’ll find an irritating amount of rubbish riverside and, if this bothers you too much, you obviously haven’t been in Cambodia for very long.
Phnom Chhngok CaveHalf the fun of a trip to these caves is the actual trip to these caves. The road is a bumpy, dusty mess yet the juxtaposition of the flaming red dirt road, green verdant rice fields, and deep blue skies (on a sunny day!) makes the scenery quite breathtaking. The caves are hard to find but if you don’t mind getting lost and discovering even nicer nooks then it makes for another great day out in Kampot.
The cave itself is super cool and boasts impressive stalagmites and stalactites. You can climb right in and through the end, but you’ll need a very good torch if you hope to see where you’re stepping. Climbing experience is necessary as the rocks are steep, high, and not recommendable for anyone suffering from vertigo. An 8th-century temple is standing right at the entrance of the cave and is a popular place where locals flock to make offerings. A fun and rewarding adventure, do head here in the early morning though, or it can get unbearably hot. There may or may not be a ‘guide’ here to collect the $ 1.00 USD entry.
Dining & ShoppingThe capital of Kampot Province is an industrious town which, aside tourism, relies on salt and pepper production to earn its keep. Kampot pepper is internationally known for its aromatic spice, although being one of the least exported means it is highly regarded. In this area, you’ll find everything cooked in the stuff, with salt and pepper squid being among the crowd favourites.
Enjoying great food in a relaxing café or restaurant is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Kampot. The town’s popularity with expats has given rise to an abundance of very good eateries which are a delightful indulgence. Mind you, prices here are still cheaper than Kep and Sihanoukville. Head to Honeymoon Crêperie (Street 726) for the most amazing salmon, cream cheese and capers crêpes, and Ciao Italian food stand (on the footpath, half way up Street 722) for incredibly authentic and home-made gnocchi with pesto and gorgonzola cheese. The Italian expat who runs this stand is as entertaining as his many creations are mouthwatering. The best part? You get food the way mama used to make AND no dish costs over $ 4.00 USD .
Kampot boasts quite a few quirky souvenir shops and three large supermarkets.
How to Get ThereMini-vans and buses from Phnom Penh head down here on a daily basis. Depending on the level of luxury you wish for, you’ll pay between $ 2.00 USD and $ 6.00 USD for the two-hour ride. A fun and dust-free way to move on to Kep is to catch a ride on the Crab Shuttle, a small, covered boat which takes twice as long to cover the distance (2 hours as opposed to 45 minutes by road) but is infinitely more enjoyable.
AccommodationThe center of town is compact and easily navigated on foot. You’ll find the usual array of guesthouses along the riverside promenade and the half a dozen side streets which shoot off it. The most enjoyable thing to do here, however, is to stay in one of the few countryside retreats which have been recently built just a couple of kilometers out of town.
Bohemiaz Resort Kampot Town is one of the most gorgeous accommodation choices you’ll find n all of Cambodia. It’s run by a British father-daughter duo, who will welcome you in and make you feel right at home. The white, thatched-roof huts, divine swimming pool, and kick-ass bistro may just be incentive enough to get a Cambodian visa extension which, by the way, they can easily arrange. A deluxe stay in the charming bungalows costs between $ 14 USD to $ 25 USD depending on seasons, and they also offer a few cheaper rooms in a block only 200 meters down the road.
Right next door to Bohemiaz is where you’ll find the Bokor Boutique Hotel, which is set to open in November 2015 and set to offer a slightly pricier but tad more luxurious, stay. The hotel won’t feature a restaurant but, luckily, you’ll have Bohemiaz’s right next door. The full English breakfast served here has been known to make long-term travellers weak at the knees.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 06, 2015