Kampot in Cambodia’s southwest has long been one of the most fascinating places to visit in the Kingdom. This sleepy river town is known for its relaxed vibe. Some speculate that it will soon attract international property developers, similar to Sihanoukville to the west. For now, however, it is a laidback oasis.
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Sharing a border with Vietnam, Kampot province sits along the Kingdom’s modest stretch of coastline. Also, it fully surrounds Kep province, another area known for its scenic beauty.
During French colonial rule in the 19th century, Kampot was an important regional administrative centre. It suffered great losses during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. However, normalcy returned after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991. Today, Kampot is a relatively-prosperous province whose economy is driven mostly by tourism.
Vacation or just weekend getaway
Every year, thousands of Chinese, Japanese, European, Thai, Korean and American tourists descend upon Kampot. The province is also a favourite weekend getaway for expats living in Phnom Penh who want to escape the heat and chaos of the capital.
Relics of the French colonial past such as the architecture, the Bokor Hill Station and several ecotourism sites are among the most popular tourist attractions in Kampot. The region is known for having some of the best black pepper and durian in the world.
Visitors often catch a tour at one of the certified pepper farms or the salt fields. Additional popular attractions include river cruises, island excursions, fishing expeditions, jungle trekking, spelunking (cave exploration) and bicycle tours.
Kampot receives the highest number of visitors during the “high season” from around November to February. May and July also seem to be busy months. August, the peak of Cambodia’s rainy season is one of the slowest times for Kampot.
Ticket to ride
Since Kampot has no airport of its own, international visitors will have to first fly into either Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville and then get to Kampot by land. No worries, though! The options are nearly endless and landscapes in the south are some of the most beautiful in the Kingdom.
Coming in a coach
You can hop on the train from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and disembark at Kampot’s station. Tickets are $4 for the 2.5 hour trip. The Royal Railways has a regular train service from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and vice versa every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Check their website for more info. After arriving at the Kampot station, you can take a tuk-tuk, moto taxi or car for just five minutes and be in the centre of town.
Bus, magic bus
There are several bus companies with daily trips from Phnom Penh to Kampot and vice versa. These include Giant Ibis, Capitol Transport, Mekong Express, and Phnom Penh Sorya. The trip usually takes around four hours. Some even stop in Kep as well.
The price of bus tickets ranges from $5 to $9. Expats often pay more for bus tickets than locals. Check the BookMeBus app or websites of the aforementioned bus companies to get more details on the schedules and prices.
Riding in style
From Phnom Penh, you can hire taxis (usually Toyota Camrys) for between $35 and $50. Prices go up during public holidays, however, and if you need more luggage space an SUV for the same trip will cost around $60. The drive usually takes around three hours.
Usually hotels or guesthouses can set up these taxis. If you are staying at The Great Duke Phnom Penh Hotel you can stroll over to Dangkor Market and there is a taxi station, too.
Kampot is a gastronomic paradise. It has a ton of dining options, from local to foreign, budget to fine dining and everything in between. Most restaurants offer a mix of Khmer, Pan-Asian and Western food.
There is bARACA, a Belgian-owned tapas bar serving Spanish tapas with a Khmer twist. Want some of the best noodles in town? Head over to Ecran Chinese Noodles and Dumplings, it will not disappoint. Tertulia is another excellent foreign joint in Kampot. It offers Portuguese cuisine, including Bulhao Pato clams and the traditional slow-cooked seafood cataplana.
Java junkies should be sure to stop in Cafe Espresso, which brews up the best cup of joe in town. For pastries and other desserts, Kampot Pie & Ice Cream Palace takes the local crown.
Laying down for the night
There is little hassle looking for a place to sleep in Kampot. Accommodations in town cater to a vast range of tastes and budgets. Booking ahead is wise during high season but if you aren’t picky, you can usually walk in and find a suitable place to stay.
Staying in style
If you have the money to splurge, Kampot will not disappoint you. Several luxury hotels have set up camp there. They usually have pools, gyms and saunas on their premises. Nataya Roundhouse Coral Bay Resort and Le Bokor Palace Hotel are two of the big names. They usually charge between $100 and $300 a night.
For $50 to $100 a night, you can stay in one of the many mid-ranged accommodations or boutique hotels in Kampot. Popular places in this section include Rikitikitavi, Auberge du Soleil and Kampot View Boutique Hotel. Many of these still offer gyms, pools and sky bars.
Snoring on a shoestring budget
Kampot does not lack in budget accommodations. Numerous dorm-style shared rooms cater to young backpackers and charge $10 or less per night. Private rooms can also be found in these establishments, as can rooms with air conditioning. Costs can reach up to $40 per night, depending on amenities.
The vivid sights and sounds of Kampot
Kampot has something for everyone. Whether you love nature, food, shopping or just sightseeing, the town will surely catch your interest. Here are some of the top sights:
Bokor Hill Station
A stunning relic of the French colonial past, the Bokor Hill Station up in the Damrei (Elephant) Mountains is Kampot’s most-visited tourist attraction. Atop the mountain is a collection of French colonial buildings, a Catholic church, Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino, a post office, and a royal residence.
Kampot River Park
Set along the picturesque Kampot River, this is one of the best places to go boating, kayaking, and ziplining in Cambodia. It’s also a great area for picnics. This park is mostly visited by local tourists, but its is increasing in popularity for foreigners as well.
Cave explorers’ paradise
Kampot is known as as the best place to go caving in Cambodia. There are numerous caves to visit and explore in and around the province. Some of the more well-known systems in Kampot include Phnom Sia, Phnom Ta aun, and Phnom Saesar.
Another popular destination for local and foreign visitors in Kampot is Secret Lake, which is locally known as Tomnop Tek Krolar. Set between rice paddies and mountains, this is actually an irrigation dam built during the Khmer Rouge era. However, it has been converted into a recreation area where people can picnic and ride water cycles.
This is one of the several wildlife parks in and around Kampot. Many visitors marvel at the sight of wildlife in their natural habitats. A wide variety of wildlife can be found including wild pigs, deer, birds and monkeys.
In addition to pepper, the province is also known the world over for producing salt. The salt is gathered from fields close to the sea and then brought to a factory for cleaning, adding of iodine, and packaging. Just five minutes out of Kampot, the Cambodia Natural Salt Production Exhibition Centre will show you more about the process of producing the Kampot salt. You can even buy a pack or two.
Anlung Pring Bird Sanctuary
A protected area, Anglung Pring Bird Sanctuary is home to more than 90 species of birds, including more than 300 of the magnificent Sarus Cranes, the global population of which is facing rapid decline. The Sarus Cranes flock to the area from December to April every year.
Made in Kampot
“Pepperland” would be an apt nickname for Kampot. Known by chefs the world over, Kampot black pepper is grown in the fertile soil and shipped globally. Stopping into one of the certified farms will let you experience the whole process.
Kampot black pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar are Cambodia’s only Protected Geographic Indication products under EU certification. Some of the more well-known farms include La Plantation, Champei Organic Farm, Sothy’s Pepper Farm and Flying Dog Farm. Tours usually run daily.
What’s that smell?
Durian, one of the most infamous fruits in the world is a delicacy in Cambodia. Known for its distinct odour that some find displeasing, durian is eaten raw, made into sweets or used to flavour ice cream. Kampot has long been the Kingdom’s durian capital. Heck, there’s even a giant sculpture of one in the middle of town!
If you’re feeling adventurous, stop into a local farm or find a seller at the market and pick up a spiky durian. Beware, though, most guesthouses ban durian on the premises.
Along the beaches of Kampot are numerous shops and stalls selling handicrafts made from seashells and coral. Kampot also supplies most of the same handicrafts on sale in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, and other parts of Cambodia.
Getting around town
Kampot is relatively small so getting around by foot works for many. Travellers often rent motorbikes to cruise around or make the trip up to Bokor. Bicycles can also be found easily or you can hire tuk-tuks or moto taxis for mid-range trips.
While Kampot is generally safe, there have been rare cases of bag snatching. Most of these occurred at night. Just be mindful while carrying cash or valuables.
Future looks bright
As you can see, the list of attractions in Kampot is nearly endless. From beaches and eco-parks to pepper farms and mountains, this place has it all.
Indeed, the future of this area is bright. Many people think there will be a wave of development coming to the province soon. Only time will tell, but visit now to experience the true beauty.