The unassuming town of Kampot has a strange way of making visitors fall in love with it. Many new arrivals planning to stay for two nights can be found ten days later, drinking a cold beer by the river and plotting ways to move here permanently.
Located just two hours from the Vietnam border in south east Cambodia, the town is not as ‘sleepy’ as it once was, and more bars and restaurants are popping up every day. Despite this, it’s still definitely one of the best places to chill out and relax in Cambodia and here are some of the reasons why.
Taking things slow
Even though things have become somewhat less sedate in the past few years, the pace of life in Kampot is still incredibly unhurried. The streets bustle in the centre of town, but in the most tranquil way imaginable, and even the traffic is easy going. Days can be spent taking leisurely strolls along the river, stopping for snacks and drinks, or lazing in a hammock. Apart from the occasional tuk-tuk driver hollering over, there are no touts or hard-sell here either, the people of Kampot are friendly, gracious and quick with a smile.
The hippy river
Kampot is built along the Praek Tuek Chhu river, with the backdrop of the Elephant Mountains creating some stunning scenery. Watching the sun set from a spot on the riverbank, or from a kayak on the river itself is a daily joy that will have you hooked. On dark nights you might be lucky enough to see the bio-luminescent plankton in the water.
A few bungalow operations are located a couple of kilometers away on the opposite side of the river, and even non-guests can enjoy the fine waterside drinking and dining before taking a dip from the decking or beach. Live music and parties also take place here at the weekend, as well as in the center of town.
We aren’t trying to say that all the buildings in Kampot are beautiful, but much of the town’s architecture has a certain dilapidated charm. There are crumbling French villas interspersed with old Chinese shop fronts, and colourful shutters and art deco decorations galore. Scattered on the outskirts of town are also some beautiful wats, one of which was left intact by the Khmer Rouge due to the legendary mystical powers of the head monk.
So many snacks
You can find almost any food that takes your fancy here, in fact there are so many lovely little cafes and restaurants that it’s difficult not to spend much of the time eating and drinking. The lure of living in Kampot has led to the town having a sizeable ex-pat community, which means a broad spectrum of cuisine is to be found, as well as some quirky characters.
As well as plenty of cheap and cheerful Cambodian dishes, you can find homemade Italian street food and freshly baked bread. There are no shortage of places offering ‘happy pizza’ too, for those who want to be even more chilled out. Did we mention this is also the home of the best pepper in the world, with many dishes in town incorporating the divine condiment.
Out of town
With the traffic so light, and the layout of town relatively simple, Kampot is an excellent place to rent a bicycle or moped. There are numerous possibilities for day trips into the surrounding countryside, including to the spectacular Bokor National Park, where you can take in views of the entire coast from an abandoned French casino. Just minutes out of town and you are transported to a world of red dust and paddy fields, passing waving kids and wading buffalo on the way to waterfalls and ancient cave temples. The beach at Kep isn’t even that far away. So much to do, so little time. If you can drag yourself away from the riverside cafes that is.
Kampot is about 4 hours by bus from Phnom Penh, with the price ranging from $5 to $8. Rith Mony Express travel direct without stopping in Kep, and have departures at 7.30 and 13.30, as do Capitol tours with buses at 7.00 and 13.00.
There is now also a train from Phnom Penh with departures at the weekend. The trip also takes about 4 hours and costs $6.
There are regular minibuses that leave for Sihanoukville costing $5, plus and extra dollar to be dropped at Otres Beach.