Kampot: One of the Best Kept Secrets in Cambodia
Kampot is the perfect example for how Cambodia is slowly changing: A few years ago this little and laid back town was mainly popular among hippies smoking marijuana all day long, but now it’s slowly turning to the better: Most hippies have moved on to other places like Koh Rong or Southern Laos. Now, both Khmers and foreign expats in Kampot have started to open nice but inexpensive guest houses, bars and restaurants.
Sure, the small town in Southern Cambodia on the bank of the Praek Tuek Chhu river still is a little paradise for young backpackers and people of all ages who want to take it easy and get away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but it’s also evident that it gets more attention from tourists around the world as more and more people know what Kampot has to offer besides organic pepper and the Durian Roundabout.
The Durian Roundabout. Yes, it’s true, the most famous intersection of Kampot has a massive durian statue in the center to emphasize the status of the region to produce the country’s most delicious fruit:
If you are reading this article in preparation for your first trip to Kampot, then let me give you a quick overview so you get an orientation of the town: The Durian Roundabout (see the picture above) is considered the town center of Kampot. About 80% of all hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and shops are located within walking distance from here.
I would therefore highly recommend you to stay in this area and if you want to meet some nice Khmer girls after sunset, then you can also find most of the nightlife spots here. About 400 meters from the Durian Roundabout, means 5-8 minutes walk, is the river promenade (see below). There you can find the highest concentration of foreign owned restaurants and bars.
However, if you want to experience the attractions in the Kampot region I’m about to describe, you should really rent a motorcycle. A lot of travelers do that and it’s quite cheap, too: You can easily rent a basic motorbike for 4-5 USD per 24 hours. Just be very careful on the road – you might think Thai people drive like crazy – but it’s much worse in Cambodia. So drive slowly and be attentive.
Let’s now come to the highlights of Kampot other than the funny Durian Roundabout:
The river promenade, officially known as riverfront (or how the expats call it: “The Front“), is the nicest area of Kampot and really has a great atmosphere. Every day from around 4pm, when the hottest hours of the day are over, both local Khmers and foreigners come here to relax, take a walk or buy some drinks and snacks from the street vendors.
There are two areas of the riverfront worth visiting: One is located south of the pedestrian bridge – here you can find a lot of foreign owned restaurants (perfect to order a cool Angkor beer and enjoy the views and atmosphere). And the other area is located in the southern part of town. This is where most of the locals come with their friends (you can see it in the first part of my video at the end of the guide).
I have marked both areas on the map below.
By the way, this is not the Mekong River like in Phnom Penh, but a small and rather unknown river called Praek Tuek Chhu, which origins in the Kamchay Dam Reservoir (another nice place to visit for a half day trip), divides into two separate streams in the southern part of Kampot and flows into the Gulf of Thailand about 8km further down south.
If there is one thing you should not miss out on your visit to Kampot, then that’s to drive up to the top of Bokor Mountain. It’s such a refreshing and energizing experience: You start driving from the town center of Kampot, along the main road towards Sihanoukville (National Road 3), and after about 45 minutes you turn right to the entrance of the national park:
You drive through the entrance and soon after the road starts to make up its way on the mountain. The road conditions are surprisingly good, and there are usually only few other vehicles.
It’s a fun ride and you will get some really nice views along the way:
On a clear day like this one you can not only see some cute Khmer girls, but also get views all over the Kampot province as well as the Gulf of Thailand not too far away. And can you see the island in the far background? This is Phu Quoc and belongs to Vietnam – strangely because if you look on the map it’s closer to the coast of Cambodia than it is to the coast of Vietnam.
But back to Bokor Mountain: The drive up the mountain takes about 1.5-2.5 hours, depending on how fast you drive and how often you stop. The distance is only 37km from Kampot, but it feels more than that, because there are a lot of curves up the mountain.
There are several other reasons to stop along the way other than view points and sexy girls including a Buddha Statue and the catholic Bokor Church – a reminder of the French colonial past:
The further you get to the top of Bokor Mountain, the more fog there will be. Sunshine is very rare on the top – even if there is blue sky down in the valley.
The highlight of a trip to Bokor Mountain is really the experience of the old and new Cambodia – and the most famous site is the new casino in the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort. There is an entrance fee of 2,000 Riel, payable on the road about 5km from the resort. Make sure you take a look in there – it’s interesting to see some of the few rich Khmer people staying there and also playing roulette and black jack in the casino on the second floor. By the way, the minimum bet for black or red in the roulette there is just 2 USD, so you can try your luck.
If you continue to drive along the street from the new casino you will pass the French colonial church (see the picture above) as well as get to two other historical sites: The old casino (which is believed to house ghosts nowadays, at least by the Khmers) and Wat Sampov Pram, a temple that looks extremely mystical when it’s covered in the fog. To get to the temple, turn right before the Chinese pagoda near the new casino.
The area around the old casino (see the picture on the right) is known as Bokor Hill Station and was a popular summer vacation home during the French colonial time. Nowadays, it really looks like the home of ghosts and it was even figured in the movie “City of Ghosts” with Matt Dillon.
Interesting: You will see quite a few construction sites on Bokor Hill Station (= on the top of the mountain near the casinos and churches/temples) and these are mostly apartment projects. But it seems like they ran out of money as only few workers are building. I mean, who would like to live there? Bokor is nice for a day trip, but nothing more.
And one last tip here: Since it gets really foggy and cloudy the higher you come up the mountain, the colder it gets. Often there is also a little bit of rain – so make sure you bring warm clothes, and even better: A rain coat. The weather on this mountain is very unpredictable and nothing like you would expect down in hot and peaceful Kampot.
Here is the map with all mentioned places of interest on Bokor – this time I thought it would be nicer to show you the satellite view:
I took a video on my ride up to Bokor Mountain that you can find at the end of the guide.
Kampot Pepper Farm
Owned by a french couple, La Plantation is an organic pepper farm about 18km from downtown Kampot. The great thing about this place is that they offer free tours. No appointments are required, you can just go there and there will be a nice Khmer worker with great English skills available for the tour. It takes about 30 minutes and they will take you to the pepper fields and explain how they grow it, what’s the difference between green, red, black and white pepper and you can even taste some of the green pepper right off the plant.
Of course they offer the free tour so you can buy some fresh pepper in their shop afterwards and recommend their farm to your friends. It’s 5.50 USD for 100 grams of black or red pepper (small discounts if you buy bigger quantities).
To get to the Pepper Farm, leave Kampot on the eastern side and drive along the NH 33 towards Kep for about 9km. Then turn left and you will need to drive on an unpaved road past rice fields and small villages. Don’t worry, there will be signs along the way (but better to bring your phone with GPS). About 5km before the farm you will pass the beautiful and calm Brateak Krola Lake:
For more information on the pepper farm and everything you could possibly want to know about pepper check out their really nice and informative website at KampotPepper.com.
Rock Climbing in Kampot
More and more popular in Kampot are different types of outdoor activities, and the most famous tour operator is Climbodia. They offer several programs such as:
- Discovery Tour
- Rock Climbing
- Lead Climbing Course
- Gear Rental
The tours usually last 4 hours and the price is around 40 USD. They will pick you up at your hotel in the morning (around 8:45am) and bring you back again once the trip is finished.
This is the only thing I haven’t done myself here in Kampot, but I have friends from Germany (a couple) who have recently visited and joined a rock climbing tour with them and have found it excellent. Their reviews on TripAdvisor are great, too (it’s rated the most popular outdoor activity in Kampot).
I would say you should definitely take one day for visiting Bokor Mountain, and another day for visiting the Pepper Farm. Then, if you have some more time and feel like you want to see or do something else, then you can consider such a rock climbing tour.
And that’s all the highlights in Kampot – Durian Roundabout, Riverfront, Bokor Mountain, Pepper Farm & Rock Climbing. That should be more than enough to keep you busy for a few days, but for me a visit to Kampot is more than just doing sightseeing: I come here for the relaxed atmosphere, few tourists, friendly locals and cheap nightlife and girls.
Videos of Highlights in Kampot
- See also: How to get from Phnom Penh to Kampot