A colourful small sized river town surrounded by lush green jungles, pepper plantations, waterfalls, caves, and the charming Bokor National Park. Here is what you can see and do in this lovely backpackers hub, where the senses fall asleep and time slows down.
Kampot is one of those places you plan to visit for two days and you end up remaining for a week, you plan to stay for a week and you end up dwelling for a month. Highly dangerous for travellers with a lot of availability of the rarest of resources: time. The chilled vibe and the abundance of hammocks are inductive of a kind slumber from which it is hard to recover. Add some nice food with veggie options, a joint and a Yoga lesson once in a while, and you might just end up putting down roots in the place without even realizing.
Located in the south of Cambodia, and only about 30 Km from the sea, the town has become in recent years a well-known and lively backpackers hub, with many bars, good restaurants, river cruises and a lot of Eco-lodges options just outside town, either along Kampot river or one of its canals.
It might take a 15 minutes bumpy motorbike ride to reach one of these places, but you’ll be rewarded with great quietness, lush green surroundings, and some of the nicest looking bungalows and stilt houses I have ever seen. I strongly recommend to go for one of these Eco-oriented accommodations, as prices are similar to town ones, and in town there’s really not much to do or see, the charm of Kampot is all in the surrounding countryside. Plus, Eco is cool!
Besides, everything might soon change: Kampot, although still hanging in there, is a victim of over-development, definitely a plague for the whole of Cambodia. But this is too much of a subject to be developed here, so I drop it with the promise to write something more detailed about it soon.
For now, let’s talk about what’s nice to see and do in Kampot:
UNMISSABLE BOKOR NATIONAL PARK
Bokor National Park is an unmissable trip from Kampot, and a typical example of optimistic development went bad, but for some incredible circumstances, thanks to this the place has acquired a very particular charm.
Situated at the top of a hill, about 1,000 m. above sea level, the Park is reachable with a very pleasant motorbike ride. The private and curvy road is basically new and fun to ride, but if you don’t drive a two-wheeler yourself you will always find a Tut Tuk (auto rickshaw) ready to take you there for a few bucks.
At the top of the hill you will find a huge decadent landscape of well-connected buildings, either uninhabited or almost empty. A hotel with a capacity of hundreds of rooms, a casino (on the right side in the featured image) who has re-opened only six months ago after years of inactivity (and is incredibly expensive!), lots of guesthouses, buildings only half built, others where mother nature has re-taken control, and some other concrete made attractions for tourists that never showed up.
It’s at the same time sad and charming, beautiful and scary. “The Shining” could have taken place there, and indeed it’s been the setting of a couple of horror movies. I was there only for half a day, but it is really fun for photography as you can always find a new angle on this kind of landscapes.
There’s even an abandoned Christian church falling into pieces, which has apparently been used during the fighting of the war. The bullets’ holes are still visible in the walls. And there is a very nice Buddhist temple, this one still inhabited and active, right at the edge of a steep cliff.
Nature all around is rough, there are sacred rocks and flower fields, jungles and waterfalls. Probably it was believed to become a big tourist attraction because of this. For a long time the place was really decadent, but very recently it has regained the attention of investors, like for the example of the casino which has been completely restructured. Which is to say, the development of the place hasn’t stopped, in fact, it is being revived. Which in turns is to say, people never learn.
Still, it makes for a great visit and a nice day out, highly recommended!
PEPPER PLANTATIONS AND THE SECRET LAKE
Another great day out on a motorbike from Kampot is to go visit one of its world-famous pepper plantations, which also means to drive around the countryside on bumpy dirt roads (fuuuuuun!), have a nice lunch somewhere around secret lake (including a nap on a hammock, of course), and passing through many villages. It’s a great way to discover authentic Cambodia.
The plantations are really interesting, guided tours are normally free, and then you can buy some of this great pepper directly from the producer. My favourite was the green salty pepper, which is put in jars before it even sundries, and becomes black after you open it. Did you know that the white pepper is actually regular pepper but boiled, peeled and then dried? And here I was thinking it was a completely different type of plant.
WATERFALLS AND CAVES
On your third day out motorbiking, unless you want to take a break and just hang out in town or at the lodge and do nothing, which is always advisable, and so I did, but otherwise there is a wide choice of waterfalls and caves to go visit in the area. This includes again bumpy or even sandy rides, and short treks in the jungle. Even better, following the river upstream to get to see waterfalls. Cool, huh?
Well I didn’t visit them all, but I went to Veal Puoch and Darren waterfalls, which are both marked on Maps.me although the position of the first one is wrong, it’s actually a little bit further than where it is marked.
In any case, Veal Puoch is really easy to reach, about 15 minutes walk from the place you park the motorbike. Darren is a little more tricky. I tried to find a trail in the jungle but couldn’t. So I decided to follow the river: it’s a lot of rock hopping and finding your way to go up for about an hour. A couple of climbing moves might be useful although not necessary. But it’s better to have steady feet.
I managed to get there, and my reward was that I enjoyed both waterfalls and the crystal clear water pools where you can bathe completely on my own 😉
KEP NATIONAL PARK
Kep is a seaside town at about one hour driving from Kampot. I am going to be honest here, I didn’t go to Kep. I would like to say I didn’t have the time, but I was just lazy. In any case, the national park should offer a nice 8-10 Km walk in the jungle, and the town should have a certain charm, or so I have been told. There is a beach, and there are crabs, also to eat.
It’s still one of the things to do from Kampot, so I felt I had to mention it here. Let me know how you found it.
FIREFLY CRUISES AND RIVER ACTIVITIES
Another thing to do is to take one of the many firefly/sunset/drinking/dining cruises from town. It is not that the choice is that ample, it’s just that it all goes together, even though the drinks and food are an option.
I wouldn’t go farther than calling the cruise cute. It lasts more or less three hours, the sunset is actually not visible as the sun goes down behind a hill, and for the fireflies, well it depends, it isn’t like you whistle and they come running, and you can see them around in the countryside as well, if you pay attention and you go overnight.
The river offers also other nice activities like canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boarding, or you can just go cycling around it and the adjacent canals. You can ask at your lodge or one of the many agencies in town, easy peasy to organise.
And this is all. Go to Kampot, it is really a nice place, before it changes completely and becomes hell. Along with Banlung and the jungles of Ratanakiri province, it was one of the highlights in Cambodia for me.