In a nutshell
Pretty, somnolent Kampot has riverine charm and makes a great base for a trip to Bokor to check out a ruined casino, church and splendid views. Relax by the river. Check out the disappearing colonial architecture. Take home some piquant Kampot pepper.
Sleepy Kampot sits on the east bank of the Kampot River and enjoys spectacular views across to Bokor and Elephant Mountains, which make up the sizeable Bokor National Park. The town was once a trading centre and until the establishment of a deep sea port at Sihanoukville in the 1950s, Kampot was Cambodia's primary port. A smattering of small fishing boats can still be seen unloading every morning a short walk south of the main town on the dirt road parallel to the river. Given Kampot's proximity to the Vietnamese border, fish often isn't the only catch being unloaded, with smuggling -- particularly of cigarettes -- a handy extra earner for the fishermen.
Today, Kampot is best known for its pepper, which is truly excellent. Pepper plantations as well as a few low-key sites can be visited from town, which also forms an ideal base for trips up to jungle-clad Bokor, a highlight of any visit to the Cambodian coast. Atop Bokor are a church and a casino, remnants from Cambodia's French colonial period. Today they're both in a decrepit state -- the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese spent a long stretch shooting at each other here, with one team in the casino and the other in the church. Spoiling the misty spookiness is a new casino development, but the road built to access it at least means you no longer have a tough trek to the top.
Kampot is both somnolent and pretty, in a rundown kind of way. Plenty of villas and old shopfront trading houses, especially along the river road, make it a pleasant area to wander through -- thankfully Kampot hasn't lost too many of its older buildings to the glass and brass brigade. Given time and sufficient interest from travellers, many of these buildings will hopefully be retained. The Old Market, long a derelict landmark, has recently been revitalised with shops and eateries and rumours abound about plans for the empty fish market on the riverfront.
Along with its relaxed ambience comes an excellent selection of places to stay, from cheap backpacker-orientated guesthouses through to some fine flashpacker and midrange hotels. Kampot also boasts plenty of decent places to enjoy Cambodian and Western food and just hang out.
Within town, activities include taking a walk over the once-bombed but now repaired river bridge for a view of the town, enjoying a sunset boat cruise up the Kampot River or just hiring a bicycle and meandering about. You also, of course, need to enjoy at least one sunset over Bokor by the river with a drink in hand. Further afield are some caves just off the road to Kep, the 'Secret Lake', some salt fields and a small waterfall.
A growing number of people are also attracted to Kampot to spend some time with a volunteer project. Choose from a range of options, from short term through to longer-term projects working with disadvantaged groups. Blissful Guesthouse and Epic Arts Cafe are two good places to start with enquiries.
One of Kampot's less favourable aspects is the large number of noisy dogs, which have the freedom of the streets after dark. Although unlikely to bite, their bark is bad enough. If ignored, they will let you pass the properties they are protecting. Take a torch if you're out in the evening, as street lighting hasn't really become popular yet.
It's also worth noting that although the town is sporting sparkling new signage, most locals don't know the street numbers -- the signs are apparently for the benefit of a certain Google car. Most navigation is still done by roundabouts and bridges. Pick up a copy of the excellent Kampot Survival Guide for a town map and some very tongue-in-cheek advice.
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Text and/or map last updated on 16th February, 2014.
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