A diverse mix of low key activities
What we say:
Kampot's keynote attraction is Bokor National Park, which encompasses much of the Elephant Mountains and overshadows Kampot. The summit is home to ruined historic buildings including a magnificent casino, as well as the source of a large waterfall. Recent resort development has somewhat spoilt the spooky derelict atmosphere with a new casino complex and plans for a housing estate, but there's still plenty to explore and the new road makes it much easier to access. See our Bokor National Park section for more information.
Probably most popular thing to do is a sunset firefly cruise on the river -- watch the sun set behind Bokor Mountain as you chug upstream then look out for trees full of the little glowing bugs as you return in the dark. The fireflies aren't guaranteed (one cruise operator claims he's offered them cash for the electricity costs and umbrellas for the rainy season to get them to show) but they are magical if you're in luck. The further north you go the more and more rural the scenery becomes, so it's worth taking a trip of two or more hours. Captain Chim offers very good value $5 cruises with a free coconut or beer (T: 012 321 043).
A series of caves is within easy motorcycle distance of Kampot. The closest at Kbal Romeas hid Khmer, Cham and Chinese communities during the Khmer Rouge era and has a fine collection of stalegtites and -mites. Invest in the local economy by taking one of the teenage guides offering their services outside, who can tell you some history and point out interesting rock formations. If you've a head for heights, Climbodia arranges rock climbing, caving, abseiling and traversing a newly installed via ferrata at the site. A little further along at Phnom Chhnok, a short ride off the Kep road through beautiful countryside, you'll find a seventh century ruined temple in remarkable condition. Phnom Sorsia is known for two things -- a large formation that vaguely resembles an elephant and some great views of the surrounding paddies. These sites are easily visited on the way to Kep, or combined with a visit to the caves at Kompong Trach.
While you're out on the road, the 'Secret Lake', which is far too big to be a secret, makes for a pleasant day trip. There's some thatched bamboo platforms where you can recline over a beer or order in lunch, and it's a lovely place for a swim. Nearby, Starling Farm pepper plantation also has a restaurant, but any of the farms in the area are usually welcoming of visitors.
For a tour with a difference, the Tic Tuk is a hybrid car-tuk tuk which can seat three adults. Tours can be arranged to caves, pepper plantations, Kep and Bokor mountain from $25 (www.tictuktours.com, T: (01) 299 939).
Something else which we didn't have time to check out in person but sounded promising was a visit to Wat Chamcar Bei, a hilltop temple a bit over 30 kilometres from Kampot. We were told the views are breathtaking, especially in the late afternoon. To get there, head out of Kampot on the road to Kep, continue straight at the White Horse monument (rather than turning right for Kep) and continue for another 14 kilometres till a marked turn-off for Chamcar Bei village. Take the turnoff and follow it past the school, turning left after the school then following the road to the temple.
Some also choose to use Kampot as a base to visit Kep, but we'd say if you have the time, Kep warrants at least an overnight stay in its own right. See our Kep coverage for more information on both there and caves at Kompong Trach.
There's a small zoo around eight kilometres north of Kampot, just after Arcadia Guesthouse, on the west bank of the river. It's had a history of intervention from animal charities, and while the larger mammals are living in improved conditions, standards are still questionable. There's no English signage, although you can probably spot the elephants, tigers, lioness and crocodiles without help. If you do decide to visit, combine it with a trip to Tek Chhouu rapids, now more accurately described as 'sluggards' since the building of a dam just upriver. Still, it's a pleasant spot to have a picnic lunch in one of the Khmer-run bungalow restaurants alongside. A hammock hut can be hired for 3000 riel. Bart, a committed expat, runs boat trips for cheap up to the rapids, and he came recommended by friends living in Kampot. Contact him at (092) 174 280, or look for his boat near the new bridge.
To get closer to the river, kayaks and tubes are available at most riverside guesthouses out of town. Try a stand-up paddleboarding session (www.supasia.org T: (093 980 550) -- two and a half hour lesson and mangrove tour is $25 or you can arrange a full day river tour including lunch and a support boat. Villa Vedici offers kiteboarding sessions and waterskiing or wakeboarding for those who like some speed.
Not relaxed enough? There's a couple of good massage places in town, or cross the new bridge to find Banteay Srey Women's Spa next to Bodhi Villa, a social enterprise providing excellent massages and treatments by the river. For retail therapy, a few little shops are dotted around town, including Kampot Tiny Pillows and the much-frequented Kepler's Books at the Old Market.
Cinema Ecran has two air-con movie rooms, with regular showings on a four-metre screen and a private hire room with a 51-inch screen for a minimum of two people. We also recommend stopping into Epic Arts Cafe to see if they have any upcoming events at their performing arts centre just outside town. Every three months, the students, all with various physical and mental disabilities, stage a very worthwhile performance. For information on some of the quirkier aspects of Kampot life, pick up a copy of the very tongue-in-cheek Kampot Survivor's Guide, available around town.
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