Photo: Kampot's famous pepper.


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Long described as “sleepy”, the Kampot of today is transforming into a lively tourist destination, with plenty of good restaurants, bars and music to be found. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the hardcore riverside lounging that the city has built its name on. Not by a long shot. It’s also an excellent base from which to explore Bokor National Park. And of course, you must pick up your own peck of the best pepper in the world, straight from the source.

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The town was once an important trading centre and until the establishment of a deep sea port at Sihanoukville in the 1950s, Kampot was Cambodia’s primary port. A small fleet of fishing boats can still be seen unloading each morning a short walk south of the main town. Given Kampot’s proximity to the Vietnamese border, fish often aren’t the only catch being unloaded, with smuggling — particularly of cigarettes — a handy extra earner for the trawlers.

They don't make them like they used to. Photo taken in or around Kampot, Cambodia by Nicky Sullivan.

They don't make them like they used to. Photo: Nicky Sullivan

Pepper plantations (though perhaps easier visited from Kep) as well as a few low-key sites can be visited from town, but Bokor is the one unmissable spot, a highlight of any visit to the Cambodian coast. From atop the hill, an abandoned church and casino, remnants from Cambodia’s French colonial period, stare bleakly out into the passing clouds, trying to remember the sounds of pious hymnals and pompous affairs that once animated them.

Today, their romance lingers somehow despite their battered 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, and yet another in the king’s house around the corner and facing the church. But then again, anything will look romantic compared to the monstrosity that is the new casino development built down the road. Bikers will bemoan the fact that a proper road has now been built to whisk you all the way to the top, but it at least means you no longer have a tough trek ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,100 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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