Kampot was once a sleepy city that is now transformed into a very lively destination for the travelling tourist, with a variety of music venues, bars and restaurants. This city is based on the eastern side of the Kampong Bay River and within a short distance of the elephant mountains.
The character of this city is quite different to other beach towns such as Sihanoukville, and has a more small-town ambience that is quite welcoming and quiet. This old provincial capital is rich in colonial architecture and quiet lanes with certain areas appearing quite worn. There is even a partially destroyed bridge in the city centre that was bombed in the war and rebuilt using mismatched components that has created a quite iconic feature in town.
To fully discover the town, it is possible for travellers to rent a motorbike or bicycle. Other travel options include the tuk-tuk and taxi that are very prominent throughout the town. Kampot has a quite famous food scene, especially the local fruits including the mango, coconut and durian.
A visit to Kampot as part of a tour package of Cambodia gives a great opportunity to experience both the urban and rural side of the country. The eating and nightlife scene is seeing a lot of development, though it is still quite modest, with plenty of restaurants in town that are well worth a visit.
Beyond the most famous tourist sites in Kampot like the countryside tours, Bokor Hill Station, rabbit station and Kep Beach, there are also other exciting things to do including the river cruises, the cycling tours, the fishing trips, relaxing on the isolated beaches and exploring the pre-Angkor ruins and caves.
This city is an excellent base for those that plan to explore the verdant countryside, the superb cave temples, Kep (including the islands and beaches), the Bokor National Park, and other regions of South-East Cambodia.
The tropical climate in Cambodia makes Kampot a perfect destination to explore at any time of the year. The warm and humid climate can make travelling throughout the country a pleasant experience. The average temperate is in the region of 27°C – although the preferred time to travel this region is October, November and December when the weather is the most comfortable to explore the sites. There is a greater risk of rainfall (wet season) in May to November, so make makes sure to pack light rain gear if planning the Cambodia travel packages during this period. The hottest month is April (up to 34°C), which may be too intense for many travellers.
How to get there
Kampot is easily reached by road directly from Kep, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville, as well as Vietnam via the Phnom Den and Prek Chak border crossings. Most of the internal travel through the city is by taxi, van or bus. There is no air service that arrives in Kampot. Plus, there is a regular scheduled train service that travels between Sihanoukville, Kampot and Phnom Penh.
Once in Kampot it is relatively easy to get around town. Kampot is a very walk-able area and easy to navigate most of the town on foot. But, for those planning to explore further afield, you may want to look at renting a moto or hiring a tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk drivers are great for getting around the city, and even offer a full day tour into the stunning Kampot countryside. Other forms of transport include the bicycle, which can be rented from a lot of businesses and guesthouses for $1 per day.
Where to stay
The city of Kampot is relatively compact and most of the hotels and guesthouses are within a short distance of each other and near the riverfront area. Many of the finest hotels are based in the Old French Quarter and occupy colonial-era buildings. This helps to give a very unique experience for the travellers in this charming city.
For the traveler that prefers the laid back and secluded settings, there are several mid-range and budget guesthouses and resorts that line the riverside stretching to the north. There are even backpacker getaways and family friendly eco-resorts that are within 1 to 7 km from the main town.
Other areas to stay include the rural area of Andong Khmer which is about 15 minutes from the main town and includes a cluster of guesthouses and boutique resorts that include bars, restaurants and swimming pools. This is a very quiet and peaceful place to stay that is relatively close to the nearby villages and rice paddies.
Eat and drink
The culinary scene in Kampot is seeing a significant expansion in relation to both variety and number of establishments. The dining choices are well worth exploring with many of the favourite restaurants within a small area that comprises of the Old French Quarter and riverfront road. The area around the Durian Market is particularly good for the local street stalls that serve fruit shakes, pate sandwiches and noodles, while the restaurants in this area offer mostly soups, BBQ and fried foods to give a very local experience.
Plus, there are several restaurants that are operated by expats from Italy, the US, Portugal, France and Thailand that serve high-quality dishes from their home-country.
Similar to the eating scene, the drinking options are starting to broaden and grow with several upscale bars open until after midnight. The vibrant party scene is available up river with the guesthouses that offer live music, riverside bards, and chill-out decks. Most of the bars in town double up as a restaurant. At night there is every opportunity to enjoy pub quizzes, movie screenings, movies, and live music.
Whether you are planning to stay for a while or just for the weekend, Kampot has plenty to offer those on the Cambodian travel tours and will soon lure them with its delightful charm.
The market in Kampot is situated at the northern end of town and primarily caters to the locals with traditional services and products like moneychangers, motor parts, bulk rice, meats, fruits and vegetables. The best markets for the tourist area are near the riverfront, which has several little cafes, clothing shops, convenience store, al fresco restaurants and souvenirs. The convenience stores are close to the Durian Monument and offer a varied selection of spirits, snacks, canned foods and imported goods.
The local grocery stores are great for the traveller with a hankering for Western foods and carry plenty of products, from imported cheeses, frozen steaks, apple cider vinegar to canned tomatoes. Also, locally produced fare can include fresh baked bread and herbs.
Kampot’s traditional market also has one or two pepper stands that make it possible to buy the famous Kampot pepper in bulk, and save a lot compared to the souvenir shops.
Many of the items of clothes are produced locally and include unisex T-shirts, dresses, and basic jersey and cotton tops. Plus, it is possible to ask to shop seamstress to create the custom tailored clothing.
Most of the hotels and guesthouses offer a varied selection of gifts and souvenirs such as handicrafts, locally made bags, Cambodian coffee and Kampot pepper.
Things to see and do
Bokor Hill Station
One of the most popular tours in the region is to the nearby Elephant Mountains that has the old Bokor Hill Station. This old hill station (including a royal residence, church, casino and hotel) is still present on the mountaintop although the buildings are starting to crumble. These builders were originally constructed in the 1920s by the French authorities, and offered a place for foreign visitors and officials to stay to get a break from the intense tropical heat.
The road trip up to the mountaintop has improved in recent years with the construction of the new hotel and casino complex, which also lead to the improvement of the road. A full-day tour of Bokor and local area costs in the region of $10 per person. This includes visiting the hill station, as well as a boat trip on the Kampong Bay River.
Architecture of Kampot
Many of the buildings in Kampot were built in the late 19th and early 20th century and have a French colonial style. Even though some of the buildings have experienced neglect over the years, the pleasant architecture in the city includes a combination of old French colonial government buildings and red tile-roofed shop houses.
In addition, there are plenty of buildings with a European-style at the south end of town, including the colonial prison and the old governor’s mansion. Other areas of interest in town include shop houses that are quite unique from one another in relation to the facade and design, which is quite different to most other Cambodian cities.
Caves near Kampot
Kampot has plenty of limestone mountains that dot the surrounding landscape. Most of the mountains include caves that include Buddhist shrines and exotic rock formations. If planning to explore the limestone caves it helps to take along suitable clothing for climbing the rocks and appropriate equipment such as a torch and proper footwear.
The caves of Phnom Chhnork
The major caves of Phnom Chhnork are nearly 100 m up the mountain and easily reached following a footpath or long staircase. The cave includes a pre-Angkorian ruin and a variety of stalactites and stalagmites that continue to grow. This ruin is dated back to 4th-5th century AD; there are also carvings that are still visible, including one shaped like an elephant close to the entrance of the cave. A further cave is about 300 m further along, but is more difficult to reach and requires climbing through small openings and over piles of rocks.
The most popular beach in the region is Kep Beach that stretches about 1 km and is located near the tip of the Kep peninsula. It is easily reached by an oceanfront road and offers warm waters that are pleasant and enjoyable for swimming. Plus there are several seafood vendors nearby to enjoy a fresh seafood meal. The best time to visit the beach on the Indochina tour packages is throughout the week because the weekends can start to get quite busy.
One of the popular tourist activities out of Kampot is the countryside tours that can be experienced by moto dup, taxi or tuk-tuk. The preferred tour routes take in plenty of points of interest that are specific to the local region and aren't over touristy. The Cambodia Adventure Tours can be completely customized but usually include visiting the pepper plantation, the Angkorian-era ruin at Phnom Chhnork, the nearby cave systems, the salt pains and even a cruise on the Kampong Bay River.
The Kampot Museum is a beautiful old colonial mansion that houses a variety of artefacts, maps and photographs that chart the history of the Kampot area. This museum is situated at the south end of town and near the riverfront road. Plus the opening hours are quite limited, so it is best to check that the museum is open before planning to make a visit.
Kampot River Trips
There are plenty of Kampot River trips that are available throughout the course the day and cruise along the Kampong Bay River. Many of the daily cruises include tours to the rapids and also land-based excursions that include trekking in the jungle. For the more relaxed boating experience, there are also cruises that are slow-paced and let you watch the sunset and drink in the early evening. Alternative trips can let you explore the sand pits and beaches near the river's mouth and even include ocean swimming. Plus, there is the opportunity to charter a boat for a relaxed fishing trip.