Cambodia is one of the most amazing countries in the world when it comes to exploring their culture, history, architecture, and amazing natural countryside. But the vast majority of tourists visit Angkor Wat and the temples in Siem Reap, the eclectic and electric city of Phnom Penh, and then maybe go south along the coast to Sihanoukville for a little beach.
But, for me, two of the highlights of visiting that country are seeing Kampot and Kep. Those two small towns are super chill and so authentic that you feel like you stepped back through time a couple of hundred years.
When you’re vistingKampot and Kep, the whole point is to slow down and chill, but there are a few really cool trips you can take and things to see, and one on the list should be a visit to Kampot’s pepper farms.
In fact, Kampot pepper is famous all over Asia. You’ll definitely see these peppercorns in traditional Khmer cooking, and they come in little strings of small round pearls in greenish or brownish red color, like peas outside of a pod. Unlike most of the peppers in Asia, they’re not burning hot or even convey heat. They’re more like a smoky, low-fire with a lot of flavor. My favorite is the traditional squid dish with plenty of Kampot pepper or beef LokLakwhich is sliced beef with tomatoes, onion, and plenty of these peppers.
Anyways, when you’re in Kampot, hire a tuktuk and have them take you out to the pepper farms. They’re all congregated in one general area and love to have foreigners come say hello. Just bring plenty of water and a bandana or scarf because it gets really dusty, bumpy, and damn hot on those roads.
Most of them have tours so you can go out in the fields among the vines and see how they’re grown, harvested, dried out, etc. You’ll also probably end up in a gift shop with lots of packaged Kampot peppers, so buy a few for souvenirs and leave your guide a tip.
At these pepper farms, I learned a lot, too. For instance, I didn’t know that pepper farms are always located at the base of mountains or hills in Cambodia because it’s the quartz in the soil that makes perfect growing conditions.
Pepper farms grown in Southern Cambodia have also received a Protected Geographical Indication. While you probably don’t know what that is, it’s actually really impressive. For instance, only sparkling wine from a certain province in France (the Province of Champagne) can be produced, marketed, and sold as champagne! Otherwise, it’s just sparkling wine, even if it’s the exact same product. Likewise, all “tequila” comes from a region in Mexico called tequila, or else it’s just an agave spirit, etc. So Cambodian pepper farms have been awarded that same honor.
I also found out that pepper farming is nothing new in Cambodia. In fact, these peppercorns have been grown in the Kingdom of Cambodia since the 13th century under the great Khmer Empire, and the industry really took off again under French colonial rule in the 19th and 20th century.
Enjoy your Kampot Pepper!