Cambodia is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for all sorts of travelers, tourists, adventurers, and even expatriates. Once an afterthought to more stable and developed neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, it’s evolved in leaps and bounds over just the last few years, and tourism (and tourist dollars) are now one of the biggest sources for employment and income in some parts of the county.
The typical tourist goes to Siem Reap, of course, which is home to the ancient temple complex Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Many make it south to Phnom Penh, the capital city that’s a surprisingly livable and cultured throwback to yesteryear. Some even go all the way down the coast to Sihanoukville, the sleepy beach town turned sinful party place to accommodate us foreigners.
But far less make it to one of my favorite spots in Cambodia, Kampot. Kampot is an old town built along the Mekong River about four hours south of Phnom Penh by car and only a couple more hours from Sihanoukville. While it’s not on the ocean or at the beach, it’s still an incredibly beautiful, interesting and even enchanted place.
The town of Kampot features meandering, dusty, sun-baked streets among buildings left over from French Colonialism. For a couple of miles along the river, there’s a nice bricked boulevard where people can walk up and down among trees. As you near the riverside, just about every business is a hotel, café, restaurant, or tour shop now, but even half a block in, the town turns very much local.
But cross the river on a big shoddy looking bridge, and you’ll find a row of hostels, ecolodges, and other bungalows amidst the jungle on the other shore. It’s there that most tourists stay, jumping right into the river to swim in between cold beers and local Khmer food. Further down on both sides of the river, the roads quickly turn from pavement to red clay, and it’s perfectly safe and incredibly picturesque to rent a bicycle and pedal around, or just take a long walk.
You can even rent a kayak or paddleboard and go-up river at sunset, finding yourself through several smaller lagoons until you find a hidden Buddhist temple that emerges right out of the jungle along the river, something right out of Apocalypse Now. Rent a scooter and drive the three hours or so into nearby Bokor National Park, witnessing dense forest, waterfalls, and breathtaking views at the top, where you’ll also find a huge and surprisingly modern hotel and casino complex.
Kampot is definitely one of my favorite places to go in Cambodia, and I can’t wait to get back and see it again!
Kampot (Khmer: ក្រុងកំពត) is a city in southern Cambodia and the capital of Kampot Province. It is situated at the Praek Tuek Chhu river southeast of the Elephant Mountains and around 5 km (3 mi) from the Gulf of Thailand. Kampot was the capital of the Circonscription Résidentielle de Kampot under French rule and Cambodia’s most important sea port after the loss of the Mekong Delta and before the establishment of Sihanoukville. Its center is unlike most Cambodian provincial capitals composed of 19th-century French colonial architecture. The region and town are well known for the high quality pepper, which is being exported worldwide. It is also known for its Kampot