Of Cambodia’s 15.4 million population, only 4% approx. live in the little, picturesque town of Kampot. Think tall, green mountainous backdrops, a fusion of quirky architecture and cuisine – influenced heavily by the French colonial period – and a serene riverside buzz in the evening, with faint lighting from both the town and riverside (depending on which side you’re on) sparkling its reflection onto the water flowing through the town. This town was once a major shipping port player – until Sihankouvkille claimed its throne.
Now Kampot is more famous for its salt and pepper production, with many chefs across the globe recognising the latter as a premium quality ingredient. It’s extremely yummy blended as a dipping sauce with lemon, chicken stock and oil – which is a key component of one of Cambodia’s favourite dishes – Beef Lok Lak. But it’s that good you can use it as a dip for anything. Use your own imagination on that one…
But what else is there to the old French colonial town? In a nutshell, this is the place to come for a chill – especially if you’ve been moving around every couple of days. Most people end up extending their stay here just to embrace hammock and riverside swimming for that little bit longer.
I’ve summarised my five days in Kampot below. Hope it’s useful for anyone looking to visit.
Route: Phnom Penh > Kampot
Bus company: I booked with Giant Ibis due to word of mouth. Luckily I was sat in my hostel lounge when the pick-up arrived an hour early (thanks for the heads up – note they do pick up 15 mins earlier usually). I can’t complain though, as the ride came with Wi-Fi, charging socket next to my seat and a snack. All for $10. It takes about three hours and the driver will stop for a much needed loo break.
This hostel is a newbie on the scene of a few other really cool riverside hostels. It’s got excellent ratings on both Hostelworld and Booking.com and from the reviews (always read the reviews) I gleaned that it had a good blend of total relaxation with its large decking area and hammocks and entertainment with its bar and seating area.
Whilst the former is true, the latter was absent – and that’s probably because I am travelling during low season and these guys maybe haven’t established themselves as much as their competitors yet. But anyway, I was the only person staying there, which after a two nights made it pretty lonely.
Main pros: Beautiful setting, hammocks, river for swimming, restaurant on site – although at times I was unsure of whether it was open or not, large beds, $5pn for my own room
Con: Very quiet during low season – I believe this place has the potential to be awesome in other periods outside of June – Sept
Most backpackers that have travelled Cambodia will have heard of Mad Monkey. Rumour has it that the Siem Reap hostel is notorious for its crazy partying around the clock, which is something that I wanted to avoid in Kampot. Old, I know – but I wanted to stay somewhere for more than just a couple of nights – which is sadly becoming my limit for partying without coming up for air. But I had also heard that the staff and facilities at Mad Monkey were second to none. So after feeling pretty isolated riverside, I took the plunge and went into town to check it out for myself.
I was pleasantly surprised – I’d envisaged a sea of intoxicated birthday suits jumping into the pool at 10am screaming “let’s get on it”. But fortunately no one was doing that. Nor was anyone holding back their hair for a quick chunder in the plant pot. In fact, it was really tame – again, likely due to it being low season or possibly due to the fact I wasn’t staying in its sister hostel in Siem Reap. But it certainly wasn’t lonely. My ten bed dorm was full of friendly folks from all different backgrounds – which made my stay even more interesting.
The beds are insanely comfortable, set up with your own reading light and charging socket. Generally, the hostel is pretty clean. The staff are incredible – especially David, the Manager, who did a sterling job of giving our group something to do on a rainy day. Turned out to be the best day I’d had – see below on stuff to do FMI.
Pros: Events on most days, communal area with bar, pool and restaurant, amazing beds, $5pn for 10 bed dorm
Con: Due to low season much of the stuff that goes on at Mad Monkey both in the bar and event wise were no longer taking place – which makes total sense and thanks to the manager he made sure we still had a good time.
Stuff to do:
Bokor National Park
Kampot’s home to a national park, which has plenty to see – waterfalls, a giant statue of Buddha, temples in the mountains. If you’re visiting during low season go early in the morning when it is less likely to rain. Believe me, if you get struck by the monsoon downpours in the afternoon you’re going to get very wet and there’s not such a great view.
For four people sharing a taxi we paid $8 each for our driver. Entry to the waterfall costs either 50c (comes with drink of water) or 75c (comes with sugar cane juice). I recommend getting the former because the juice quite literally is sugar with an aftermath of grass.
You can hire a tuk tuk from pretty much anywhere in the town and drive up yourself. Mad Monkey rent theirs out for $6 a day.
Riverside pub hop
As mentioned above, David at Mad Monkey organised an impromptu day out for a set of bored backpackers who’d planned on visiting neighbouring beach town Kep – but then the rain happened. After rounding up a troop of seven, we hopped into a big tuk tuk, press play on the speaker and let the jams doing the talking as we took in the scenery and made our way to Naga House and Bayon Tree. Both are riverside hostels and bars – far busier than The Blue Frog – and are drinking / chilling spots for locals and expats.
After these two stops, we made our way to Arcadia – this is an absolute must for anyone with a sense of adventure. Arcadia, much like other riverside accommodation spots, has a really relaxed vibe, with plenty of decking and a bar etc. But unlike others, it has a huge water play area for adults. There’s everything from rope swings to floating ladders – to some even more daring catapult toys.
Our final stop for the day was an authentic Cambodian BBQ experience. The restaurant is in the town and in English translates to “A poor Cambodian”. For $6 we ate like kings – cow’s heart, beef, prawns, squid, veggies – and had a couple of beers each too. For those who can stomach it, try the cow’s heart raw – it apparently tastes much better.
Visit the Pepper Plantation
This isn’t something I did but there are plenty of options to take a tour to see how the people of Kampot harvest and produce the pepper they’re famous for. Other backpackers recommended it but after being stuck on a farm myself for the past five months prior I couldn’t stomach it.
Sunset & Firefly Tour
There are heaps of companies offering boat rides that will take you down the river so you can see the fireflies and take a swim at sunset. Whilst I wanted to give this a go the weather was pretty bad in the afternoons, making it a write off. For $5 approx. you get a three-hour tour and a drink is included. Worth noting that a friend of mine did this in peak season and said she saw zero fireflies. Could be fun to give it a whirl yourself if given it’s only a fiver.
Any suggestions or questions please ask away!