5 Reasons to Visit Kampot, Cambodia

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

Kampot, a small town near the coast in Cambodia, is slowly making a name for itself among backpackers and luxury tourists alike who want to slow down and appreciate the subtle pleasures of travel. If you love having mountains, hiking, water sports, nature, and relaxation all in one place, here are five reasons to visit Kampot during your next trip to Cambodia.

reasons to visit Kampot

Approaching Kampot on my Cambodia Bike Tour

1. Stay in a Guesthouse on the Kampot River

Kampot is spread out along a river, known in Khmer as “Preak Tuek Chhu”. In town, there is a small park and paths for walking, along with docks where the tourist boats wait for passengers on the evening river cruise. But the real highlight of Kampot takes place upriver, where plenty of guesthouses are tucked away in the lush jungle, offering bungalows on the Kampot river for as low as $6 a night.

During my last trip to Kampot, I stayed in the Kampot River Bungalows. This is the cheapest option and I have to say I loved it. The bungalows are very simple: small wooden huts perched on stilts in the river or set back in the jungle, furnished with little but some bamboo shelves, a thin mattress on a bed, a fan, and a mosquito net. The family that runs the guesthouse is really welcoming. The common area overlooking the river is one of the most peaceful places in all of Cambodia.

Further upriver, backpacker haunts like Arcadia, Greenhouse, or High Tide offer swimming, tubing, rope swings, and parties. If you’re looking for a social guesthouse or hostel that’s also an escape from reality, head up that way.

No matter which riverside guesthouse you choose, you’ll get to spend your days lazing in a hammock watching the fishing boats glide by. If you’re feeling more active, you can rent a kayak or even try stand-up paddle boarding on the river. The Kampot River is the perfect place to spend a day, a week, or even longer.

bokor mountain kampot

Entrance to Bokor National Park

2. Climb Bokor Mountain and Visit the Bokor Hill Station

Bokor Mountain is one of the top tourist activities in Kampot and for good reason. It rises above Kampot town, wreathed in clouds during the rainy season, usually still foggy even in the dry. Perched on top is a ruined French resort, built in the early 20th century for luxuriating colonials. Today, you can still visit the ruins of the old hotel and there is a modern (and ugly) resort and casino up there as well.

The normal way to visit Bokor Mountain is either through a tour or on a moto. You can easily rent a moto in town for $4 and drive yourself up the hill. I drove up in the rainy season and even with the wet and cold, it was still a great drive. Bring layers though because it gets cold up there!

Once you get to the top, you’ll get incredible views of the surrounding countryside, as well as the ocean, and even Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island in the distance. The old French resort still stands but as of May 2017, the building was closed off to visitors.

For a real challenge, rent a mountain bike in town and try to cycle up to Bokor Hill Station. It’s about 10km (6 miles) from town to the start of the ride, then 35km (21 miles) up to the top. It’s not a steep grade, but it is consistently uphill for the entire 21 miles, so get ready to climb. The downhill afterwards makes it all worth it.

Entrance to Bokor Mountain National Park on a motorbike is 2000riel ($0.50) and it’s free on a bicycle.

bokor hill station kampot

Bokor Hill Station

3. Cycle A Countryside Tour of Kampot Pepper Farms, Salt Flats, and Caves

The countryside around Kampot is a prime spot for exploring typical Cambodian rural life. Rice fields lined with red dirt roads spread out into the distance. Kampot pepper farms grow the coveted spice and offer tours. Drop by for a visit and pick up a bag of overpriced pepper to take home. The name brand “Kampot Pepper” costs $70 a kilo, a completely ridiculous price. How could the average Cambodian afford that? Or even want to?

Other than pepper farms, other highlights are the salt flats, a wide area of farm fields out near the sea that are used to cultivate, you guessed it, salt. You can get a stunning view of the salt flats with Bokor Hill rising up beyond them just a little ways outside of town.

Lastly, visit some of the caves that surround Kampot. Phnom Chhngok is a popular choice, a small cave that has an ancient Angkorian temple built inside of it. Entrance is $1 and there are usually some kids hanging around who will give you a tour.

Salt flats Kampot Cambodia

Kampot Salt Flats with Bokor in the distance

4. Engage in Responsible Tourism at Epic Arts Cafe

This cafe is genuinely one of my favorite spots in town but there are more reasons to visit beyond the scrumptious paninis and decadent carrot cake. Epic Arts Cafe supports Epic Arts, the organization. In their own words, Epic Arts believes that “every person counts”. They use the arts as a tool to empower disabled people in Cambodia, helping them gain confidence and find their own space in society.

Not only does the money you spend at the cafe go back to the organization but you can get a sense of their work while you eat. They have a gallery upstairs to showcase student work, you can buy souvenirs made by their beneficiaries, and most of the staff at the cafe are deaf or disabled in some way. You can even learn some Khmer sign language from the signs and books sitting on the tables.

I totally recommend checking out this cafe. It’s honestly one of the reasons I came to Kampot to begin with. The cheese and tomato panini is delicious. And you can get french press coffee! Yum.

Epic Arts Cafe Kampot Panini

Cheese and Tomato Panini at Epic Arts Cafe

5. Take a Day Trip to Kep

If you follow my blog, you’ll know how much I love Kep. During my bike tour around Cambodia, I spent three days there hiking in the national park, exploring old ruins, eating great food, and trying to explore everything there is to do in Kep.

But if you’re based out of Kampot, you might only have time to take a day trip to Kep. The good news is, it’s only 26km (16 miles) away, so you can easily rent a moto and head out to Kep for a quick day trip.

If you’ve only got one day in Kep, I recommend taking your moto and driving around the Kep National Park trail. It’s a dirt road but very easy to drive. You’ll get amazing views of all the different parts of Kep. If you have extra time, I recommend hiking up to Sunset Rock. The whole hike is pretty short, should take only 1 to 2 hours.

After you explore the park, head down to the fish markets to eat some of Kep’s famous blue crab. You can buy it fresh at the market or have one of the restaurants prepare it for you. If you choose to go to the market, there are people there who can steam or sauté your crab on site (5000 riel or $1.25), and you can buy a plate of rice for 1000riel ($0.25). At the restaurants, the dishes are more expensive but you’re paying for presentation and atmosphere as well as the crab.

In the markets, a kilo of crab is $6 and feeds two people. So for two people, a kilo of crab sautéed with fresh peppercorns and a plate of rice will cost you $7.50.

If you still have more time in Kep, I recommend driving over to the beach to see how Khmer people do beach days. Or take some time to explore the town and find all the ruined mansions. There is also a butterfly farm and a few other tourist attractions that can help you pass the time.

Kep is a beautiful little seaside town perfect for a slightly adventurous morning. But don’t be surprised if you fall in love and end up spending few days there.

views kep national park

Kep National Park Views

Kampot: Cambodia’s Relaxing Getaway

I love Kampot. It’s the perfect place to escape from the rigors of long-term travel. Get yourself a bungalow on the river, rent a moto, and idle away a week lazing by the river or driving around the countryside. I promise you won’t regret it.


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5 Reasons to Visit Kampot Cambodia This Year: Where to Stay in Kampot, What to do in Kampot, the best adventure travel and relaxation5 Reasons to Visit Kampot Cambodia This Year: Where to Stay in Kampot, What to do in Kampot, the best adventure travel and relaxation5 Reasons to Visit Kampot Cambodia This Year: Where to Stay in Kampot, What to do in Kampot, the best adventure travel and relaxation

In Photos: The Deserted Mansions of Kep, Cambodia

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel, Uncategorized

Kep, Cambodia. Or as the French once called it, Kep Sur Mer, is a small seaside town that was once a romantic getaway for the rich and famous of Cambodia’s bourgeois class. Jungle clad mountains rolling into turquoise waters made it the perfect escape for upper class Phnom Penhoise. That is, until upheaval, genocide, and decades of civil war ripped Cambodia into pieces, leaving behind only the ruined mansions of Kep, a ghostly reminder of what once was here.

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The Golden Age of Kep

Back in the 1920s, when Cambodia was still under French control, the French turned Kep into a seaside resort town. And when King Father Sihanouk of Cambodia negotiated a peaceful independence from France in 1953, the Cambodian upper class continued the trend, turning Kep into an elegant seaside getaway.

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Part of that transformation included the building of sophisticated modern and art-deco style houses in the mountains overlooking the sea. These structures, designed by some of the most fashionable architects of the 1960s, including the beloved Vann Molyvann, reflect the so-called “golden age of Cambodia.” To my untrained eye, they’d fit right in among the art-deco houses of Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon.

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Kep’s Violent Upheaval

When the Lon Nol government took over Phnom Penh in 1970, expelling King Sihanouk, construction of these mansions was put on hold. That construction was halted forever when the Khmer Rouge came to power.

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Given its location in between Phnom Penh and Vietnam, Kep was affected by the war in Vietnam and the wars in Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge took over the city, they rounded up Kep’s upper class, forced them into a gas station, and lit the building on fire.

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Kep’s fortunes didn’t look good even after the “fall” of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. A faction of the Khmer Rouge continued the fight in the hills and mountains of Kampot and Kep until well into the 90s. By then, the romantic lifestyle of the 1960’s felt like a dream, slipping away and tinged with horror.

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Today, Kep is finally in a full blown recovery. Khmer families travel from across the country to relax by the shore and enjoy Kep’s famous blue crab. Foreign tourists travel for a day trip from Kampot. Some, like me, decide to stay for a few days. Kep is a relaxed and beautiful seaside town but the scars of its violent past live on.

IMG_0177The Abandoned Houses of Kep, Cambodia

Just a cursory drive around the town reveals glimpses of Kep’s abandoned houses poking out of the jungle. Spend a day exploring the back streets and you’ll come across ruin after ruin, like a sick modern parody of Angkor Wat. Many of the houses have been reclaimed by the jungle, some are gone forever, marked only by the 1960’s era wall surrounding the overgrown plot of land.

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Still others have been reclaimed by Kep’s population, filled with squatters and families who, perhaps too poor or perhaps too afraid to relive the painful memories, live in the broken down ruins without rebuilding.

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In today’s Cambodia, where the land is more valuable than their cultural heritage, these ruins face an uncertain future. Many have already been torn down in the face of new development, and many more will soon be removed as well.

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But I was in love with these ghosts of Cambodia’s golden age. I found them compelling and haunting, pulling me back in time to a Cambodia before the fearsome pain of the Khmer Rouge wars. I hope, for Cambodia’s sake and for tourists’ sake, that someone protects these 1960’s mansions of Kep, keeping at least a few of them safe for the next generation of curious explorers.

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abandoned mansions of kep cambodia