Kampot is a small town in the southern part of Cambodia and well known and famous for its pepper! Many people bypass Kampot for the temples in Siem Reap and history of the killing fields in Phnom Penh. This Cambodian town surrounded by a mountain backdrop is not a tourist trap but you will see many expats living here. You will find some home comforts like quirky cafes serving espresso and plenty of multi-cuisine restaurants.
How to get to Kampot
How far is Kampot from Phnom Penh? We rode from Phnom Penh to Kampot by scooter (153 km) on our new Dave the (Honda) Wave we purchased in Saigon. A total of five hours with stops and tough road conditions. Now let me warn you, if you are travelling by scooter, I would seriously advise a dust mask or proper helmet (always wear a helmet!) that will shelter you from the dirty dust particles, rain and pollution along the way! The final road reaching Kampot is shocking and I was questioning why I let Sam buy a scooter at the beginning of the rainy season when Cambodia has the worst road infrastructure. We even had a breakdown halfway there, which Sam was absolutely buzzin about! The back tyre had two metal shards, fortunately, in Asia, you are never too far from a repair shop. The puncture was fixed by ‘rubber welding’ patches to the tyre, using a custom made ‘burning piston clamp’ which we found fascinating.
Where to stay in Kampot
Luckily when we arrived at Monkey Republic dressed in pure filth from our scooter ride, a very friendly Yorkshireman took pity on us and checked us in ASAP so we could shower, relax and enjoy the hostel bar! I had about 20 minutes before Sam’s ‘hangry’ kicked in!
We love dropping on a hostel that has ‘the vibe’ and we instantly knew we were going to enjoy our stay here, so we booked an extra couple nights and stayed for Sam’s birthday! Happy hour is every hour on Friday & Saturdays (buzzin), otherwise 4-8pm and they serve Khmer cuisine but also some English comfort foods like Chilli con carne.
Cambodia has its priorities listed in an interesting order, but what we do have respect is their alcohol. Draft lager on tap and unique cocktail recipes which I absolutely love. Monkey Republic shake up an amazing Absolute Mango Fizz, I was lapping up two for $5 during happy hours. Who’s birthday is it again?
What to do in Kampot
Here is our Kampot itinerary. Our first day in Kampot we went for our usual mooch around to get a feel for the place. We were so happy the dusty road didn’t continue through Kampot town. As we were walking towards the river we saw the biggest fruit ever! It was only Durian roundabout! If you know about Durian, you know it’s the stinkiest smelling fruit you will ever smell, and it tastes as bad as it smells (personal opinion, just saying!). Asia love to make everything with it; Durian ice cream, Durian coffee, Durian curry!
Sunset boat ride and fireflies in Kampot
We reached the river which was lined with riverboats and floating restaurants. Most of the boats were selling sunset boat rides for $5 with a free beer and a stop off to see the fireflies.
We purchased our tickets for the Lovely Boat and at 5:30 pm we left the dock on a 2-hour sunset boat ride. As we were approaching a super low bridge, we looked at each and thought… there’s no way we’re getting under that bridge! Next thing you knew the boat boys were whistling asking everyone to duck down, quickly taking down the lights on the top deck and we realised we were indeed going under.
The sun was setting behind the mountain in Bokor National Park, it was pretty cloudy but also spectacular and moody.
The Lovely Boat pulled further up the river to see the tiny fireflies darting about in the trees, it was amazing as we’d never seen fireflies before. The moon, a stunning waxing crescent and clear after the sun had set. I’ve developed a small obsession for the moon and love to photograph it!
Kayaking in Kampot
For Sam’s birthday, he wanted to go kayaking. He loves it! We found a place called Champa Lodge right on the river which rented two-man kayaks for $5 per hour. As we arrived, the grounds were stunning! The guy showed us a map of the loop which would take 1-2 hours and pointed out which kayak to take. No messing, we jumped straight in and cracked on!
A few minutes into kayaking, we were taking our first right turn under a bridge. The narrow river was super calm and we realised we’d never kayaked on such calm waters before, so learnt to take the rowing steady. It was very therapeutic. Both sides of the river were lined with tall palm and wispy treetops and a few wooden shacked accommodations. It was peaceful, to say the least.
La Plantation – why is Kampot Pepper the best
La Plantation was actually my favourite thing to do in Kampot, and guess what, it’s absolutely FREE! Kampot is famous for pepper… and anyone that knows me knows I like to ruin my dinners with pepper… I LOVE PEPPER! Oh, and let me be clear on this, it’s peppercorns, not peppers, that’s an entirely different type of farming. I know what you’re thinking, peppercorns are farmed? Yup! Now some of you might think… booorrrriiiiinnnggg, but we loved it and it’s beautiful to visit whether you like pepper or not.
We chose to visit La Plantation because its one of the few farms to be Certified Organic by Ecocert SA. Their objective is not to produce pepper on an intensive scale, but have chosen to produce focusing on quality. They have provided fulltime jobs for over 100 Cambodians too, keeping it local is what it’s all about!
The stunning countryside farm offers free tours and a taste of the different types of pepper produced, red, green, black and white and has both a French & Khmer restaurant on site you can kick back in and take in the views of the Bokor Mountains.
Lunch recommendation – where to eat in Kampot
We decided to eat lunch at the Roots Cafe we passed on our way to the pepper plantation. This wooden shack restaurant was in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the calm, scenic Secret Lake. They have a few pet dogs and cats (who all play together) and make the most amazing food from scratch (you can watch them carving out coconuts, picking fresh lemongrass and cooking the meat). It’s the best food we’ve eaten in Cambodia, now that’s a statement! It’s well off the beaten path too so not ruined with tourists.
Preah Monivong Bokor National Park
Preah Monivong Bokor National Park is a 20 minute drive from Kampot town. We visited during the rainy season so we expected to get rained on, but not as much as we did! Make sure you pack your poncho if it’s a little drizzly on the ground in Kampot, because as you climb higher and higher through Bokor’s Park, you’re likely to hit a few soggy clouds.
It’s all about urban exploration in Bokor National Park (which you don’t have to pay into by the way!). You can go in search of an abandoned Catholic Church built by the French in 1900s. An abandoned hill station, pagoda, weird shaped mushroom and don’t forget the big ugly Buddha on the way up, you’re likely to miss it especially if it’s foggy.
We also dropped on a Chinese temple when we took shelter from the rain and blustery gale force winds!
Fly through Kep
We called by Kep on the way back from Bokor National Park but there wasn’t anything to rave about here, so I would skip this town if you’re thinking of visiting. It was like a seaside resort but we literally passed through it. The distance between Kep and Kampot is 22 km, an approximately 35-minute drive.
We had four fantastic days in Kampot! It is definitely worth a visit and to get off the usual Phnom Penh & Siem Reap path and visit the southern islands too. You could see all the above in Kampot in fewer days, but we wanted to relax and enjoy Sam’s birthday! After Kampot, we jumped on the scooter and moved on to Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Island which is 96 km away.