Set alongside the river, the rolling hills of the Cambodian countryside and Mount Bokor is Kampot, a small provincial town where not a lot happens and that’s exactly why I like it.
Most of the traveller based accommodation is located a few kilometres up from the town, on the river where you can spend your days lazing around, swimming and enjoying the scenery. The town itself is charming and filling up with coffee shops offering a gentile pace of life, but the real appeal lies in the surrounding areas.
I traveled to Kampot with my wife, taking daily trips around on our bikes, uncovering the simple pleasures that exist in the area. There is the joy of uncovering what makes it into the guidebooks and then there are the kind of places that simply unfold before your eyes, providing adventure simply because it is your job to discover it. Here is what we found, but I am positive there is even more to uncover!
Get On Your Bike and Go Exploring… What Lies Around Kampot:
Kampot lies close to several areas worthy of a visit with the coast, the mountains, and rural scenes all setting the background for an interesting glimpse into everyday Cambodian life.
The seaside town of Kep is twenty five kilometres away and a reminder of the recent political turbulence that unfolded here. Before Pol Pot seized control of the country under totalitarian rule in 1975, Kep was a holiday destination for the countries elite, the Khmer Rouge ransacked the town and left the villas of the wealthy to ruin. Many are still damaged and broken buildings. Kep is slowly repairing itself but these examples of the violent history are still clearly visible.
Kep is well known for the local seafood and prior to the Khmer Rouge – who did so much damage to this small country – the Kampot area was also famous for growing pepper, said to be some of the best in the world. In Kep, the combination of the famous local ingredients result in one of the most luxuriously delicious things you’re likely to eat on your South East Asian adventures, Kampot pepper crab. There’s plenty of competition at the crab market and prices are relatively cheap.
From Kep you can also get to Koh Tonsay, a small picture perfect island with white sandy beaches and back to basics beach shack accommodation.
The drive to Kep is one straight, recently resurfaced road taking around 45 minutes. Take your time, watch out for haulage trucks, and enjoy the scenery.
Sixteen kilometres from town, the ‘secret lake’ is a worthy discovery at the end of bumpy dirt tracks off the Kep road, the ride to the lake is almost as good as the destination. Cruising along through rural villages where children on oversized bicycles will shout hellos and the occasional roaming cow will slow you down as you weave between pot holes, surrounded by rice paddies and mountain backdrops.
The man-made lake is another reminder of the tyrannical Khmer Rouge who built it, using forced labour, as an irrigation dam. Nowadays, it’s a calm oasis lined with bamboo huts, swimming, and places to have a traditional style Cambodian meal – Roast chicken, morning glory, rice and chilli sauce. Simple, but delicious.
Another moto day trip is to head up Mount Bokor, 1080 metres above sea level and around forty kilometres from the town. The colonial hill station is home to a number of old derelict buildings, a monastery and a couple of waterfalls. As the Khmer Rouge lost their grip of the country around 1979, the hill station became a stronghold until as recently as the 1990’s. With good, clear weather views can be seen for miles around, including out to the coast.
Other things to see and visit in the area include salt fields, cave complexes and pepper farms where you can learn about the production and drying processes of the pepper. The region is also a big producer of durian and one of the main roundabouts in town celebrates this with a massive fruity sculpture.
Getting Around on the Back of a Bike:
We travelled to Kampot via motorbike. The freedom a motorbike gives you is not to be underestimated. In a quiet corner of a humble, rural country with limited public transport and as yet a relatively undeveloped tourism infrastructure.
Rules of the road:
- Moto rental is available from hostels, hotels and travel agents for around $7-10USD per twenty-four hours.
- A passport, or ID is required to rent one. In case of damage, make sure you’re aware of your responsibilities should the bike have any issues.
- Fuel is available on the roadside, for around $1.25, or 5000 riels per bottle expect one bottle to last around thirty kilometres.
- The roads are in relatively good condition – especially compared with other parts of Cambodia – with generally light traffic, but drive carefully, you’re a long way from any adequate medical care.
- Use your horn to make others aware you’re coming, especially on narrow roads and blind corners.
- Make sure you’re given a helmet with your rental and park your bike in open, well-lit areas as moto theft is unfortunately becoming more commonplace in the town.
- Tip: Make sure your headlights are switched off in the daytime or the police will require a small donation!