Sleepy Kampot picks up the pace

Kampot, known as a sleepy provincial town for so long, is rapidly shedding that image. Once known as the town with “nothing to do,” Kampot is now a vibrant destination with a whole range of food and entertainment options.

Kampot street food

Sleepy Kampot isn’t so sleepy anymore!

It’s always been a favorite escape for many Cambodia-based expats, thanks in no small part to the relatively quick journey from Phnom Penh using either National Highway 2 or 3, as well as the fairly regular, if slow, train service. And with the unfolding developmental disaster in Sihanoukville, there has been a steady influx of Western refugees looking for a (somewhat) quieter life.

With Bokor Mountain watching over the town, and Kep less than 30 minutes away, there are plenty of options of things to do and see around Kampot. Throw in pepper plantation tours to see Cambodia’s most famous export being grown, the idyllic Secret Lake (which is perhaps not so secret these days), Teuk Chhou rapids, a selection of caves in the limestone karst scenery which covers much of the province, the often eerie salt fields, and much, much more, and you can see why visitor numbers are increasing steadily.

Bokor Palace Hotel

boko The old Bokor Palace Hotel figured prominently in the Matt Dillon movie City of Ghosts.

One recently ‘lost’ attraction is the old Bokor Palace Hotel—as featured in the Matt Dillon film City of Ghosts—which has now been refurbished and renamed Le Bokor Palace (imaginative rebranding) and which will set you back some $500 per night in high season. Personally, I miss the imposing and atmospheric empty building which drew many tourists to its haunted corridors and spectacular views. However, recent reports say the hotel is already in decline; empty of guests, few staff, gardens neglected, and paint peeling from walls. Time will tell if the refurbishment was a foolish investment.

Staying with accommodation choices, there is now something for every taste and budget. From the backpackers’ favorites of Monkey Republic and Naga House, through to the more up market choices of Makk Hotel and Kampot View Boutique Hotel, and a whole host of choices in between. If you want to stay outside town, there is the luxurious Nataya Round House Coral Bay Resort a few miles along the road to Sihanoukville.

Kampot Espresso

Kampot Espresso is known for their brunches.

The food scene in Kampot is another feature which has seen much improvement over the last 2-3 years. Outside of the obligatory 32,000 happy pizza places found in any Cambodian tourist destination, there are enough choices of cuisine to please even the most fastidious gourmand. From the scrumptious brunches of Espresso and Epic Arts Café to the fine French dining of Auberge du Soleil, you will never go hungry on a trip to Kampot. We have French, Canadian, Thai, Lebanese, American, Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, vegetarian and vegan, Indonesian, and several other national cuisines. There are noodle houses, burger joints, coffee shops, cake and ice-cream parlors, tapas bars, and of course, some amazing Cambodian restaurants too. (Ed. note: run-down of new Kampot restaurants coming soon!)

For those who like their holiday seasoned with a spoonful of action, Kampot offers zipline adventures, SUP, or kayak excursions (the Green Cathedral excursion is a must do!), mountain bike tours of the countryside or city, or motorbiking up Bokor Mountain. If you like a more sedate excursion, there are several boat tours on offer, from an upriver firefly cruise in the evening to the daily crab shuttle to Kep which offers frequent dolphin sightings.

Oh Neils Kampot bar

Oh Neil’s Irish Bar is one of Kampot’s late-night options.

One much repeated complaint about the ‘old’ Kampot was that there was nothing to do in the evenings and that, for the most part, the entire town closed down around 11 or 12 each night. While not yet at the dizzying heights of Las Vegas, there is now a wide choice of things to do of an evening. There is live music (and dancing) most nights, taking place at venues such as Karma Traders, Billabong Guesthouse, Magic Sponge, and others. There are a few Kampot bars which remain open until the wee small hours, including Oh Neil’s Irish Bar and Green Boat. For sports fans, both Couch Potatoes and Rusty 2 will remain open all night for events from home, particularly rugby, boxing, football, and Formula 1. Weekends see regular events with DJs and bands at both Banyan Tree (Fridays) and Naga House (Saturdays), and the more recently added Meraki has been hosting riverside garden parties which have proven very popular. There is even a new ‘Western’ nightclub called Euphoria, which seems as if it may be here for a while.

But if quiet and sleepy really is your thing, don’t be put off by all these new additions. There are still venues on the river where you can simply curl up with a good book and a large mojito and let river life soothe your stress.

5 Responses to Sleepy Kampot picks up the pace

  1. Peter Brown says:

    Thomas you will have to augment your $1,700US with more dollars
    500US for rent will often not include electricity, cooking gas, garbage collection or even water at times
    If you like to have a bit of air-conditioning your monthly bill could cost $100 to $150USD eating out once a day at even at $10 leaves you with $23 a day to cover food drinks (if you drink at bars can be 8 bucks a drink) daily treats cellphone charges money exchange costs and unforseen expenses

  2. Thomas Pace says:

    I am a single male born and raised in Southern California. I am looking at Kampot to be a place of retirement.

    I do not want to sell assets in California in order to live in Kampot. I want to live there conservatively on my $1,700 per month Social Security income. Is this possible?

    • Iain says:

      Thomas, you could live like a king on 1700 a month. A new house with western fittings will cost you $4-500 per month. A meal at a top end venue here, including drinks, will cost you around $20-25, while street food or cheap eat places will cost you no more than $10.

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