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.
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.
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.
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.
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.