Sunsets and so much more…….
Most people, if they have heard of Kampot, associate with it with Kampot Pepper, a premium ingredient, loved by chefs around the world. Come to visit as a “foodie” or an explorer and you will find more to than just pepper to entice you to stay. Most people stay for only a day or two but many say they wished they had stayed longer.
As a town it seems quite sleepy at first. We are in the south of Cambodia, a world away away from the hordes of tourists flocking to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, or the hustle and bustle of the capital, Phomn Penh. There is not much sightseeing to be had in town apart from some interesting French colonial architecture (and floral lampposts and a giant durian fruit sculpture on a roundabout!). The major sights are all a tuktuk away (see our post for Day trip from Kampot) or a cycle ride into the countryside. The town of Kampot does have charm by the bucketload – and some pretty good food options too!
Our small hotel bar area overlooks both the river and the Elephant Mountain range in the distance. This makes it quite the place to sit, cocktail in hand, and watch the stunning sunsets of which the locals are rightly proud.
Our first night, we forgo the bar with the cold beer and cocktails and jump on a boat to do a “sun-set cruise” along the river. Unluckily for us, this was probably the least spectacular evening for a sunset during all our time in Kampot. Our friend Alan was less than impressed with the sunset, armed as he was, to take some stunning photos. At just $5 per person including a beer, we spend a couple of hours relaxing and watching the riverside scenery pass by. As for the sunset, it was lovely.
The evenings impromptu entertainment came from one slightly mad passenger who decided to jump from the roof of the boat into the river. On hitting the water he yelled “I can’t swim!” After his spectacular and showy leap from the roof it seemed hilarious, but he was actually struggling against the current. The staff nonchalantly threw a lifebelt to him and his ego was definitely deflated, although to keep up appearances, he then blamed the staff for not telling him there would be a current in this tidal river, 15km from the sea. How macho!
The town is just about small enough to explore by foot, but jump on a bicycle, cross the old iron bridge and suddenly the countryside and the villages across the river reveal so much more to see. The iron bridge over the river is pretty much in the centre of town. No longer used for vehicles due to its rickety state, it is a perfect place start to a bike ride. We choose to free wheel around without much of a plan and found plenty to see of interest across the river. We were surprised at the scale of things, really large and colourful temples, the number of boats used for sea fishing, the modern farm machinery and some quite upscale houses, it all pointed to a mixed, but generally affluent community, quite unlike some of the countryside further from town that we had explored previously.
The vibrant market is large, covered and an assault on the senses. We are the only non locals in the market which is selling all types of weird and wonderful vegetables, fruits, meats, insects etc.!
Around the bustling market area are the local “buses”, that bring villagers from the countryside into town. They are basically large wooden carts with benches on either side, fitting arpind 20 people squashed in and towed by a decrepit motor bike. Everyone is sitting directly in the hot sun as they are towed along. Those leaving the market were piled high with not only people, but all their purchases of caged animals, and mountains of boxes and sacks. We jest with our friends that is how we will travel for the next leg of our journey. The strange thing is, after sitting in smaller cart cyclos, some really rough buses and wobbling tiny boats, I think they may have believed us! However, as soon as we got back to the hotel, they were really quick to book a car and driver for their trip back to the airport for their homeward bound flight.
Staying in Town
A few expats have settled here and set up businesses, mainly guest houses or eateries and some seem to have purchased houses and retired here, but it is a tiny handful and actually this adds to the experience of visiting Kampot as you can find a comfortable bed, familiar food in nice surroundings and even cocktails should you desire. Our first guesthouse/hotel has the best reputation for food in town, a great location and was the perfect place to spend the last few days with our friends who have to fly back soon.
We stayed in two different places in Kampot, both along the river. On a few evenings we joined the locals with a stroll along the wide promenade, chatting with and purchasing drinks from the lady street vendors before taking a seat on one of the benches to watch the river until the sunset. A really nice atmosphere prevails and it is a great place to meet up with people, or just people watch. We watched the small bus-boats the cross the river taking workers or school children back home and often saw a handful of the colourful fishing boats that chug through Kampot at around this time on their way to the sea.
Eating in Kampot
We found the authentic Cambodian food in Kampot to be rather good and generally prefer to eat local style, mostly. On the whole, the local style street food was to be found around the food market area and along the back streets. The colonial part of the town, rather fittingly, offered a more colonial style of eating, Cambodian food with a touch of European influence.
Especially good in Kampot were the hand pulled noodles (at Ecran) where steamed or fried dumplings are also made at the front of the restaurant – quite mesmerizing to watch as the noodle dough is pulled and stretched by a young chap with expert precision. Dishes with the famed Kampot pepper are best at Rikitkitavi, although we did not realize you are supposed to eat the stalk too until afterwards, finding it delicious but all a bit messy at the time to separate the corns from the stalk. Fish was good everywhere we found it, but ribs at the famed “pub” style restaurant were disappointing in that the bone was most definitely not a rib, more a piece of spine and this had more bone than meat. We did not try the very interesting French restaurant called Auberge du Soleil as the chef had an accident with a cleaver and was not able to cook!
Tour agencies/touts do not seem to exist, so all exploring is down to the tuk tuk drivers, boat owners or the few taxi drivers, something we are really pleased about. Bicycles and Mopeds are available for hire. Cycling is easy as the traffic is not bad and the roads are flat.
Where we stayed
Rikitikitavi $$ Excellent service, great food, really comfortable beds. Professionally run operation. Unfortunately very noisy at night from an adjacent bar/club.
Rainbow $ Basic room, clean and no frills, good location and quiet. Only 4 rooms.