Our Complete Guide to Kampot, the Hidden Gem of Cambodia
When we left Australia to travel full-time, we knew we’d be spending Christmas and New Years Eve overseas. After mapping out a rough itinerary for the first couple of months, we worked out that we’d be spending the end of the year in Cambodia. Knowing that we started looking for a town in Cambodia where we could chill out over the holidays. Kampot seemed to be getting a lot of love from fellow travel bloggers, so it quickly rose to the top of our list. We figured by then we’d be sick of moving around a lot, so we booked to stay in Kampot for nine nights. Believe it or not, travelling full time does get really tiring!
As soon as we arrived in Kampot, I knew we’d made the right choice. After a four-hour bus ride, we were dropped off in the centre of town, not far from the Durian Roundabout. Yep, there’s a Durian roundabout in Kampot, how weird is that? Don’t worry though, it doesn’t smell! In fact, locals use landmarks like this when giving directions to tourists – as in “head straight ahead until you get to the big Durian, then turn left”.
We decided to walk the kilometre to our guesthouse and straight away we noticed the lack of traffic. Having just left Phnom Penh behind us that morning, it was certainly a big difference. We rolled our bags down the main road and barely any cars drove past. Of course, several tuk-tuks asked us if we wanted a lift but mainly people just left us alone. It just felt different, it felt quiet. It’s not a feeling you often experience in South-East Asian cities!
Our stay in Kampot quickly became the highlight of our time in Cambodia. This little town was all we were looking for during our break. It’s relaxed, laid back and has a perfect setting. There’s a beautiful river with a stunning backdrop of Elephant mountains and an amazing sunset every evening. It was the perfect place to recharge our batteries before heading off to the busier parts of Cambodia, such as Siem Reap.
Where is Kampot?
Kampot is in the Kampot Province, in the south of Cambodia, 133 kilometres from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. It’s also only sixty kilometres from the Vietnamese border, as we discovered while there.
How do you get to Kampot?
From Phnom Penh
It takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to get to Kampot by bus from Phnom Penh, depending on the time and bus company you use. We used Giant Ibis because we heard they are currently the best in Cambodia. They have a good safety record and are supposedly the quickest.
Giant Ibis advertised the trip as a two and a half hour journey but it took us more than four. But the ride was ok and the bus was much better than many we’ve had in South-East Asia. The bus had 21 seats and it cost $10. You can book the bus through your hotel, a travel agent or book directly online. You’ll pay an extra $1 when booking online but you can choose your own seat, which is great if you suffer from travel sickness and would rather a seat at the front.
After Cambodia restored some of their old train lines, it is now possible to take a train from Phnom Penh to Kampot. However, this is only available on the weekend. The trip takes between four and five hours and costs $6. You will need to buy your ticket at the train station.
You can also hire a private taxi from Phnom Penh to Kampot but this will set you back between $35 and $50. This might be worth doing if you have a group of people.
There are many minivans going from Sihanoukville to Kampot. It normally takes about two hours depending on traffic and how many road accidents you get stuck behind! This road is notorious for accidents because there are so many construction trucks travelling along it.
Minivans cost $6 and you can book them from your hotel or from any of the agents in town. Taking the minivan might not be a great idea if you have lots of luggage as there’s not a lot of room. So be prepared to be crammed in like sardines!
Your other option is a taxi which costs around $35 dollars. That’s definitely the best option if you have a lot of luggage.
How to get around Kampot
The old town is easily covered by foot; it’s relatively small and easy to navigate.
There are many bikes for rent around town and some guesthouses also have bikes you can use for free. However some of the roads outside of the town centre are quite potholed, so bicycles are not appropriate for all trips.
If you want to explore further out of town as we did, your cheapest option is to rent a scooter. You can rent them cheaply in town (we got ours for $5 per day). Being quite quiet, Kampot isn’t so hard to ride around, even if you are not super experienced. Petrol is available for a dollar a litre all over town. Just like in Thailand and Laos, plenty of shops along the side of the road sell water and whiskey bottles filled with petrol. It’s cheaper than getting it from the petrol station.
If none of the above appeals to you, there is the more expensive option of taking a tuk-tuk. Always make sure you negotiate a price and if you hire one for the day, pay at the end of the day.
How many days should you spend in Kampot?
We loved Kampot so much that we really weren’t ready to leave, even after nine days. I felt so sad getting on that minibus, even though I knew we’d be discovering more places and that’s fun too! I would say don’t rush through Kampot. Base yourself there for at least 5 days, visit nearby Kep and just enjoy the town. Spend longer there if you can!
We both said Kampot would be our perfect place to come and live for a while. Hopefully, it remains unchanged for years to come! Although with the Chinese investors moving in, that seems unlikely.
What to do in Kampot?
Explore the old town
As you walk through Kampot’s old town, you’ll come across wonderful old French Colonial style buildings and shopfronts that are mostly dilapidated. But some are gradually being restored to their former glory. The town is very photogenic and colourful and would look amazing if totally restored to how it was in its hey day. Bougainvillaea grow up the sides of buildings and the town just feels so appealing. It reminded us a lot of Havana in Cuba or Hoi An in Vietnam. But it was so much quieter than Hoi An! There’s a few tourists and expats but mostly it’s just locals getting on with their daily life.
Enjoy the sunset by the Kampot river
Our favourite part of the day was in the evening when we’d walk down to the river, plonk ourselves at a table in one of the bars, order a jug of Anchor and enjoy the sunset. Our favourite place was the little restaurant called “Floating Gardens”. It’s a boat that’s docked and used as a restaurant and bar.
One night we took one of the sunset cruises and had a great time. For $5, they take you on a two hour trip up the river for sunset. Once it’s dark they dock by the river bank to let you watch the fireflies come to life in the trees. Finally, they bring you back to Kampot. The ticket includes two free cans of beer! It’s a really cheap and enjoyable way to catch a sunset. The funniest part was when the boat passed under the low hanging bridges. Everyone on the upper deck had to duck their heads so as to not get knocked out!
Ride through the salt fields
The salt fields of Kampot are located just outside of town and are pretty awesome places for photography. We visited two different areas, the fields on Fish Island (located on the other side of the old bridge) and some fields a few minutes out of town off to the right side of the road to Kep. We found the second one to be a little more photogenic but driving around on Fish Island was also really interesting, as we rode through lots of little villages.
Visit a Kampot Pepper Farm
That’s right, it’s not just about salt in Kampot. Kampot Pepper is actually famous worldwide as well. There are a few pepper farms to visit around Kampot. Some, like Sothy’s, are located near Kep.
We really enjoyed our guided tour of La Plantation Pepper Farm. Not only was the tour free but we got to taste all of their products and they were super tasty! The farm’s setting is incredibly beautiful and the scooter ride there was so much fun. Simon really had to look out for those potholes! We drove through many villages again which gave us an insight into the life of the local people. On the way to La Plantation, we stopped briefly at Kampot’s Secret Lake, which is quite pretty itself.
Drive up to the Bokor National Park
For some great views over Kampot, take a trip up to Bokor Mountain and the Bokor National Park. The road up the mountain used to be one of the worst roads in Cambodia but during the development of a Chinese Hotel and casino at the top of the mountain, the road was redone and it is now the best road.
Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing that came from the casino because it’s a big, ugly eyesore. But don’t let that stop you making the drive up there. It’s a nice drive and if the weather is good you’ll have some stunning views from the top (it was too cloudy for us). But the best part was riding around and exploring the abandoned buildings. We found some really cool street art amongst the ruins. There’s also a waterfall but don’t bother visiting in the dry season as there won’t be much water at all!
Head to the coastal town of Kep
Kep is a cute little coastal town, 20 kilometres outside of Kampot. Although smaller, we found Kep to be a little bit busier than Kampot but that’s probably because it has a beach. It was still a very enjoyable place to visit and we highly recommend spending at least a day there while in Kampot. Some people even do the opposite, staying in Kep and visiting Kampot. It’s only a short forty-minute scooter ride from Kampot to Kep.
Before the civil war and the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Kep was a very beautiful French colonial resort town. Afterwards, most villas were abandoned and left to fall apart. While in Kep, if you drive around the small streets you’ll come across plenty of crumbling villas.
If you love seafood (and even if you don’t), a visit to the Kep Crab market is a must. You can watch the workers take the crabs straight from the ocean at the front of the market and you can order some and have it cooked right there in front of you. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. You can also buy other types of seafood.
You can’t visit Kep and not enjoy a swim at its small but lovely sandy beach, so make sure you bring your swimming gear. Although the locals seem to swim fully dressed, so if you do forget it’s no big deal; just go in anyway!
Kep also has its very own National Park, complete with some hiking trails. If you feel like doing some hiking, the hike to Sunset Rock is reasonably challenging but the views from the top are lovely.
Spend the day or a night on Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay)
Rabbit Island is just a short thirty-minute boat ride from Kep. You can catch a local boat at 9 am in the morning. Tickets cost $8 per person return (return is around 3.30 pm, although don’t count on it being on time!). You can also hire your own boat for $25 and go anytime you want.
Rabbit Island is a small paradise island which is a perfect spot to spend the day relaxing. You can swim in crystal clear water and laze in a hammock or on sun beds, enjoying the views. There are a few restaurants that serve pancakes and Khmer food, as well as cheap beers, cocktails or coconuts!
It’s a great place to hang out for the day but if you have more time you can even stay overnight. But don’t expect any fancy resorts; there’s no wifi or hot water here! The huts on the beach are cosy but pretty basic.
Where to stay in Kampot?
We’d read great reviews from other bloggers about this guesthouse and they weren’t wrong. We loved our time at Mea Culpa and we wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Kampot. For $30 a night it was perfect. The rooms were spacious, clean and well-equipped, with a fan, air conditioning, a small desk, a fridge and a very comfortable king size bed. The Wi-fi was really good and the best part was that the staff were all ever so friendly and helpful.
Guests get free use of bikes and Ben the owner can organise a motorbike cheaply ($5 a day) and quickly for the length of your stay. Another plus, their restaurant has a wood-fired pizza oven and they make the best pizzas in town! Find out their latest prices here.
Use the search box below to find your accommodation in Kampot:
Where to eat in Kampot?
For the best Fish Amok in town, head to this lovely little restaurant in the centre of town. In fact (IMHO) it’s the best Fish Amok in the whole of Cambodia. Just yummy!
Best coffee in town! That’s all I needed to know. Their breakfasts were pretty tasty too.
Khmer Roots Cafe
Located on the way to La Plantation and just across from the Secret Lake, this small outdoor restaurant offers simple but tasty Khmer food and a great view. They also do cooking classes.
As mentioned above, Mea Culpa makes lovely wood-fired pizza. There are many pizza places in town but you can’t beat Mea Culpas!
If burgers are what you’re craving, then the laundry Cafe’s burgers should do the trick. They also have lovely homemade cookies
Auberge du Soleil
We ate there for our New Years Eve dinner and boy was it lovely! Lots of Swiss options on the menu and the best part is that they have cheese plates and some fabulous wines!
Located right on the Kampot River, the views are what makes this place so special. The food is pretty nice too. They cook their own fancier Khmer food and you can choose a la carte or a special “Kampot Pepper” menu.
Head there for lunch and once you’re done you can spend the afternoon by the river. They rent kayaks and tubes, or you can simply lounge around in one of their comfy chairs outside and digest your meal. They also provide accommodation if you fancy staying a bit out of town. Their little cottages looked quite cute actually.