Kampot city is a place where it’s possible to spend days simply soaking up the enchanting architecture and enjoying the feeling on the streets and by the river. Get around on foot, by bicycle, by tuk tuk or by moto, depending on how much physical activity you’d like to do. The riverside promenade, old quarter and Old Market are areas to pay particular attention to. Be sure to pay a visit to the Old French Bridge, which was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era, but is now open to people travelling on foot or on motorbikes after being repaired.
Stop off at the Kampot Provincial Museum, which is located in the Old Governor’s Mansion. The museum is all about the history of the province, with various interesting artefacts and photos. For a little spa time in the city, Banteay Srey is a women’s only spa where they also run classes such as yoga. It’s all for a good cause too, as the spa doubles as a retreat and training spot for young ladies with troubled backgrounds.
The Kampot Bay River running through the city has become a haven for water sports enthusiasts. One particularly popular option is to take an alternative tour of Kampot from stand up paddleboards, which is a truly unique way to experience the area. It’s also possible to hire kayaks from Kampot city to explore the river. A little further out of the city, The Green Cathedral is a popular kayaking route, called so for the verdant canopy you have to kayak underneath. For those who want to go on longer trips on the water, wooden longboats take groups out for a few hours at a time, while Kampot city is also a popular launch point to take boat trips to the Damrei and Bokor Mountains.
Adventurers who prefer to stay on dry land enjoy heading just outside the city to Climbodia, where rock climbing, abseiling and caving is all possible at Phnom Kbal Romeas.
Just outside of Kampot city is the Hindu cave temple of Phnom Chhngok. Built in the 7th century, reaching the cave involves a climb of just over 200 stairs, but it’s more than worth it. The main chamber is home to a brick temple dedicated to Shiva, while the cave system also has depictions of elephants and symbology from Hindu teachings. And it goes without saying that the views over the countryside from this height are magical.
There are other caves open to the public a little further outside the city too, in a locality called Phnom Sorsia. This is a place to visit Rung Damrey Saa (‘White Elephant Cave’) and another cave known for being full of bats. There’s also a modern temple to see.
The western part of Kampot Province is made up of the Preah Monivong National Park, also called the Bokor National Park, after Bokor Mountain – the highest mountain peak in the national park. This is only one of two parks that is protected by the ASEAN Heritage Parks scheme in Cambodia. One interesting place to visit in the national park is the Bokor Hill Station, which was built by French colonialists in the 1920s and was abandoned for years. Although redevelopment has now taken place to turn it into a casino, it’s still interesting to get a feel for a former era here. Nearby there is also the Povokvil Waterfalls and the Black Palace, which was the former summer palace of King Sihanouk. The national park is also home to a 29 metre high statue of Lok Yeay Mao, a mythical heroine from Cambodian Buddhism who protects travellers. There’s also a Catholic church that dates back to French colonialists in the 1920s, which is an unusual sight in Cambodia and particularly in the middle of a mountain range. There are also plenty of hiking tours and other guided outdoor adventures to embark on here.
In the city of Kampot, keen shoppers should head over to the Old Market, which is home to various shops where a treasure trove of goods are waiting to be found. For clothing, visit Dorsu, an initiative where local Cambodian women are trained in making clothes and receive a fair wage. All the fashions here are ethically made, and have a truly original take-home value. Tiny Kampot Pillows is a great place to buy hand-made pillow covers, quilts and bags, which have all been made in Kampot.
Art fans should pay a visit to the KAMA arts centre in Kampot city. It hosts exhibitions, occasional film screenings and art events – there’s also an eatery on-site for those who want to eat and soak up the feeling in the artistic space. Epic Arts Café is another café and art spot combination. All profits go towards running art workshops for local disabled Cambodians and the shop sells a range of art and accessories. There are also occasional performances hosted here throughout the year. La Plantation is an organic Kampot pepper farm well worth a visit, but there’s a lot more going on here than pepper production. One activity available here is a traditional water buffalo journey to the villages surrounding the farm. Get an insight into local lifestyles and rural activities such as rice culture, and pay a visit to the Secret Lake. The shop at La Plantation is a place to enjoy truly local and original products, including fresh juices made from fruits grown on-site, and of course some Kampot pepper.
For those who have an interest in performance arts, the Kampot Traditional Music School is a very special place to visit. The school teaches children who have disabilities, orphans or those from vulnerable backgrounds. The school puts on various performances throughout the year, but visitors are often invited to watch traditional dance and music training for a donation to the school too.
To experience some of the local ethnic culture, visit Cham Fishing Village on the outskirts of Kampot city. During the day, village life is quiet and dedicated to prayer and repairing fishing nets. In the evening, fishermen set out for night fishing in their colourful boats, and it’s a wonderful scene to witness.
Khmer New Year is Cambodia’s biggest annual celebration, which usually falls in April each year. As a popular holiday destination, many people travel to Kampot for the festivities. Some businesses will be closed as it’s a public holiday, but expect a festive atmosphere on the streets with music, dancing and traditional games.
Pchum Ben (‘Soul Day’ or ‘Ancestors Day’) is another public holiday when people flock to coastal cities such as Kampot. This is a 15-day Buddhist festival which usually falls in September or October each year. It’s a time when Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives and people bring food offerings to temples and pagodas. In Kampot, expect a lot of activities around temples and pagodas, as well as people out and about enjoying the public holiday.
Demonstrating the importance of the burgeoning creative scene in Kampot, the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival has been an important event in the city each November for a few years now. Over four days, various events are hosted, from poetry readings and art exhibitions to creative workshops and discussion groups.
The foodstuff Kampot is most famous for is Kampot pepper. Originally grown by Chinese settlers in the province in the 13th century, production ramped up from the 19th century onwards. Nowadays, chefs from around the world value the superior quality of Kampot pepper compared to other black peppers, so the product does a roaring trade across the world. It’s possible to visit Kampot pepper growers throughout the region, but one of the best experiences is at La Plantation – an organic Kampot pepper farm. Here you can find out about traditional production methods, see it growing and buy some to take home with you. You can even join a cooking lesson to make traditional Khmer dishes using Kampot pepper as seasoning. There are also high-end restaurants on-site if you prefer someone else to do the hard work.
As well as pepper, Kampot is also well-known for producing Cambodian sea salt. On the outskirts of Kampot city, salt water is brought in from the sea to clay fields and left to evaporate into salt crystals. Walk or cycle through the area to see people hard at work on this process. Another famed local food product is Kampot fish sauce, and the Ngov Heng Kampot Fish Sauce Factory is on the outskirts of the city. They don’t run official tours here but if they have time, they will show you around and sell you some of their product. Look out for it in the shops in Kampot city too! You also won’t go far in Kampot without seeing or eating a durian – fruit which is grown in abundance in the local area.
Kampot city is increasingly becoming a foodie destination, with more and more original food concepts popping up all the time. As well as traditional Khmer food, there’s an increasing fusion of Asian and international flavours too. Low key dining is always an option in the city, with street food available in various spots, including the Night Market near the Durian Roundabout. Ciao is a popular street food pizza spot. For Khmer cuisine, pay a visit to the family-run Jack’s Place, with an extensive menu of traditional dishes. Visit Ecran Noodle Shop for your fix of traditional Cambodian noodles.
Rikitikitavi occupies a special riverside spot and serves a range of international flavours, as well as the locally famous Kampot pepper chicken. Greenhouse is another spot that serves inventive dishes seasoned with Kampot pepper. Baraca is an Asian and Mediterranean tapas spot with a laidback feeling. Café Espresso is popular for coffee lovers, with international snacks served alongside caffeinated beverages.
For high end international food, try Twenty Three Bistro for European flavours, or Thai Fire for delectable Thai cuisine. Fishmarket is a riverside fusion restaurant serving Khmer staples such as fish amok, along with a twist on well-known international dishes.
There are several options for bars and nightlife in Kampot city, from bars including Sharpen the Axe, to live music venues such as Karma Traders. For a dining spot outside Kampot city, head over to Tek Chhou Rapids in a pretty riverside location, where there are a number of food stands ideal for enjoying by the river.