Unpretentious Krong Kampot better known as just Kampot in southern Cambodia is slowly becoming a popular destination on a traveller’s map.
The lure of a quieter charming riverside town especially after Phnom Penh and travelling through Cambodia for almost one month, is appealing.
The medium-sized KSRV Transport Co. bus from Phnom Penh is supposed to only take around 3 hours. However, in true Cambodian fashion, this journey took 5 hours.
Instead of a straight-through bus as promised, we stop along the road at undesignated stops to pick-up and drop-off passengers, with also a stop at Kep.
Bus travel in SE Asia
I’d like to share my experience of the typical drill when catching a bus in SE Asia, regardless of the country in which you travel…
The bus – and you – will be waiting at the designated stop for at least half an hour, one hour, or more. Everyone is then loaded on and the bus leaves but only drives around the corner to fill up with fuel, which typically takes another 15 minutes.
Finally underway, the bus stops anywhere and everywhere along the route to pick-up or drop-off passengers. Nothing is designated, no matter what you pay for the journey or whether it’s a VIP bus. If there’s money to be made, then money the driver will make…
Also, if the driver feels like a smoke, lunch, snack, pee stop (along the roadside or behind the bus), drink or other…then stop he will. So be patient, stick your headphones in and try to enjoy the ride as you never or seldom arrive on time!
Have you experienced similar? I’d love to hear of your bus adventures in SE Asia whether good or bad.
A little on Kampot
Kampot holds an array of Cambodia’s finest if dilapidated collection of French colonial architecture.
More appealing to me as a pepper-lover accused of drowning my food in pepper, is the fact that this province is renowned for growing pepper.
Apparently before Cambodia’s civil war Kampot’s black pepper was sought after by the best restaurants in Paris. Sadly, the Khmer Rouge believed in growing rice not spice and all but destroyed pepper crops. Today, Kampot-grown peppercorn is making a comeback thanks to a group of eco-entrepreneurs and foodies, passionate about pepper.
Kampot – capital of Kampot Province in southern Cambodia – makes an excellent base for exploring the Bokor National Park. But at USD$10 entry fee, it’s not cheap.
Apparently, there’s an abandoned French hill station at the top of the mountain but also this area is being destroyed by a US$1 billion casino development – see it while you can.
Kampot is the type of place you go to when you need a quiet break and you just want to chill.
Wander around the riverside and you’ll bump into run down colonial buildings (Old Town), but its very peaceful just promenading along the riverfront – it’s a long walk.
Many ex-pats seem to have made Kampot their retirement abode and typically, many indulge in a small business of some sort to supplement their retirement income.
Day trip around Kampot and Kep-sur-Mer (Kep)
The bus from Phnom Penh stopped off at Kep briefly to drop-off passengers before going onto Kampot.
From the bus, Kep looked good enough to return for a day trip. So, hired a bike for USD$5 (USD$3 for the day’s fuel) from the Raksmey Kampuchea Guest house.
Rode around villages north of Kampot to get of the tourist scene and see more of the traditional villages before heading south-east to Kep.
Founded as a colonial retreat for the French elite in 1908, this small town was Cambodia’s old seaside destination before Sihanoukville came into the limelight and overshadowed Kep. Didn’t hang around for the sunset as riding back on this type of road in the dark wasn’t too appealing, but I hear the sunsets are special.
It’s a flat, dusty, and bumpy good hour’s ride from Kampot to Kep.
March 2015 update: this road is now sealed, so you may experience a smoother and faster ride.
Arriving in Kep’s small village feels as if it’s almost a drive-through village with souvenir shops, and restaurants serving local and western food at inflated prices. An abundance of accommodation is available at varying prices, which confirms this is a tourist spot.
The long stretch of beach and Bokor National Park are what visitors want to visit. If you have time and money to spare, stay for a couple of days – we’re just here for the day.
Where to sleep in Kampot
Much accommodation at every budget is on offer in Kampot.
Raksmey Kampuchea Guest House
In the Kampong Bay Village, Kampong Bay Commune, the Raksmey guest house offers excellent staff and good clean accommodation. Jamie (manager’s nickname) is excellent, very helpful, friendly, and always smiling!
The quaint guesthouse is close to everything with only a 10-minute stroll to the riverfront and western restaurants. The comfortable room is a good size and is serviced daily.
Wi-fi is good with a router on each floor. The hot shower and air-conditioning is welcomed as are the toiletries and bottled water.
Although the riverfront offers many western-style restaurants and cafes, try some of the side streets for better-priced and delicious traditional Khmer food. You only need to walk 5 minutes from the riverfront and you’ll run into a few.
As Kampot’s pepper is world-famous for its wonderful fragrant and excellent quality, tables in most cafes and restaurants serve a dish of heavenly freshly ground pepper – its aroma is amazing…
Ecran Noodle Shop
Wander along Old Market street for wonderful and the best handmade dumplings and pulled noodles – my favourite pick for Kampot!
The food here is very cheap and excellent. The pork dumplings (vegetarian on offer also) are deliciously fresh. The handmade noodles are “pulled” on a stainless bench in front of you and very scrumptious – amazing and mesmerising to watch.
The menu offers only a few items but everything is so fresh and delicious, I can just sit here every day and eat the same. This small restaurant also has a movie theatre upstairs.
Epic Arts Cafe
On #67 Oosaupia Muoy | Sovann Sakor, Kompong Kanda, this cafe severs excellent food, and service and cause are great! Lovely staff, good music, and ambiance.
The menu offers something for every palette and you won’t be disappointed. Loved the poached eggs on Bruschetta with Mediterranean vegetables – simply delicious. Free working wi-fi and there’s also a shop to buy handmade arts by disabled locals. A free class is held upstairs if you’re interested in learning sign language.
Kampot Pie & Ice Cream Palace
Along Riverside Road, the shakes at Kampot Pie are very good and cheaper than “western” restaurants in town.
Try the Bird’s Nest breakfast – delightful. The ice cream is refreshing. Lovely home-baked cakes and pies on offer that look wonderful but alas, I haven’t tried everything as no time and an ever-expanding waistline.
Kampot Pie is opening another larger and flashier shop along the riverside.
Cafe Espresso Kampot
On 17 R717, across from 333 Bakery in the side street from Epic Arts Cafe, this very busy cafe with tourists serves a great breakfast and coffee.
This is an Australian-run cafe with freshly-baked cakes and bread.
Something I’ve noticed not only throughout Cambodia but also in Laos and Burma is the number of flashy NGO and government 4×4 vehicles driving around these countries. Typically, these organisations rent very expensive offices and much of donor money is spent on ‘administration‘ costs or goes into the pockets of corrupt officials.
After travelling a month in Cambodia and comparing this country to ten years’ ago, but also knowing that Foreign Aid has contributed to this country for at least 25 years or more, I really can’t see where the billions of dollars have gone. Locals are still so poor.
Many will argue that even if a small amount of the donations trickle down to the cause, then this at least is something and better than nothing. Although, I believe that a lot more should go to the cause and should be done. In my eyes Cambodia is a mess, which may be a harsh observation.
Leaving Kampot and heading to Vietnam
The 30-day visa in Cambodia is drawing to a rapid close. With Vietnam on the horizon as the next destination to explore on a 3-month visa, I’m anxious to cross the Cambodian border.
After the last not-so-great experience when crossing the border from Dong Khong (Laos) into Stung Treng (Cambodia), I’m hoping for a much smoother journey this time.
Buying the 15-seater minibus ticket (USD$20) for Kampot to Phu Quoc Island (Vietnam) from the Raksmey Kampuchea Guest House is easy to organise. This next journey is supposed to be a smooth one taking everyone through border crossings in both countries without hassles, we’ll see…