Nestled close to the Gulf of Thailand and a stone’s throw from Cambodia‘s stunning Bokor National Park, the sleepy coastal town of Kampot is a little-known gem of Cambodia’s southwest region. This riverside town is a perfect platform for exploring the south and Kampot province, with charming local villages, astounding natural landscape and visible ruins of the French colonial past.
Historically a popular holiday destination for Cambodia’s affluent minority and one of the country’s most important port towns, Kampot’s once magnificent French-inspired architecture and tourism infrastructure came under siege of the tyrannical Khmer Rouge, which destroyed most of the township’s built beauty during their reign.Yet now, the town is rebounding from its turbulent past to return to its former glory, and is once again becoming a tourist destination for travelers in Cambodia. Steeped in both natural beauty and remnants of the not-so far off past, Kampot province offers one of the richest cultural experiences and most peaceful getaways in the country.
History in Ruin
Like many cities in Cambodia, Kampot’s history is as rich as it is turbulent, and is immortalized in much of the town’s built structures. Yet, Cambodia’s history of French colonialism and decades of war is perhaps felt most strongly in Kampot’s crumbling ruins. With many now abandoned or in heavy disrepair, the buildings along the riverside were once lavishly decorated with mustard yellow walls and hardwood floors, and sites of the town’s French administration.
While many continue to stand hollow and dormant, the high ceilings and breezy open structures of many buildings have become airy cafes, quiet restaurants and head offices for the town’s numerous non-profit organizations. Local NGO Epic Arts, for example, now occupies a restored French colonial building, and has turned the building’s crumbling interior into one of the sleepy town’s most popular cafes and fair trade shops.
One of the most famous vestiges to the town’s luxurious history is the abandoned hotel and casino at the top of nearby Bokor Mountain, where Cambodia’s royalty and powerful foreign officials held opulent parties and squandered fortunes while overlooking the town below. Now, both massive structures stand in eerie disrepair, and are rumored to be haunted by the tortured souls of disgraced gamblers who threw themselves from the mountain’s cliffs in the face of bankruptcy.
Giant Durians and Black Pepper
Nowadays, Kampot’s economy is reliant on its agriculture, and its temperature and proximity to the Preak Kampong Bay River provides it with lush greenery and rich soil. Kampot is one of the foremost producers of black pepper, which can be found sold across the country but in particular abundance within Kampot. The province is also rich with tasty melon and pungent durian — the latter of which is commemorated with a giant durian sculpture in the middle of a downtown roundabout.
Venturing away from the guesthouse-lined river road and across one of the rickety bridges will bring travelers into a decidedly more local part of the city. Despite its close proximity to the restaurants and cafes in its more tourist-friendly downtown, this agricultural corner of Kampot is distinguished by its unpaved roads and wooden huts. A bicycle or motorbike is the best transportation through the area, and those who explore it will likely see many of the most dilapidated and war torn buildings that still stand.
Beyond the Borders
Just beyond Kampot’s municipal borders are some of the best reasons to travel to the province itself. While many come to the town for a quiet alternative to the more densely populated Seam Riep and Phnom Penh, far more stop in Kampot before venturing on! Either to the east along the incredibly scenic road to the beach hub of Sihanoukville, or to the coastal town of Kep with a charming pebble beach, bustling crab market and crumbling shells of former French villas. Some take a day trip up Bokor Mountain from Kampot for an adventure among its jungle and former French colonial ruins.
Yet, even those that choose to stay within Kampot’s downtown are bound to feel the overarching mystery and intrigue of this corner of Cambodia. Its roads still enjoy a serenity that is harder to find in Cambodia’s more popular destinations, and is the home to a past that still lurks in the crumbling walls of its ruined architecture. A trip to Kampot will likely illuminate a side to Cambodia that few are lucky enough to see.
Why not let our expert team craft a tailor made tour including a stop in Kampot? Else, our Cambodia Kep Coastal Break is a great way to see the splendour of Kampot province!