Veer south west from Phnom Penh to find Kampot, a lazy little city that lies sleepily on the Preaek Tuek Chhu River. Renowned for its pepper plantations which, before the Khmer Rouge, was known to the world as the best pepper – a status that the people of Kampot are working hard to regain. This is thanks to Kampot’s unique mineral-rich soil combined with its both hot and rainy weather conditions.
There are whispers of Kampot’s magic, an addictive little location despite the fact that it doesn’t have a whole lot going on. Especially when compared to the nearby hustle and bustle of Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.
The city itself comes fully fitted with a touristy promenade hosting a combination of happy pizza places, happy-hour bars and overpriced restaurants, all facing the brightly lit bridges and slow flowing river.
A short walk and you will come to the market, nothing worth writing home about – unless you are a fan of Vengaboys and crepes of course. Facing said market, the city’s centrepiece, a big smelly Durian statue. Appropriate when you learn that Kampot isn’t just the proud home to pepper and salt, but had an influx of the not-so-welcomed feet-smelling fruit. Another export that the Khmer Rouge once stole.
So what is it about Kampot that drags the attention of expats and nomads alike? What hypnotic pull does it have that whether the stereotypical backpacker, the holiday-er or the passing tourist, those who arrive expecting a night or two to nose around find themselves still there nearly a week later?
En route to our next destination from Phnom Pehn, we arrived knowing very little but were intrigued to see why Kampot and the nearby beach town of Kep was climbing the tourist trail. And, for some strange reason, we too were gripped by the scruff when two nights turned into six.
Clearly, there is something in the water. Or maybe their peppercorns hold some sort of crack-like substance that prevents the bag from reaching the back and the feet from heading to the bus stop
Either way, do it. Visit Kampot. Rent a bike. Explore the villages. Eat a happy pizza. Laze by the river. Enjoy a 2 for 1 beer. Make some new friends. Visit Kep. Taste the pepper. See the salt. And enjoy the mystic meg of the Cambodia.
We certainly did.
From Phnom Penh To Kampot:
Some hostels in Phnom Penh will offer to book you your bus but being honest, don’t bother. Instead head to the bus stop either the night before or the day off to get a much cheaper ticket than online or via your accommodation.
The busses from Phnom Penh to Kampot cost $6 (€5.30) with Soyra bus which has its own bus terminal near the central market. Busses leaving at 7.30am, 9.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm.
There are also minivans with fewer seats and room but a faster journey, two companies Ekareach and Kim Seng Express have cheap deals online with tickets going for $6 on BookMeBus.com. So we imagine buying tickets at their terminals would be even cheaper. Busses with both companies leave around 7.30am, 12.30pm and 4.30pm.
Your best bet would be to take note of the different bus terminals (each company has its own) and as you ramble around Phnom Penh, pop in and ask them.
Either way, no matter what company or mode of transport, shouldn’t pay more than $6 to Kampot.
Accommodation In Kampot:
When we first arrived to Kampot, hiding from the intimidating storms blowing in, we made our way to Kampot Oasis which is a short distance past the market and out of town, roughly a 10 minute walk. Note that the walk itself is down a badly lit road so you may need your phone’s torch at night.
The owner, a very nice American gentleman, offered us two nights accommodation at $7 (€6) per night. The bungalows are basic but spacious with a standard mattress on the floor complete with mozzie net and fan. The WiFi is decent and there are shared bathrooms between the bungalows that were kept clean. There is a small bar and restaurant onsite, not the cheapest but the food is delicious with vegetarian and vegan options available.
We were grateful for it when the storms flooded the roads leading back into town. If you do want to eat there, try the veggie burger or vegan fry-up – HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! There is also a small pool, not really one you could swim in but certainly chill and cool off with a beer.
While we enjoyed our stormy rest at Kampot Oasis, we discovered another nearby hostel offering double rooms for only $5 (€4.50) per night. It was newly opened, and so we thought to give it a try. It is a lot closer to town, a mere 10 steps from the market and smelly Durian statue, making it an ideal location.
The owners, Sabine and Jeff are just fantastic. So welcoming, fun, chilled and their hospitality is top notch. Living and working with the couple is the very lovely and absolutely hilarious Irish gal, Aoife (E-Fa). From the minute we arrived we knew we would spend another few nights here.
WiFi is excellent, the hostel comes with two gorgeous little dogs that happily welcome you every time you pop downstairs or arrive back home. There is also a restaurant on site but after our splurge in Kampot Oasis we stuck to eating out at the market, so we didn’t get to try the food but it smelled divine.
The rooms are large for what you pay, some with en-suite. There is also a rooftop which is a nice place to sit, chill and catch the many different shades and reflections of the Kampot sky as the sun goes down each evening.
The guys host social nights on Wednesdays, all guests invited which makes this a great spot to meet other backpackers. Also, the three musketeers will go above and beyond to help you with anything you need. So don’t hesitate to ask. If you do pop down, send them our love. We say this is our favourite hostel in Cambodia, and that it is.
Things To Do In Kampot:
Float Around Kampot:
One of the first things we did was literally float around Kampot, and no we didn’t indulge in any of the recreational food items available in order to float. The town has this Sunday morning, sleepy vibe which allows for traffic-less rambles around the park, up the streets, along the river, through the market and over the bridge.
Visit the Lotus Flower Pond, also known as Lily Pad Lake, which we can imagine is beautiful when in full bloom. Take an evening stroll across the war torn French bridge which was blown up by the Khmer Rouge and then repaired using a mix of materials. Enjoy the views of both it and the nearby “new bridge” which are both brightly lit yet quite tacky . There is nothing hugely exciting about said bridge which is only accessible by motorbikes and pedestrians, but it does offer a nice way to walk off the evening’s indulgence.
Head down to the market before 10pm for some extremely cheap sea food, vegetables and rice dishes and even curries, each dish priced around priced around 5,000R (€1) which is cheaper than any other restaurants and eateries around.
Also visit the restaurants near the park across from Chim’s Guesthouse, where you will find all the banks. The local places here are a lot cheaper than the ones along the riverfront.
Again while there are no major attractions nearby, you will know exactly what we mean we say a simple saunter to see the tiny city both at night and during the day is an attraction in itself.
Rent A Bike:
First things first, while you could easily negotiate a tuk tuk or seek a tour agency to visit the nearby attractions, if you are comfortable enough to ride one, renting a motorbike for the day will not only be cheaper and a real adventure through the Kamport countryside but it also gives you the freedom to make a day out of it and tag on a trip to Kep as well.
We rented a bike from Bison Tours (as recommended by the guys at Neon Tigress Hostel) located around 10 minutes from the Durian roundabout directly across from the Monkey Republic Kampot Hostel. There are other tour agencies along this road as well, and as far as we are aware – all are as reputable as Bison.
We rented the automatic for 24 hours paying $5. You will need to leave your passport with the agency, which we did and can vouch it is safe to do so. Before leaving make sure you have helmets and suss the bike to ask any questions such as how to open the seat to put petrol in (again, based on experience, we didn’t realise there was a trick to this particular bike and had to turn back form the petrol station to find out how the hell to put petrol in – lols!).
There is a petrol station not too far from the bike rental, towards the main which is handy enough it is on the way out of town. The Maps.Me app will help you out here and you shouldn’t need to put in more than $2 (which lasted us the whole day!).
Visit La Plantation Pepper Farm:
Fun to visit and free to take part in their detailed and informative tour, this is a great way for budget backpackers to learn about the region’s most famous export while paying – NADA!
How To Get There:
Such a beautiful drive out of Kampot city, it is a straight drive down a main road for majority of the way until you need to veer left which will and you in the countryside.
The roads her are a little uneven, and quite dusty so take your time, drive slowly, and keep the mouth closed! If it rains, take even greater care with pot holes and do what we always do, follow the locals’ lead and tracks – they know the roads like no one else.
Around 20km away from Kampot centre, the drive to the La Plantation doors will take the guts of an hour to reach purely because of the uneven roads. However to pass through the sugar cane fields, across railway tracks, along dusty roads and through the rural country side it is most definitely worth it!
Use your Maps.Me app or offline Google Map for detailed directions, or simply follow the wooden signs and once you close in o the secret lake, which is far too big to be a secret, you are just about there.
The tour itself takes about 1 hour which is fairly decent considering there is no cost involved and no pressure to buy anything. The tour is offered in both English and French.
Park your bike for free and follow the path towards the onsite restaurant where you will be asked to wait while you can have a look at the locally produced pepper products. The tour is called and you are introduced to your guide. Our group consisted of about 12 people.
We visited in November which is off-season, but if you happen to be visiting from February onwards – well lucky you as we can imagine the farm is buzzing during harvesting season and no doubt you will see the workers hard at it.
While we won’t give the tour away, we will share the basics of what went on throughout. At first we were shown the many different types of peppers grown across the many acres which hold more than 20,000 pepper vine posts. Each pepper vine growing from 4m-6m in height, all protected by coconut and banana tree leaves.
At La Plantation everything you see is organic, even the pesticides used. When we came across the large barrel of thick green sludge they use as pesticides, the guide wouldn’t let us in on the secret to the sludge and would only tell us that it was a mixture of water and a mixture of leaves – all we know is that it looks like gick, and smells like absolute shite.
The guide, fun and energetic, briefly touched on the history of the company, their objectives and goals and also doubled up as a photographer. We met a number of local ladies who were busy planting dragon fruit plants and were briefly introduced to the whole pepper production process.
All machines were off and the factory abandoned but it didn’t take away from the experience whatsoever so fear not if you are visiting during off season. We learned that while September to December was off season (i.e. growing) from January to May is when you will see the good stuff.
The tour ends back at the restaurant where we all sat around a long wooden table and spent the guts of 15 minutes taste testing. From La Plantation’s long pepper, red pepper, white pepper, black pepper, pearls of pepper – it was a good laugh and an interesting ending allowing our taste buds to explore the spicy, sweet, and salty pepper.
As much as we would have liked to throw some money to the farm, the pepper is extremely expensive but would make a really nice gift for the chef in your life. Guilt free, we left the farm extremely satisfied and all our questions answered and so would definitely suggest this tour to our fellow frugal friends.
Leaving the La Plantation pepper farm and making our way back to the main road, we took a left in the opposite direction of Kampot, heading to our next little destination.
Less than 30km from Kampot, originally, we were going to stay in Kep Village and had applied to volunteer at some local pepper farms (but of course off season stole that opportunity!). Arriving from Phnom Penh, the bus passes through Kep and so you will get a sneak peak of the seaside town.
A similar vibe to Kampot with its lazy feels and small village vibe, throw in a beach and a seafood market and what you have is the perfect beach town to spend a few hours. There is very little to do in Kep, but again, a mere visit and stroll with a splash of ocean and a hammock to sit and gnaw on some fish on a stick and that in itself is a fun experience and a true local way of enjoying the Kep seaside.
Once again, follow your offline map but this is a simple road guided by road signs and a straight main road the whole way.
We parked up the bike in the carpark behind the market, and went for a walk along the beach towards the giant mid-sea crab statue; sure they’re mad proud for their unique statues around these parts! We spent an hour in Kep, stopping for some cheap lunch at the beach front stalls (the restaurants are a little overpriced), we drove the long way back towards Kampot, along the coast and past the famous Kep crab market which is just rammed with a whole load of fishy mayhem, we then decided to stick around for a the sunset.
Which didn’t disappoint (and this was rainy season?!)
Although we had zero regrets not staying in Kep, we definitely think it is worth going out of the way to visit. And if you do have some time to kill, pop a message to Sothy’s Pepperfarm in Kep and see if she has room for volunteers – now wouldn’t that be a perfect pepper topping!
We had hoped to squeeze in the salt fields on our little Pep and Kep day, but since the salt fields are only a 15 minute drive from Kampot’s Durian roundabout, we decided to visit the following morning before we dropped the bike back.
Apparently from December onwards is when you will see the mini salt mountains, all dried out and ready to be added to nearly every processed meal. A natural production, although nothing in comparison to Bolivia’s salt flats, it is so interesting to see the process first hand – despite there being no tour.
The simple idea behind it all is that the high tide causes the ocean to flood the salt fields. Out comes the sun and dries up all the sea and the incy winy crystals are left for you and me.
There are of course many more things to do in Kep and Cambodia, from visiting temples and hiking the nearby national park – although ask around as there is a large casino and hotel currently being developed which is why we didn’t go – as well as kayaking the Green Cathedral route which is suppose to be a beautiful thing to do. Ask at Chim’s Guesthouse for kayak rental.
No doubt as the interest grows in Kampot, the attractions will too – let’s just hope for no more casinos!
You can grab a minivan from Kampot to majority of locations in Cambodia. We’ve included one poster to give a rough idea of prices and times.
From Kampot to Phnom Penh, Captain Chim’s Guesthouse has a daily service leaving at 8.30am for $5. Just pop by the evening before to book.
From Kampot onwards to Sihaounakville, for a mere $5 there are minivans leaving at 8am, 11am and 3.20pm from various tour agencies found along the roads leading from the park opposite Chim’s Guesthouse towards the river front. Do shop around.
From Kampot to the Koh Rong Islands, catch either the 8am or 11am bus for $23, this price includes the ferry from the port in Sihanoukville – always triple check before booking!
From Kampot to Koh Kong (up near the Thailand border) there is only one bus a day leaving at 8.30am for $8. Take note that you cannot take a bus onwards from Koh Kong to say Siem Reap or Battambang due to the lack of infrastructure. Instead you will need to take a bus back from Koh Kong to Phnom Penh and transfer onto a bus to head north or northeast.
From Kampot to Otres Beach, which is where we went next, book a minivan with either the Tourist Information Centre (KKS Travel) or Vouthy Tours and Travel found on Street #724 next to the park. They both have minivans that stop at Otres beach on the way to Sihanoukville charging $5 per person. Minivans leave at 8.15, 10.30, 11am, 11.30, 1.30pm, 3.30pm 4pm and 5.30pm.
It is a 2 hour drive and be sure to mention your hostel to the driver as well as watching your journey progress using an offline map as some commuters missed their stop and had to then book a tuk tuk from the end of the beach back to the Otres Town.
A nice mix relaxing, stopping for a mental and physical break from travelling being completely, and being completely hypnotised by Kampot herself, we have continued to suggest visiting Kampot and Kep to everyone we can, while also hoping that it never loses its unusual magic.
Although, we can’t see that happening any time soon. With a lack of a wild nightlife which is replaced by what seems like a stoner culture, we are certain that Kampot will continue to attract and grab that particular traveller who is looking for somewhere to stop and recuperate while having enough to keep busy during a guilt-free week.
Either way, if you are not up against your visa, chuck it on the list, visit and you will soon discover exactly what we mean.