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Kampot was my favorite place in Cambodia.
There were a number of reasons that contributed to this being so. The amazing little group I lucked into, the varied and fun things to do in Kampot and the surrounding area, the social but chill hostel we stayed at, the delicious food we ate.
That’s the thing about Kampot, it is a great all-rounder.
Kampot is a sleepy riverside town in Kampot Province in Cambodia’s south. It is full of dilapidated but beautiful French Colonial buildings and it’s famous for having the best quality pepper in the world, with many places to try it around town.
It is only three hours or so from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, so it’s an easy addition to a Cambodia Itinerary.
There is a special vibe that envelops Kampot. It is charming and relaxed, it feels welcoming but also foreign and exotic. It is the kind of place that you aim to spend a few days in but end up spending a few weeks, knowing it is special but perhaps not exactly being able to pinpoint why.
This could have easily happened to me but I was on a tight timeline. If I hadn’t have been, maybe I would still be there now.
I could have happily stayed in Kampot for a long while.
It’s a shame how many visitors to Cambodia miss this little gem of a town and the countryside surrounding it – I think it should be added to every Cambodia backpacking route. After how much I loved it, I feel that it is my duty to let others know about this magical place.
I put together a little list of all the best things to do in Kampot and the surrounding area, to inspire you to go there too.
So, here it is folks – the best things to do in Kampot, Cambodia.
The Best Things to do in Kampot
Getting to Know Kampot Town
Although the surrounding area of Kampot is where the real gems are, Kampot town itself is an awesome place to explore. I loved wandering by the Kampot river at night, admiring the boats that are strung with colorful lights that my friend Ryan calls Christmas boats, or grabbing a drink and watching the sunset over the river.
Kampot’s quirkiest attraction has got to be the Kampot Durian Roundabout – literally a roundabout with a giant durian statue in the middle. I really got a kick out of it. It seems like every Asian country I go to worships this stinky fruit.
If you are into pampering, make sure to get a massage at Seeing Hands Massage – an NGO that trains blind people to be masseuses. It’s a great way to unwind after bumping around on a scooter all day.
But perhaps the best thing about the city is the Kampot food scene. There are so many wonderful places to eat and I didn’t even get close to trying them all.
My favorites were Pepe and the Viking – their blue cheese and Kampot pepper chicken is on point, Italian-run Ciao Pizza for the best pizza in town – made from scratch, Cafe Espresso Roastery for the best coffee and eggs benny, Kampot Fish Market for beautiful seafood by the river, and KAMA Cafe and Art Gallery is a peaceful spot with great food, with a focus on vegetarian dishes and juices and smoothies. I would also recommend the food at Monkey Republic – particularly the Eggplant Parmigiana.
It would be a mistake to head out of Kampot every day to explore the surrounding area and not leave time for Kampot town itself. Your stomach will definitely thank you for it.
Adventuring to La Plantation Pepper Farm
You know the saying when in Rome? Well, when in Kampot… you must visit a Kampot pepper farm – that’s what the town is most famous for after all.
We heard very good things about La Plantation Pepper Plantation, and although it was a bit of a mission to get there, it was 100% worth it.
As we already had scooters, our little scooter gang headed out there on a sunny and hot Cambodian day. Even though it was sketchy at times, with potholes and mud puddles all along the dirt road, the one-hour drive out there – and back – was a spectacular adventure.
We scootered through red-earthed Cambodian countryside, past lush green fields and palm trees, passing through small traditional villages where dogs and chickens run wild. It is the same kind of rugged beauty as the countryside around Siem Reap.
About ten minutes before we reached the plantation, we caught sight of beautiful Secret Lake, sparkling in the sun. There are a couple of restaurants by the lake and you can swim here but we didn’t have time to stop.
La Plantation has a gorgeous setting, and we enjoyed sitting in the lovely cafe there with cold drinks after our long and dusty ride, before hopping on a free 45-minute tour. The tour was interesting, we got the rundown of how pepper is grown and produced there, and got to try loads of different types of peppers – our mouths were on fire by the end.
For the last part of the tour, our guide walked us around the plantation so we could check out the pepper plants and watch some of the workers sorting the pepper.
There were also fruit trees including the cutest fruit ever – pineapples. If you haven’t seen how pineapples grow, go and google it right now, I’ll wait.
We finished our visit off with some pepper ice-cream – it sounds weird but it was actually not bad – and I bought some smoked black pepper to take home.
The whole experience was a definite Kampot highlight, I only wish that we had more time to stop and swim at Secret Lake.
If you are looking at Kampot tours to do while you are there – this is the one.
A Firefly River Cruise
I love fireflies, only seeing them for the first time when I was in Guatemala in 2012. When I heard that you can see them by taking an evening river cruise from Kampot, and that the cruise only cost $5 including two beers, I was sold.
A big group of us ended up going and it was a fun two hours. We hopped on the boat as the sun was setting, heading off down the river while we watched the sky turn various shades of pink, purple, and orange from our cushioned perch on the roof terrace.
As we passed under bridges, we reached up and touched the underside, if we stood up we would have been knocked off the boat. A bit of a thrill on an otherwise sedate boat trip.
Cruising the silent river, sipping cold beers, and talking and laughing with new friends would have been enough – a lovely way to spend an evening. But then we saw the fireflies, and it got even better.
They were everywhere, hazy little white lights flashing in the trees as we passed underneath. There were more than I could have imagined.
Not bad at all for a fiver.
Exploring Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Hill Station was absolutely the most random day trip around Kampot that we did – but it was also my favorite.
Bokor Hill Station in Bokor National Park was a French Colonial summer resort in the 1920s that is now known for its collection of ruined buildings, including royal residences and a church. A new casino has also been built up there in the last couple of years.
We drove our scooters up through the jungle on the windy but spanking new road – such a pleasure after the potholes and crazy drivers we had endured the previous days. It got noticeably chilly as we got closer to the top, and at one point we were scootering through wispy clouds.
At the top, we came across a giant statue of a woman who looked a lot like Buddha, and we explored the first set of ruins – King Sihanouk’s former summer home.
The buildings were in various stages of decay and some of the buildings were completely overtaken by the jungle. Others had colorful graffiti covering them.
Further up the mountain, we discovered the giant ‘new’ Casino Hotel – Thansur Sokha Hotel – which was built in 2012.
That place was weird. It looked abandoned and much older than expected on the outside, with no cars parked in the many car parks, but once we entered it was actually quite modern and nice – although it was almost completely deserted, not counting the full staff that were working.
We got some lunch then played games in the arcade, wondering to ourselves whether the hotel was a front for money laundering. When we went in search of the casino, that too was deserted and no photos were allowed. Hmmm. Just weird.
From the new but abandoned casino, we went in search of more ruins and were delighted to come across an old Catholic Church and a beautiful viewpoint a few minutes walk up the hill behind it. The viewpoint afforded us stunning views all the way down to the ocean, and really showed us how high we had traveled on our little scooters.
Our last stop of the day was to find the most famous ruins of them all – the Bokor Palace Hotel. After going to the spot that Google maps said it would be and only seeing a new hotel there, we realized that the new hotel was actually the hotel we were looking for – it just wasn’t in ruin anymore.
The Bokor Palace Hotel had recently been restored to its former Art Deco splendor and had only partially re-opened the month before. We didn’t see any guests there but the staff were lovely and let us look around.
There was a baby grand piano in the restaurant so Julia, part of our scooter gang, played a few songs for us and the staff – she’s very talented and it was a beautiful compliment to the refined sophistication of the restored hotel.
And that was our random day on a hill in Cambodia. A day that I will never forget.
Kep for Beach time and Crab
Kep is a beach resort area that is popular with locals and tourists, and although a lot of people choose to spend a couple of days there, you can easily travel from Kampot to Kep as a day trip like we did – it’s only a 30-minute scooter ride away. You don’t have to choose between Kep or Kampot – just do both!
After being landlocked for a couple of weeks, I was excited to see the coast again. Kep beach isn’t the nicest beach I have ever seen, the sand is a bit gravelly and the water was murky, but it was a beach that we could swim at, so I was happy.
We grabbed delicious smoothies from a nearby restaurant, relaxed on the sand, and cooled off in the water until it was time to find Kep’s most famous attraction – its crab.
Kep crab is said to be the best in Cambodia and we found a restaurant with a deck that hangs out over the water to enjoy it on. The crab did turn out to be amazing – tender and sweet, delicious with the green Kampot pepper sauce it came with.
We had a beer, ate our Kep crab, and watched the brilliant sunset, before scootering back to Kampot – which turned out to be a scary experience as there is very little road lighting and a lot of potholes.
But despite the slightly scary ending, our day trip to Kep was a wonderful one.
If we had more time we would have also checked out the butterfly-filled Kep National Park, which is home to a beautiful waterfall in the wet season, and hiking trails through the jungle with stunning views.
Rock Climbing with Climbodia
I loved rock climbing in Thailand when I tried it a few years ago, and I have been meaning to do it again since then. Enter Climbodia.
Climbodia is a rock climbing company based in Kampot and has a fully-equipped climbing site in the countryside near town.
We decided to do the Discovery tour which is a bit of everything, although you can choose to do straight rock climbing as well. The Discovery Tour included Via Ferrata, caving (including Via Ferrata in the cave!), abseiling, and different levels of rock climbing, including top rope.
As we had our scooters, we decided to ride out there ourselves. Unfortunately, Google maps led us astray – as it so often does – and we ended up lost for a while before finally finding it after calling for further directions.
Once we did arrive, we were straight into it with a non-technical (but still challenging) rock climb, followed by Via Ferrata.
If you haven’t done Via Ferrata before, it is a mountain route that is equipped with steel cables, ladders, and other fixed anchors. You are given a helmet and are clipped onto the cables to protect you if you fall. Then you scale the side of cliffs.
It was tricky in parts, where we had to maneuver ourselves across wide gaps and around obstacles. As with rock climbing, I enjoy the technical aspect of it – having to use the problem-solving part of your brain to get across safely. And the view from the climbing route was pretty spectacular.
After the Via Ferrata we did a 30-meter abseil down a keyhole into a cave overhang – pretty fun!
Next was the caving part of the day where we would be exploring a section of the largest complex of caves in Cambodia. Our Guide told us about the history of the caves as we walked past stalactites and stalagmites, Buddhist shrines, and rock formations.
The last part of our caving adventure was doing another Via Ferrata – this time underground! There were some pretty tight spaces to crawl through and I was more grateful than ever that I am not overweight.
We climbed out of a different section of the cave than we came in at and walked for about ten minutes through fields of vegetables and rice before we were back where we started for the last part of our adventure: Top rope climbing!
I tried three different climbing routes – the first being very easy, the second being challenging and the third being impossible (for me at least). I was disappointed that I didn’t do as well this time around as I had in Thailand, with the small cuts on my fingers that I got from eating crab in Kep making it hard for me to grip properly.
Overall it was a great half-day out – one of the best Kampot things to do.
And that’s why I love Kampot
It was because of all of these reasons that I ended up loving Kampot so much, and I know it is somewhere that I will return to in the future.
It’s not a matter of if, but when.
I will be seeing you again Kampot.
Plan Your Kampot Trip
Getting to Kampot
I traveled to Kampot from Phnom Penh by bus which took 3.5 hours. You can also take direct buses from Siem Reap (5 hours), and Sihanoukville (3 hours), and by local bus or taxi from Kep (45 minutes).
Best Kampot Accommodation
Kampot has many options of places to stay. We stayed at Monkey Republic Hostel which has large, clean dorm rooms, is walking distance to the river and has a great restaurant. It was a wonderful place to meet fellow travelers and it’s cheap.
There are also plenty of hotels in Kampot to choose from, Villa Vedici and MAKK Hotel both have great ratings.
Another option is to stay at one of the Kampot river lodges a bit out of town, but you will probably want to hire a scooter if you do that so you can get into town easily – tuk tuk costs would quickly add up.
Where to Eat in Kampot
As I mentioned above, there are so many amazing Kampot restaurants. Try Pepe and the Viking, KAMA Café, Cafe Espresso, Ciao Pizzeria, Kampot Fish Market, and Monkey Republic – to name just a few.
And don’t forget to eat Kampot pepper crab in Kep – anywhere along the water around and including the Kep Crab Market will serve it.
What to do in Kampot
Well duh, re-read everything I have written above 😉
The Best Insurance for Your Kampot Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your trip. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
Also, don’t forget to pack this awesome water bottle with heavy-duty filter – it’ll allow you to drink from the tap, saving money as well as being more environmentally-friendly.
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