Kampot is a quiet little river city. It is most known for it’s Pepper, Bokor National Park, salt flats and a rapidly growing ex-pat community. I read that it is a bit of a hippy town and I’m a sucker for a laid back place to hang out. Kampot is a south western province of Cambodia situated on the banks or Praek Tuek Chhu river and is about 5km from the Gulf of Thailand. With its low arable land it offers an abundance of natural resources such as Cambodian seasalt, Kampot pepper and durian.
The night before I left for Kampot I caught a cold and it hit me hard the AM I was leaving. The combination of the heat, traveling with 2 heavy backpacks and the lack of oxygen from being sick was not awesome. I was lucky that no one sat next to me on the bus and I could sit in solitude, feeling miserable. I was happy that the bus had good AC because I was having some serious issues dealing with the heat.
I arrived in the afternoon feeling run down like an old subway cart. I checked into my hostel and took a nap. The AC was pumping and my head was thumping, so it felt like my only viable option. After my nap I forced myself to get up and shower. Two of my travel buddies, that I had met on the slow boat to Luang Prabang, were in Kampot and I wanted to meet up with them to say hello. It’s crazy how so many people backpacking in SE Asia tend to take the same routes and you frequently run into people you met in some other country. We had a lovely dinner catching up and then I gladly went back to bed.
The next morning, I was still feeling crappy so I decided to take it easy for the day. I found an amazing little café called Papa’s. It had a relaxed vibe and played Enya as background music, which says a lot about the establishment. I ordered a plate of fruit and homemade coconut cakes. The fruit was fresh and cut into shapes to create the most esthetically pleasing dish I have ever seen. The coconut cakes were off the charts good. They take the meaty inside of the coconut and soak it in coconut milk then roll them into little cakes and pan fry them. I literally haven’t stopped thinking about these since. Might be my favorite thing I have eaten in SE Asia so far. To compliment this meal they served a tray of their house made syrups of different flavors that you can put on anything and everything. I put it all over my arm and licked it off, totally acceptable. If that wasn’t enough to keep me coming back then the free refill on my coffee absolutely was. I can’t remember the last time I had two cups of coffee in the AM. Needless to say, I went back every morning.
The rest of the day I did basically nothing. It was raining which helped my guilt for not doing anything. I picked up a few city guides and made a plan for the next day to see everything. I rented a scooter for $5 USD and decided to see the famous Bokor Mountain. Built by French colonial settlers back in the 1920s as a getaway from the heat, humidity and the busyness of Phnom Penh. At the top of Damrei mountain inside Bokor national park, there is a hotel and casino, chapel and royal residences, as well as many other buildings in construction. The sight has been abandoned for long periods of time, several times. The sight was meant to be a luxury mountain resort for the wealthy and elite. Today there is a lot of new construction which is breathing new life into the mountain. The older buildings have an eerie mysterious feel about them. I can’t really explain it, like something weird took place in this strange secluded mountain resort. Just a hunch
First thing I did at the top of the Mountain was visit Popokvil waterfall which isn’t hugely impressive except for the fact that the water is yellow and you can walk along the rocks at the top of the waterfall. It only costs 50 cents and you get a free bottle of water. They also serve quick and easy food and have lots of picnic tables next to the top of the falls to stop for a snack or lunch. I’m lucky I was visiting in rainy season, I read it’s even more less impressive in the dry season. I tried to find out why the water appears to be yellow, but I failed. I have no idea.
After the waterfall I headed up to the resort/casino. As I was pulling up, a thick layer of fog rolled in and I literally couldn’t see in front of me. Being a fairly novice motorbike rider I was freaking out. I was especially concerned about driving back down the mountain that has 5 million switchbacks in zero visibility. I parked it and decided to poke around the casino in hopes to kill time while the fog passed. I wandered around for an hour or so and could have eaten, because I’m always hungry, but it was seriously out of my budget. I went to the front desk to chat with them to get their take on the fog issue. The nice gentleman reassured me that the fog was predominantly on the top of the mountain and would most likely stay for the rest of the afternoon. He assured me that this was the norm and that once I started to descend down the hill, the fog would clear. So I pulled the plug and decided to head back down into town. Lucky that I did, It was about a 45 minute ride back to town and I’m guessing around minute 30 it started to rain. At first not that hard, just a drizzle, but enough to freak me out again. Then it was a full on torrential downpour. I made it back safely, however, I was soaked. It continued to rain hard for the rest of the day, meaning I didn’t get to see much else and just turned my bike back in. I don’t like to be rained on in general and even more so don’t like it when I’m riding a bike. Enough said.
My favorite restaurant in Kampot was RikiTikiTavi. The name alone makes me love them. It’s on the waterfront and has a fantastic covered patio where I could sit for hours, especially around sunset when happy hour offers 2 for 1 cocktails. They also make really good bruschetta! Its across the street from where all the sunset cruises boats park and there are floating gardens and restaurants. It’s the hip place to be at night. I don’t actually know, but I was told.
I never made it to a pepper plantation, but I wasn’t too disappointed because I knew I would want to buy things and I hate being teased. They offer free tours where you get to learn about what makes Kampot pepper in such high demand. They have 4 different colored pepper, green, red, white and black. Each one has a different flavor. I did get some white Kampot pepper to bring back for my Mom. Apparently, it’s some of the most sought after pepper and famous chefs all over the world are cooking with it. I guess it’s pretty good. They also have several salt flats around the city that I didn’t get to see either, but I heard they are drowned in water this time of year. Not a big loss there.
Kampot, well actually just Cambodia in general, has tons of monuments. They use them for roundabouts in streets, they mark street corners as well as parks. In Kampot especially, I felt like I could give directions using monuments alone. Directions in Kampot would go like this-> Turn right at the Durian roundabout, left at the 2000 monument and straight through the salt miners street. They also have a beautiful lily pond. It’s quite large and also has a monument as its centerpiece. When I was there, the pond probably had a total of 5 bloomed lily’s so that was severely disappointing, but gorgeous none the less.
The hostel I stayed in was just below average. The AC worked well in the dorm so that’s what made it just ok. The beds did have curtains which is always my favorite feature. The bathrooms were clean, but no hot water, which really is fine for me because it’s so bloody hot here, who would want a hot shower? The hostel did have a nice, chill hangout area with a pool table and lots of tables for playing cards and socializing. I only ate there once for breakfast and it was pretty good. On second thought, the only downfall was the size of the dorm and how many other very young people I was sleeping with. Luckily I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, but I was still woken a few times a night by loud youngsters. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be. How did that happen? Nature of the beast though, you get what you pay for! And who said budget traveling was easy?
Kampot is a laid back little city. They have lots of different food options, it’s small enough to get around by foot, there is a large Ex-Pat community, different live music venues, a small private owned movie theater and tons of small bars to hang out in. I wish I had been feeling more lively and it hadn’t rained, but I still loved Kampot just the same.
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