I am a slow traveler. I’m not one of those backpackers who needs to see everything and plans out every minute. Let’s go with the flow, spend the morning reading, or meet a stranger and explore with them. Sounds good, right?
With only 12 days in Cambodia I decided to spend time in three towns: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Kampot.
Knowing my trip would start in Phnom Penh and finish in Siem Reap, I wondered where to go in the middle.
In Phnom Penh, an expat friend recommended Kampot. Kampot is a quiet town close to the coast with a few sights, but it’s not so busy. Compared to the bustling city of Phnom Penh and the foreseeable temples in Siem Reap, Kampot’s quiet coastal vibe seemed perfect.
I took her word and caught a 5-hr train heading south.
Below is a bit of information about getting to Kampot, what to do, and some pictures.
Getting to Kampot?
Busses run a few times a day, they are better in the morning when traffic is less and can take anywhere between 4-6hrs. Busses are air-conditioned and may be faster if you leave early in the morning. If you’re on a strict schedule, busses run more frequently.
The train only runs a few times a week and takes 5hrs, it cost $7 for a one way ticket. Since I love trains, I opted for the journey!
We had an entire cart to ourselves – I met two other travelers and ended up staying with them for four days in Kampot. The train is air-conditioned and it stopped for us to grab some food from a local vendor! The only downside was that it left around 4pm and got into Kampot between 9-10pm.
What to do in Kampot?
Explore Bokor Mountain:
Getting there: a 45min-1hr drive from Kampot by scooter
Need to know: It’s an uphill drive and cooler at the top. The French actually built these buildings at an elevation to escape the heat. There’s a breeze at the top and we had tons of fog getting up. Weather can be unpredictable, bring a rain jacket and a sweater for the top.
A bit of History: A small mountain with a collection of 1920’s French colonial buildings. It was a retreat for the wealthy before the French left Cambodia and abandoned them in the 1940’s for the first French Indochina war. Eventually, wealthy Cambodians took over until the Khmer Rouge reign in the 1974. The buildings were abandoned a second time, until the Khmer Rouge used them for hiding and protection. The Vietnamese invaded and defeated the Khmer Rouge in 1979, yet they continued to use Bokor Mountain as a stronghold and hiding place until the 1990s.
Info: Scattered all over Kampot and Kep, you can pull into any salt farm and have some samples and learn about its production. Salt production is during the dry season from Dec-April.
Costs: Free to look at the fields, you can watch a 10min video on the production for $1 and buy a bag of salt for $2
The salt mining process: Since you aren’t far from the ocean, the water is let in to evaporate into these salt fields. Once the water evaporates salt crystals are left. The Cambodians repeat this many times.
Kampot and Kep Pepper Farms:
Where to go: Sothys Pepper Farm (owned by Germans): more expensive as it is owned by a foreigner and has a big name. We we to Champei Organic Farm (owned by a local): it is relatively new in the past few years (as of 2018). Despite the outside looking fancy, the prices are really reasonable and the crew we spoke to was really informative.
Tip about buying Kampot pepper: Do not buy at the market! This is fake, buy directly from the farms.
Facts: it takes 3 years for a pepper tree to harvest before it’s ready for picking. It is grown in three varieties: black, white, red, and green. Once harvested they pick it once a year. Organic soil is the best for growth and taste. Restaurants in Europe pay 378 euros for 1 kilo of white pepper!
Kep Crab Market:
What is it: A market along the pier where you can order fresh prawns or crab: the ladies pull the crab traps, take a few out, weigh them, and send them to the kitchen.
Costs: half a kilo of crab/prawns is $4 plus $1 for fresh pepper and sweet and sour sauce. Once cooked, they will bring out a fantastic lunch. Absolutely amazing!
Boat to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island):
Getting there: a 30min slow boat ride with up to 20 people from Kep Pier ($7 with return). Boat leaves at 9am and 11am with a 4pm return. Or for $30 hire a private boat with a later 5pm return.
On the island: You can walk the entirety in about 2hrs, find a secluded beach, snorkel, or just relax in a hammock. There are accommodations with no wifi and electricity starting at 7pm onwards. It’s a perfect rustic escape or a day trip from Kep, you decide. Food is fresh and cheao: 75cents for a beer, tea, or soda, and my vegetarian rice and curry was $3.
Scattered everywhere you can use Maps.me to drive a scooter to numerous caves. We visited the White Elephant cave, paid $1 for a short tour and walked around the vibrantly colored temple where we were given a blessing by a Buddha.
Where to stay in Kampot?
The Bohemiaz Resort and Spa in Kampot
Somehow, somehow, I was able to find this gem right outside Kampot, Cambodia. It was a perfect oasis in a quiet coastal town.
The Bohemiaz is a 5-10min drive from Kampot, located down a dirt path off the main road, located in between Kampot and Bokor Mountain. Owned by a lovely British couple, they have created a small oasis offering delicious food, a spa and fitness classes, soon to be yoga retreats, and really unique accommodations.
Accommodations: Originally I booked a private room for ($8) in one of the small hobbit homes. It was a really unique stay! After two nights I moved to a $5 room in the white round house with four beds, also really unique!
Morning yoga is included for guests and they offer a variety of food options. Not surprising, I didn’t want to leave. Dinner offered vegetarian and vegan options and were reasonably priced.
Why visit Kampot
I had a blast! Originally anticipating staying a few days, I found the Bohemiaz Resort was the perfect mix of relaxation and delicious food it was hard to leave.
Theres a lot to see and explore in Kampot and Kep. I highly recommend renting a scooter, the roads are quiet and you have much more flexibility to see everything.