We Get Stuck in Kampot
She came for three days
ten years ago.
He planned to stay a week.
Now he runs a business.
He never went home.
I set my bag down for one night.
Then lost track of time.
People get stuck in Kampot all the time.
The sleepy river seduces
stay one more night
take one more sunrise swim
in Kampot it’s so easy
to laze through one day
and the next to sneakily begin.
You remember all the activities
you said you would but didn’t do
hike Bokor mountain
shop in the market
kayak down the river
cycle the salt flats
eat crabs in Kep
climb in dark caves
take a sunset cruise.
With further reflection you recall
you haven’t done anything at all.
It’s not your fault
the town’s easy rhythm
lured you into its laze
looks like you will just have
to stay one more day.
How to Get to Kampot
Buses run regularly from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville to Kampot and are efficient and comfortable. Your hotel or hostel can book you a seat or you can purchase a ticket at a travel agency. I recommend booking a seat on the Giant Ibis bus, which is roomy, clean, air conditioned, and even has wifi. The journey from Phnom Penh takes about five hours, while it’s just two from Sihanoukville.
Where to Stay in Kampot
Kampot has plenty of guesthouses and hotels in town, but I highly recommend staying across the river instead. Outside of town you can stay in cozy treehouse style lodges with great food, docks for lounging, and easy access to river activities. I find it much more relaxing and scenic than the town itself. You can always rent a bicycle or scooter to go into town at night, and a tuk tuk should only cost about $2 depending on where you stay.
$3 dorm, $5 private
I loved staying in this wooden riverside hostel a mile outside of town. The dorm room was big and open with real beds, not bunk beds, and reminded me of a deluxe cabin in the woods. With a big dock right on the river and a restaurant with delicious healthy food like steamed pumpkin salad and chickpea curry, its easy to spend all day here. I met cool, laid back travelers here and they have a crazy party on Friday nights. For this reason, you may want to stay elsewhere that night and just come for the party. Expect live music and DJs until 6am.
$3 dorm, $5 private
Just a few doors down from Bodhi Villas is Naga House, also with a great dock on the river and a social setting to meet other travelers. It’s easily the most popular backpacker and expat pad. They host a party every Saturday night with music and dancing.
$10-40 for private bungalows
It’s a little further outside of town, about five miles, but the peace and tranquility at Green House is worth it. With a dock on the river surrounded by gorgeous nature and lovely bungalows, come here if you want to get away from it all. The water here is some of the cleanest because it’s far upriver from the town, and they rent kayaks and SUP boards at discounted rates for guests.
$30 – $100 for private rooms and bungalows
If you want a little more luxury, stay at the beautiful, modern Villa Vedici which is located on the river but also has a swimming pool and full athletic court. They offer unique activities to the area like kiteboarding, wakeboarding, and kneeboarding. Big bungalows can sleep up to eight people and have big living areas and fully equipped kitchens; a great deal for families or groups of friends.
$43 – $60 for private rooms
If you do choose to stay in town, Rikitikitavi has beautiful rooms in an old converted rice barn overlooking the river. Each room is luxurious with air conditioning, fine linens, a mini fridge, even breakfast in bed! The onsite restaurant serves some of the best food in Kampot and has a fun bar, great for meeting more mature travelers.
Where to Eat in Kampot
If you end up staying on the other side of the river chances are you’ll eat most of your meals at your hotel, but Kampot has some of the best restaurants in Cambodia. Make sure to venture out and try at least one of these restaurants.
$4-6 for breakfast and lunch
Eggs Florentine, Moroccan salad, chewy fudge brownies… say what?? Believe it. Epic Arts Café serves perfectly executed flavorful Western food in an open airy loft… all for a good cause. The organization trains and employs Khmers with hearing, speech, and physical disabilities in hospitality and the arts. Support them by dining in the restaurant, which ahem you should anyway because it’s some of the best food in Cambodia, or purchasing some of their art and handmade goods.
$1.25 for green smoothie, $3-5 for dishes
I remember waking up in my little wooden jungle house in Costa Rica and making myself a big smoothie full of organic kale, spinach, coconut water, and whatever fresh tropical fruit I had on hand. Since then, traveling in Southeast Asia, I’ve felt seriously nutrient deprived. In Indonesia I begged café kitchens to throw as much spinach as they could into my pineapple smoothie. They looked at my green drink with fear and disgust. Enter Om Café. I thought I died and went to heaven when I saw that they had an entire green smoothie menu… for less than $2?!?!?! You can choose any combination of fruit and veggies you want, carrot, beet, parsley, lime, ginger, you name it. I ordered mine with lettuce, cucumber, spinach, dragon fruit, and banana, which was surprisingly smooth and potent. They also have a small selection of organic raw coconut oil, all natural soaps, and some special powders and teas.
$4-10 for Western and Khmer dishes
Possibly the most “upscale” joint in town, Rikitikitavi has a cozy, social ambiance and tasty food. The balcony makes it a great spot for people watching and as a solo traveler I made friends there immediately. Go here if you’re in the mood for Western classics like burgers and kebabs or elegant Khmer specialties like loc lac and amok. They have a great selection of vegetarian food including a veggie burrito.
$2-3 for noodle soup, fried noodles, and dumplings
Typically I steer clear of wheat, but when I heard rumors of traditional homemade Chinese dumplings for $2 I knew I had to check this place out. Ecran is best known for its vintage movie house with daily screenings and private rooms you can rent out. However many travelers also flock to the street facing café that serves homemade dumplings and hand pulled noodles. I ordered a big plate of twelve steamed veggie dumplings and stir fried pulled noodles with cabbage, carrots, and bok choy and shared with a friend. They were super delish but I hear the wonton and noodle soup is the best of all.
$3-6 for pastries, sandwiches, salads
So, I’m a little heartbroken that I didn’t discover this place while I was in Kampot, but based on the reviews and the photos I just had to share it with you. The menu sounds incredible with daily homemade quiche, tiger prawn salad, and a pumpkin spinach feta sandwich. I imagine it’s the perfect place to escape the heat for a delightful brunch or tea and cake late afternoon.
What to Do in Kampot
Swim, SUP, Kayak on the river
It’s easy to spend days doing nothing in Kampot but chilling on the river. Plenty of guesthouses across the bridge from town have floating docks where you can lounge in between swim sessions. Arcadia and Green House take it up a notch with rope swings, an inflatable blob, and kayaks ($1/hour) and SUP ($4/hour) rentals. There’s even SUP Yoga, ask at Banteay Srey for more details. Keep in mind, the further upstream you go from town, the cleaner the water will be for swimming.
Drive up Bokor National Park
Avoid tours of Bokor National Park at all cost. They involve a van ride up to the top of Bokor Mountain to see a big parking lot with a casino in it. Sad, and what are you even paying for? I recommend renting your own scooter and driving up; the ride itself is beautiful. At the top try to get off the beaten path and find areas of undisturbed rainforest. You can also hire a guide, hiking is not permitted without one, and trek to the top, stopping and swimming in the waterfall.
Rock Climb with Climbodia
$30 for a half day of absailing and rock climbing
The very first rock climbing outfit in Cambodia is based in Kampot and leads absailing and rock climbing tours for people of all levels in some of the limestone caves around Kampot. I haven’t taken the tour personally, but everyone I met who did said they had an incredible experience. One girl told me it was the best thing she did in an entire month in Cambodia.
Take a Sunset River Cruise
$5 for a two hour cruise
This simple tour is a relaxing way to explore the mangroves and enjoy the sunset. Plenty of guesthouses and tour companies in town offer trips, the most popular and highest rated being through Captain Chim’s.
Catch a Flick at Ecran Movie House
Watch a movie in this vintage theater house which screens classics, new releases, and informational films about Cambodia in cozy rooms. If you gather together a group you can even rent out a room and screen any movie you choose.
Get Pampered at Banteay Srey
$3 yoga class, $10 for spa service
In a quiet garden setting along the river, Banteay Srey is the perfect place to have some feminine indulgence. Sorry, no boys allowed. This little oasis offers twice daily Hatha and Ashtanga yoga classes, a steal at $3, and has a full spa menu. They even sell organic raw coconut oil and serve healthy food and drinks. Best of all, the center trains, employs, and houses at risk Khmer women, making it a true sanctuary for ladies.
Take a Day Trip to Kep
One of my favorite things I did during my month in Cambodia was take a day trip from Kampot to Kep on a scooter. Along the way we drove through beautiful countryside with the dramatic Cardamom Mountains in the distance. We stopped at local salt fields and pepper farms and explored some of the caves. In Kep we shopped in the famous seafood market and dined on fresh steamed crabs and whole grilled barracuda for just a few dollars. Make sure to stay for the sunset in Kep which is just breathtaking with the silhouettes of crab fishermen against the hot pink sky.
If you plan to stay for at least a month, consider volunteering with one of the nonprofits in the area. Bear in mind, volunteering especially with children, is not to be entered lightly. Be sure you can commit adequate time and that you are involving yourself with a reputable organization. Here are some organizations I can highly recommend based on my experiences and the recommendations of friends:
Banteay Srey Project (Women’s Spa)
Kep Gardens (Education Center)
Epic Arts (Education Center)