There is something picturesque about the old once-upon-a-time-prosperous town being left to fade in the background that makes Kampot exude an arty presence. Of the French colonial buildings from the early 19th century and early 20th century ravaged by time and ‘ghost’ buildings left to crumble in the wake of Cambodian independence and war-time conflict. The streets here tell a thousand stories of hope and devastating loss.
The salt fields, that can be found along the roadside connecting Kampot to Kep, are best seen during the production season that coincides with the dry season from October to April. A tour is usually included as part of a larger trip that includes a pepper plantation and nearby caves, but they are also easy to visit yourself by hiring a tuk-tuk or biking there.
Planning Travel to Kampot, Cambodia
How to Get to Kampot
Those looking for a different Cambodian experience may want to schedule their arrival in Kampot with the limited Cambodia train schedule.
Kampot By Train:
Hire a bike and cycle for a few hours around town and explore randomly. You’ll be surprised what old buildings you come across, what local cafes and eateries you’ll find yourself in and what crumbling corners of the city draw you in with their French Creole style carved doors, Palais style balconies, shutters and staircases.
- The bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot takes around 3 hours and 30 minutes with limited departures approximately every four hours. The earliest bus leaves around 8 am and the last departures are before 6 pm. Bus ticket prices to Kampot start from $10 per person.
- The local bus and minivan services between Sihanoukville to Kampot takes three hours and cost $6 per person. The first departures are at 8 am and the last at 4 pm.
I was always excited about visiting Kampot in Cambodia – the capital city of the southern Kampot province. It’s more often than not bypassed by travellers on a short visit to Cambodia, just fuels intrigue for those wanting to venture a little further beyond Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. I never got around to it during my first whistle-stop tour of the country and as a result, had high expectations of the town for when I returned. Except Kampot is a tangle and conflict of experiences and feelings as to whether you will wholly like it, or not.
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- On Friday and Saturday, only one train departs at 7 am from Phnom Penh to Kampot – a journey that takes around 4 hours and 30 minutes.
- Two trains run on Sunday at 7 am and 4 pm. You have to purchase your ticket at the station, as they cannot be booked in advance.
When to Go to Kampot – Best Time To Visit
A day trip from Kampot to Bokor Hill Station is easily arranged via an operator in town or by hiring a driver or moto and takes around an hour to get to. A French colonial ghost town in Preah Monivong Boker National Park that surrounds the city of Kampot, Bokor Hill Station was built as a holiday resort by the colonial French in the 1920s and abandoned during the 1940s during the Indochina War. It was later abandoned by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
Safety Tips and Expectations
The truth is, while people rave about this emerging coastal town, it does attract a particular type of traveller that has subsequently given it a negative reputation of doped up hedonism and seedy sex tourism that can overshadow its natural beauty, historical appeal. However, known for its French past, its world-renowned pepper, love of the durian fruit and scenic waterside and national park highlights, there are still plenty of things to see in Kampot that make a few days here worthwhile.
Kampot pepper is a world-renowned and highly sought after spice, and your time here is a chance to taste its high-quality deliciousness exactly, right at the spot where it is cultivated.
The affectionally dubbed Old French Bridge in Kampot is a historical reference. The bridge was constructed during the French colonialist rule and later destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. There followed a period of its reconstruction in a mosaic of varying designs. So while today’s structure doesn’t represent the original style, the sentiment of its existence does.
The Best Things to Do in Kampot
Admire Historical Architecture in Kampot City
Before you reach The Bokor Palace Hotel you can visit the remains of The Black Palace – which was once the summer residence of King Sihanouk’s. He was said to be thrifty, so this holiday home wasn’t built as a typical lavish palace – more a subtle, humble hilltop hideaway.
Kampot By Bus:
A quirky Kampot landmark is the Durian Roundabout. It’s basically a giant roundabout with a huge durian sculpture as the centrepiece. It’s basically a shrine to Kampot’s prized fruit. Kampot used to be chock full of Durian orchards before the Khmer Rouge wiped them out for use as rice farming fields. Still, durian lovers can still indulge, since durian harvesting did make a comeback here.
Cross the Old French Bridge
Take a bus, taxi or tuk-tuk and head for Kep, just 30 minutes away. This is a much faster option than the two-hour ferry journey, despite its scenic advantages. Kep is a relaxed natural beauty, with beaches, national parkland and the home of good crab. A highlight from Kep is visiting the beautifully compact and rugged Rabbit Island, a short boat ride from the mainland town.
Bokor Hill Station | Preah Monivong Boker National Park
Most travellers make their way to Kampot from Phnom Penh on the straight journey south, while some may come along the southern coastline from Sihanoukville to Kampot. Both trips take approximately three hours.
Check local listings for evening events. One bar per night from Thursday-Saturday was designated as the go-to place to be, and apart from Saturday night at Bodhi Villa, the nightlife atmosphere isn’t expansive. However, it has a well-established and thriving live music scene, with different venues such as Infamata Bar, The Plantation and Karma Traders hosting weekly events – check local listings when you arrive.
The Cambodian bus network is the easiest and most cost-effective option for travel. Giant Ibis is the most comfortable service and my go-to first choice.
I didn’t always feel entirely safe as a solo female traveller – not so much in the daytime but particularly at night when trying to get from town to the pitch-black Tuek Chhu Road where many well-known guesthouses are. Walking between them to see friends was a demanding adrenalin-fuelled few minutes. Pack a torch, and avoid being alone. Most petty thefts happen to lone women, especially when biking or in a tuk-tuk. Like anywhere, keep your belongings safe and exercise caution.
Kampot attracts a particular type of traveller – and not the good kind. It’s been some years since I last visited, but Kampot was full of the worst stoners I’ve met in Cambodia. While I’m not against smoking, it was hard being around the kind of travellers who think they omit cool by being stoned to the point of oblivion in a hostel. It became a difficult sight, alongside the obvious presence of those here for the exploitative arena of sex tourism.
A day trip to Rabbit Island in Kep and is a highlight when in Kampot
Architectural highlights include the modernist, yellow block Kampot Fish Market, the original and intact exterior and interior of the National Bank (which survived Khmer Rouge destruction), the renovated Old Royal Cinema from the 1950s known now as Hotel Old Cinema, and the scattering of former trading houses and stores that have been turned into boutique hotels.
Visit the remains of The Black Palace – King Silhanouk’s Summer Residence
Outside of the Boker Hill Station ruins, the surrounding area is a beautiful elevated point for views across the city and relaxing walks in nature. Preah Monivong Boker National Park is one of only two ASEAN Heritage Parks in Cambodia. It was granted its status in 1993, given to protected areas known for unique biodiversity ecosystems or areas with cultural and heritage value.
Take a Kampot Pepper Tour
Here’s a selection of the things to do in Kampot, Cambodia – the former French colonial city whose architecture was left to crumble in the wake of independence & war-time conflict.
Within Kampot itself, the Kampot Pepper Artisan trader, Farm Link offers tours and pepper tastings and contributes to the growth of regional agriculture enterprise that supports a large group of farmers. Each peppercorn here can even be traced back to the exact farmer who grew it.
Yes, get outside the trap of hostel dwelling and you will soon see the things to do in Kampot offer quite the selection. The timeworn architecture of Kampot provides a fascinating window into the once-prosperous colonial power that operated here, now left to crumble in the wake of modern Cambodian life yet eerily remaining in the background as a reminder of what once was and what could yet again be. The pepper plantations help continue a tradition of farming with worldwide adoration, and whose operations today keep local communities supported and trained in agriculture, and the national parkland, rivers and lakes, beaches and unspoilt unkempt nature that surround it all show how this southern Cambodian beauty has its charms.
Visit the Kampot Salt Fields
Besides pepper, Kampot is also known for its natural salt production, where water from the nearby ocean is left to dry and evaporate in drainage pits, leaving a blanket of salt that’s ready to be collected and consumed. Its painstaking work harvesting salt in the heat and your visit to the salt fields further supports this local enterprise.
Seeing the somewhat spooky carcass of bygone days is one of the most popular things to do in Kampot and a place for URBEX/urban exploration since the abandoned buildings are open without restriction. However, it’s been cleaned up a little as word has it that a new investor has moved in with plans to turn it into a colonial-themed museum.
Day Trip to Kep and Rabbit Island
The cool weather and dry season in Cambodia between late October and early April, which December and January seeing the most visitors taking advantage of optimal and comfortable 25-35 °C weather conditions. The warmest months are May to September, which is also the wet season – a time that can hot and humid, combined with heavy rainfall.
Is a Trip to Kampot Worth It?
The Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino was to be the star attraction of the colonial show, although now stands as an empty reminder of a long-gone era, alongside the spooky abandoned Catholic church which stands solitary next to the roadside. All a part of the wider living area planned here which was to include residential houses and a post office.
Set to a backdrop of low mountains and a wide lake, La Plantation is the most popular for farm and processing tours, and the chance to indulge in black, red and white pepper tasting sessions. This family-run project is known for its sustainable practices, investing in and supporting the local communities in the surrounding area. If there is time, add on an extra excursion to your pepper tasting and plantation visit, with a tour of the countryside or a chance to get out lakeside.