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Kampot is a backpacker haven in Cambodia with dilapidated colonial architecture, a laid-back riverside vibe, and an artsy café scene. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a trip to Kampot.


By: Paul Healy |
Published: 3 Apr 2024

Located at the foot of the Elephant Mountains, Kampot is a green, temperate riverside area that contrasts with the dustbowl of other Cambodian destinations.

It’s a small town with an old colonial quarter that is slowly falling into disrepair; a decay that helps create Kampot’s relaxed, lived-in feel.

A steady influx of backpackers adds to the cool vibe, sustaining a host of great cafes, bars, and good quality but cheap restaurants.

Kampot is a place to hang out, sit by the river and soak up the lovely laziness of Cambodia.

But the lack of prominent tourist attractions means that local guides are scratching their heads for ways to separate tourists from their money, often in the form of low-quality tours.

Skip the tours, and it’s easy to become entranced with Kampot. We think it’s a worthy addition to our Cambodia itinerary, but we’d suggest coming here when you’ve seen everything else.

KAMPOT TOURS

There are several tours that every guesthouse in Kampot advertise. The most popular are the Bokor National Park tour and the Cambodian Countryside tour.

The Bokor National Park tour takes you to the top of the Bokor Mountain which contains old French colonial buildings. Most of them are now inaccessible due to a new development by Chinese investment.

The Countryside tour includes a salt field, a pepper plantation, a cave, the Secret Lake and Kep.

We’ve done both tours twice now, 10 years apart, and our honest recommendation is that you could skip them. They are disorganised and take a lot of time to see a few sights.

It’s much better to pick off the things you want to see and go on your own. As a suggestion, you could get a tuk-tuk or taxi driver to take you to:

  • A salt field,
  • La Plantation Pepper Farm,
  • Kep Crab Market.

This way you can see the best of the tours, without wasting so much time getting around the less good sights.

MAP – THINGS TO DO IN KAMPOT

The attractions within Kampot city are easy to see on foot. However, to you’ll need a taxi or tuk tuk to get to the other things to do located on the outskirts of the city.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


1. STROLL THE CITY

The centre of Kampot is a compact city with minimal traffic that is perfect to explore on foot. There is interesting colonial architecture, crumbling around the edges, and local hole-in-the wall businesses which give the city a charming lived in feel.

As a place where tourists come to wind down, you’ll find plenty of bars and cafes to enjoy the slow life.

Some of the highlights you should see on a walk around Kampot are:  

  • The Durian Roundabout.  
  • The Kampot Provincial Museum – the museum is closed but the building is worth checking out.  
  • The National Bank of Cambodia building.
  • Kampot Central (Samaki) Market – the Old Market is now closed.

2. BOKOR NATIONAL PARK

Bokor National Park is one of the most popular excursions from Kampot. It’s one of 2 ASEAN Heritage Parks in Cambodia covering 600 square miles of mountain terrain.

The main attraction is Bokor Hill Station. This eerie ruin was a colonial outpost built by the French high up in the mountains to escape the heat. Today a major development, funded by Chinese investment, is underway to restore the buildings and develop a huge tourist park.

Many of the eerie ruins are now inaccessible to visitors. The Catholic Church, near Le Bokor Palace Hotel, is one of the few remaining buildings.

Given the changes from our first visit, it’s not really something we would recommend. However, if you are interested, tours to Bokor National Park can be arranged from your accommodation.

3. KAMPOT PEPPER PLANTATION

Kampot is known throughout the foodie world for the quality of the pepper grown in the region. A tour to a pepper plantation is a popular excursion from Kampot.  

On the tour, you’ll learn about the different types of pepper, which are all harvested from the one plant. Black pepper is boiled for 30 minutes then dried for 2-3 weeks; green pepper is boiled but dried.

Other types of pepper include red and white pepper, and pippali, which is slightly spicier and often used in tea.

Tastings provide an insight into the different flavours produced using different techniques. Try the salted pepper which is munched on like a snack.

We went to La Plantation which is a family-run organic farm that exports pepper around the world.

4. WHITE TENT FOOD MARKET

The White Tent Food Market is a collection of around 20 tents occupying a small square behind the Old Market (which is no longer operating).

It’s a very local food market where you can find Indian, Malaysian, Thai, Khmer, and the odd Western-style food.

There are tables and chairs in the centre and public toilets nearby.

It was our favourite local eating experience in Kampot.

5. KEP CRAB MARKET

Kep is a small seaside village around 30 minutes by car from Kampot, which is famous for crab.

There’s an excellent seafood market in Kep which was one of our favourites in Cambodia. There are several restaurants directly overlooking the water where you can get perfectly prepared crab.

There is also a more traditional covered market with a wide selection of seafood which can either be purchased fresh or barbequed. Eating here amongst the smoke from the grills and the bustling atmosphere is a wonderful thing to do.   

6. SALT FIELDS

Although not located on the coast, Kampot has a small but thriving salt industry, harvested from water channeled in from the sea.

Most of the salt fields are very small and you can watch the harvesting process which still uses traditional methods.

The salt water is left to dry out for up to 5 days before it gets scooped up by the women, then carted off by the men on their shoulders.

The salt fields are located just outside Kampot, and it’s easy to organise a tuk-tuk driver to take you out. You’ll be visiting a small local salt farm so there’s no fee but remember to be respectful to the local workers who won’t object to a small tip.

7. KAYAK AROUND GREEN CATHEDRAL

The Green Cathedral is a picturesque loop in the Praek Tuek Chhu River around 5 kilometres upstream from Kampot.  

It’s named after the dense foliage that stretches over the waterway in an arch resembling the ceiling of a cathedral. This picturesque part of the river makes an ideal kayaking route which is particularly good for bird watching early in the morning.  

There are several guesthouses along the river where you’ll be able to hire a kayak to go exploring.

Champa Lodge is one of the closest guesthouses to the start of the Green Cathedral. They provide tailored kayaking tours or you can just hire the equipment and head off yourself. It takes around 2 hours to kayak around the loop.

8. SWIM IN THE RIVER

Kampot city sits on the Praek Tuek Chhu River.

The water is clean and gets better as you head north out of town. It’s a great river to swim in and many of the guesthouses on the riverfront provide safe access to leap into the water.

A late afternoon swim after a day of exploring is a great thing to do in Kampot.

High Tide Kampot is also a great place to hang out by the river. This very relaxed hostel is a rescue centre for around 30 dogs who have been saved from horrible existences. It has a deck where you can have a beer, surrounded by cute dogs to watch the sunset.

9. KAMPOT RIVER CRUISE

Taking a sunset ride on the river is another popular activity in Kampot.

Tours last around two hours and cost $5 including 2 beers or sodas. Most tours also have an on-board kitchen where you can order dinner.

It’s a nice way to take in sunset, but we’d suggest asking your guesthouse to recommend a good quality service, rather than just heading down to the dock.

sunset cruise kampotsunset cruise kampot
SUNSET CRUISE

10. EAT AT 23 BISTRO

23 Bistro is a wonderful restaurant in the centre of Kampot that serves high-quality modern European cuisine using local products sourced from the Kampot market.

The menu, which changes regularly, is made up of refined French dishes with Asian flavours, at Cambodia prices. It’s hard to find cooking this good for such great value.

They have a few vegetarian and vegan options, all supported by an excellent wine and cocktail list.

A small outdoor courtyard in the front has around 4 tables outside overlooking the street.

twenty three bistro kampottwenty three bistro kampot
TWENTY THREE BISTRO, KAMPOT

11. PHNOM CHHNGOK TEMPLE CAVE

Phnom Chhngok is a small mountain with a temple and a cave system featuring some interesting stalactites.

A staircase leads to an excellent viewpoint over the surrounding farmland before descending into the cave with a 7th-century shrine to Shiva, the Hindu God. The cave has protected the shrine over the years so it’s in remarkably good condition.

To visit the cave, you’ll need to pay around $1US and guides will offer their services to show you around. If you book the Countryside Tour from your guesthouse, they will organise a guide for you.

It only takes a couple of minutes to walk up to the cave and if you are with a guide, they will point out some animal formations in the rock which take a bit of imagination to see.

After visiting the temple, you will be offered an alternative route back down via a very narrow and steep corridor through the cave. There is no light, long drops and tricky steps, so you should only attempt this if you are very confident about dark narrow spaces. The guides don’t provide much by way of assistance.

WHERE TO EAT IN KAMPOT?

Kampot has developed a tourist industry that blends in with the laid-back vibe. The café and restaurant scene is made up of airy spaces in cavernous colonial buildings and local make-shift street stalls.

Enjoying the food scene in Kampot is one of the best ways to experience the city. Here are our favourite food joints:

Twenty-Three – As mentioned above, 23 Bistro is quality French cooking with a great range of craft beers, wines and cocktails. It’s the best food in Kampot, although not traditional.  

Lemongrass Bistro – Set in the porch of an old building, Lemongrass does traditional Khmer and Thai cooking. The service is fairly relaxed so you don’t want to be in a hurry, but we couldn’t rate the food highly enough. It’s great value, great flavours and the extensive drinks list is wonderful.

Ecran Noodle & Dumplings – Excellent soup and noodle dishes in a rustic outdoor space near the riverfront. The noodles and dumplings are all homemade onsite. We ate here a couple of times, which is very unusual for us.

COFFEE IN KAMPOT

Kampot’s backpacker crowd are well served by cafes set in industrial spaces, colonial shells, or slick designer digs. Here is the best coffee we were able to find in Kampot.   

Cafe Espresso – This is the original artisan coffee in Kampot. The space is industrial yet welcoming, especially the outdoor seats under the big tree out the front. My flat white was consistently excellent, but I think the food is a little overrated. The potato rosti was soggy and the eggs a bit cold. However, the menu is interesting so you might find something you like.

Analog Coffee & Eatery – Analog is a modern café with clean lines and state-of-the art coffee brewing equipment. It’s a cool space to get a coffee with great music and a wide selection of drinks. The iced coffee was excellent.

WHERE TO STAY

Kampot has embraced the tourist market so there’s no shortage of accommodation options. Most of the backpacker places are in the centre of town while the higher-end hotels are located along the river.

RIVERFRONT BUNGALOWS | $/$$

KAMPOT RIVERFRONT BOUTIQUE

Very friendly owners with bungalows set amongst the trees right on the river. Swim or kayak from just outside your rooms. Ten-minute tuk-tuk ($2) from the centre of town.


BOUTIQUE | $$

HOTEL LA JAVA BLEUE

Only 5 rooms in this relaxed yet elegant hotel. Uniquely decorated, in a great location, and with a very helpful host.


BOUTIQUE | $$

HOTEL OLD CINEMA

A former cinema converted into a quirky art-deco hotel. Lovely gardens and pool with very friendly staff. It’s in a great location in town but just set back from the river.


arial shot accommodation on the kampot riverarial shot accommodation on the kampot river

HOW TO GET TO KAMPOT

The most convenient way to get around Cambodia is via bus. There are several buses per day from Phnom Penh to Kampot which takes 3 to 4 hours. Prices range from $6 to $10. We used Vireak Buntham and the service was excellent. Book bus tickets in advance on camboticket.com.  

From Sihanoukville the bus takes around 2.5 to 3 hours to travel the 100-kilometre journey due to extensive road works on route. There are around 7 minibus departures to Kampot per day.

A trainline also runs from both Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville to Kampot. It’s a lovely way to travel. However, there is only 1 service per day, and it doesn’t run every day. Check train times here.

HOW MANY DAYS IN KAMPOT

We recommend 2 days in Kampot. It’s a relaxed destination with few big sights so it’s more about soaking up the relaxed riverside atmosphere and getting out into some of the green space surrounding the city.

You can read about how we included Kampot in our Cambodia Itinerary.

MORE CAMBODIA READING

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