The Chill Riverside Town of Kampot, Cambodia
The beauty of having a flexible schedule when traveling is being able to discover towns you wouldn’t have visited otherwise. As we were planning our route throughout Cambodia, Sihanoukville was a town that was mentioned a lot within the backpacking circuit and we were getting a lot of mixed reviews about the place. With the reputation of it having beautiful beaches, but a really seedy place catering to backpackers and Westerners, it wasn’t sounding too appealing to us. If walking around Phnom Penh’s bar area was any indication, it wasn’t something we were interested in. Instead, we’d also found a few mentions on several travel blogs about a riverside town called Kampot. Knowing that we’d have plenty of other beautiful beach destinations ahead, we decided to skip the well-known Sihanoukville and instead decided to check out Kampot. We were off to our second stop in Cambodia!
After about 2.5 hours on a Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh, we arrived at the giant Durian roundabout! South East Asia sure loves their Durian, and a giant statue of the stinky fruit is a loud declaration of love for it! I’m not a particular fan of it, but Minh grew up eating it and enjoys it (Minh’s edit – he can “handle” it).
The town was small and easily walk-able, with French-Colonial architecture lining the streets
In addition, there were a couple of restaurants and shops that lined the river front where you could grab a cold drink to escape the sweltering heat. We met a few ex-pats who ran some of the stores in the town. Most ex-pats shared the same story of coming to visit the town while traveling and ended up falling in love with it and were all very welcoming and happy to see other foreigners visiting.
One of the great riverside restaurants we ate at was Ecran Noodle, which had fresh hand-made noodles, and at the affordable price of $2.50 USD!
We found a cute little place to stay on AirBNB located above a restaurant called bARACA. It was very budget friendly (no A/C, but heated showers), and the reviews were very good, so we booked it for 4 nights.
In my mind, we could rough it a little to save on some funds – we’re usually out all day anyway, right? Upon arrival to Kampot, it was the most hot and humid place we’d visited to date and coming back to our room hardly provided any relief from the heat. In addition, the walls weren’t completely closed off to the outside and had built in open window holes up top – thus we had to sleep with mosquito nets and spray bug spray nightly.
This stay was a big reality check to us that while we could handle going the budget route, paying a little more to have A/C and a good night’s rest was worth it to us (especially for Minh!). We definitely do not take luxuries like A/C and sealed doors and windows that keep the bugs out for granted anymore! Other than us being “spoiled” and not handling the heat well, the place was pretty good. The owners, Elke and Minke, are both from Belgium who moved to Kampot within the last few years, and suggested places to eat and things for us to do nearby – like taking the Bokor Mountain Tour and a cooking class (posts on these activities coming soon).
While we were in Kampot, there happened to be a Sea Festival going on throughout the weekend. There were vendors, games, and performances lined all along the river. It made the town very lively at night, and it seemed like people from neighboring towns came out for the event.
This was an event for the locals, and there were plenty of bug carts everywhere. Minh and I weren’t brave enough to try them, but it’s definitely a local delicacy and not a spectacle for foreigners to take photos and shock value as we previously saw in Phnom Penh.
The vibe of Kampot was very chill. Had the Sea Festival not have been going on while we were there, I’m sure the town would have been even more relaxed. Kampot is a local Cambodian town, but also has a small growing community of ex-pats there. These are the types of places that we love – where you get a sense of the local culture, with the comforts of Western options when needed. It allows you to have a more authentic experience, with the help of ex-pats who have integrated themselves and can provide some help to other foreigners get a lay of the land, making it less intimidating to explore. The Cambodian locals were all very friendly and did not give off the vibe of trying to exploit tourists, and the small ex-pat community has really integrated themselves alongside the locals, while contributing to the local community. Kampot was a great town that we really enjoyed and would recommend checking it out if you have the time.