Kampot is a small town on the edge of Cambodia, near the Vietnam border. It’s famous for its pepper, some of the best pepper in the world is grown here, apparently. Just outside Kampot is the smaller, sea-side, town of Kep which has fields used for the creation of sea salt that is sold locally.
Kampot is a large town with plenty of road links, one direct from Battambang. However, all the buses still go via the central hub in the capital city, Phnom Penh. This means an hour or so wait in a hot, sticky open air bus station, we used the time to catch some lunch at a local (and air-conditioned) Chinese restaurant.
Overall the journey from Battambang to Kampot took just over 12 hours and was not enjoyable. I don’t think the “10 and 2” position for holding a steering wheel applies in Cambodia, the drivers are totally incapable of going more than 30 seconds without honking their horn at something, multiple times. No catnaps were had on this bus.
The bus drops you off at either Kep or Kampot and at both towns within 10 minutes walk of pretty much any hostel and less than 5 minutes walk of some very good ones. There is no need to get a tuk-tuk or a taxi, honestly, despite what the drivers tell you.
Kampot is a small town, you can walk from one end to the other in 30 minutes so there’s no real need to use any forms of transport. The main eating and tour company area is right on the river-side and all within 5 minutes walk of each other.
Kep is around 40 minutes drive from Kampot and if you don’t want to rent a motorbike you can get a local bus for $3-5 each way. Kep town is very small also, much smaller than Kampot.
If you want to go to attractions that are outside the towns, such as the pepper farms, salt fields, Bokor hill station, then you can rent a taxi or take a tour – tuktuks are not powerful enough to get up the mountain roads to take you.
The taxis are, frankly, a very expensive option. We were quoted $15 to just take us to the pepper farm and back to Kep, a full day tour including the pepper farm, salt fields, a local cave and country side roads was only $12 per person. It’s one of those rare, and annoying, situations where “doing it yourself” is actually more expensive than an organised tour.
Things to do in Kampot and Kep
Kampot and Kep are great places to just relax, we ended up spending more time here than in our plan. There’s also plenty to do and see if you move outside of the towns themselves.
Bokor Hill Station
Just north of Kampot is Bokor Hill Station, a long abandoned French settlement nestled high in the hill. A welcome retreat from the heat down in the town, this collection of buildings and stunning views are well worth a visit.
There are many smaller buildings as well as a few larger ones, such as this old casino.
As well as this Catholic church.
You can walk all around and inside the buildings, although all the fixtures and fittings have long been removed.
Everything isn’t so perfect when you move a little away from the old abandoned town. The entire national park has been sold to a Vietnamese company and is currently being redeveloped. Your first glimpse of this is a huge 30m high witch statue that greats you as you come up the mountain.
Their plan is to cut down national park forest to create a multi-square mile residential and entertainment area, complete with new casinos and hundreds of houses. They have already started building lots of houses and you can see them scattered throughout the national park.
The plans are already in place and building commenced. Bokor National Park will not be the same in 5 years time…
Ecran Noodles and Movies
Ecran Noodles is a small restaurant that doubles as the area’s only cinema. The food is excellent and the noodles are hand made fresh for each dish. You can watch the chefs amazing skill as he manipulates a lump of dough into long, chewy noodles.
We choose to get dumpling soup and I would recommend that to anyone that wants to visit Ecran’s.
As I said, Ecran’s also doubles as a cinema. There are a few private rooms with 50″ televisions that you can watch any movie you wish. They had literally thousands of movies in their catalogue. We chose to watch The Killing Fields, a movie about the history of Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Quite a sad movie as it’s based on the true life of a Cambodian that survived the genocide of over a third of Cambodia’s entire population in the late 1970s. I would recommend that movie if you want to learn more about the, very recent, history of Cambodia.
Kep Crab Market
If you love fresh crab then Kep is a great place to eat it. They catch it locally and cook it in front of you.
We ordered 4 crabs, and after we had finished we wished we had ordered more. They were delicious and the fruit bought from the market complimented the crab.
If you like any sort of seafood then I would recommend a visit to Kep Crab Market as they have it all, and cook it all.
All around the Kampot province are, supposedly, the best farms for pepper in the world. The soil and climate are both perfect for making good pepper.
You see them all over the hills, tall bushes of pepper plants with their pods of spice.
There are four types of pepper grown – black, green, red and white. We couldn’t see any white but we did manage to see, and taste, the other varieties.
It’s all grown and picked by hand. Workers remove each pod manually and place them into a wicker basket before they are taken to be dried in the sun and manually sorted into colour and grade.
Up in the hills around Kep are a few salt farms. They take salt water from the sea and leave it to dry in the sun. Once it evaporates enough you can get salt… a lot of it. They collect it in woven baskets and leave it to dry some more before packing it and selling it locally. A very simple operation that allows money to be made from nothing but water and sun.
Sunset River Cruise
A quick, and inexpensive ($5), cruise up the river to watch the sunset over the hills. We were originally worried we wouldn’t see anything due to the clouds, but they actually made the sunset more beautiful.
Kampot is our last stop in in Cambodia. Next we are heading to the capital, Phnom Penh, to catch a bus to Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon), Vietnam. Time to go to our fourth country…