The Simple Pleasures of Being in Kampot, Cambodia

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French colonial architecture in Kampot—C.Helbig

Better late than never as I finally continue writing about our travels in Cambodia. Today I’m reminiscing about Kampot, a quirky, unhurried town that sits on the banks of Praek Tuek Chhu River in southern Cambodia. Other than some interesting excursions in the surrounding countryside, there’s not much to do in Kampot itself. And that was just perfect. After the intensity of Phnom Penh, it felt good to just be, and not to do. In this post, I describe some of my favourite things about Kampot. They may not sound very exciting, but they hold sweet memories and remind me that slow, easy days of simply absorbing a new place can be just as rewarding as visiting big name attractions.

(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay

It’s actually a promenade, not a dock, and a tidal river, not a bay. But there’s something about Kampot that had me humming Otis Redding’s soulful tune. Every afternoon, a parade of fishing boats leave the nearby Cham Muslim villages for their nightly fishing in the Gulf of Thailand. At 5:15 pm, like clockwork, upwards of 50 boats (I lost count) pass by Kampot. I was amazed by how captivated I was, sitting by the riverside watching the orange and green-painted boats rumble by. We were told this happens every single day.  Early in the morning (long before we were up) they pass by Kampot again, returning to their villages before doing it all over again. It’s difficult to imagine what a tough life this must be.

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Parade of fishing boats passing Kampot—C.Helbig

On one of our excursions, I mentioned my fascination with the fishing boats to Jack our tuk tuk driver. He kindly made a small detour to a Cham village just outside Kampot town. It was very quiet and he told us that the fisherman were all sleeping and would wake up later in the afternoon for their nightly fishing ritual. During the day, women and older men tend to chores like mending the fishing nets.

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Cham village near Kampot—C.Helbig

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Woman mending fishing net—C.Helbig

The $5 sunset cruise

This may have been the best value activity of our trip. No need to pre-book, we just climbed aboard one of the aging but charming boats tied to the riverbank. There doesn’t appear to be a fixed schedule. When enough passengers show up, they shove off. There’s nothing fancy about this cruise, but there’s plenty of cold beer, serene landscapes and killer sunsets. We were lucky that our boat left early enough to be in the midst of the fishing boat parade. Sometimes there’s fireflies too, but not on our evening.

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Peaceful sunset cruise in Kampot—C.Helbig

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It really is this colour—C.Helbig

The durian roundabout

You have to love a town that has a stinky, lethal-looking fruit in the center of its main roundabout. Durian is one of the region’s primary crops, so it probably isn’t a big deal for locals to see the fruit gracing their town. It had me smiling and thinking maybe my town’s roundabout should have a statue of a salmon or a giant cedar tree or at least something more fun than shrubs.

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Kampot’s durian roundabout—C.Helbig

Rikitikitavi: best value and friendliest staff

I don’t often do shout-outs to specific accommodations, but I’m making an exception for Kampot’s Rikitikitavi.  In our month of travel through Cambodia and Laos, it takes the prize for best value and friendliest staff (that’s saying a lot in countries where we were met with nothing but warmth and kindness).  We loved our beautiful, comfortable room (much better than places double the price). It was so nice that one hot afternoon we just lounged in our room’s cosy seating area, drinking beer and sobbing as we watched The Killing Fields (they have an extensive DVD library). The rooftop restaurant has a great view to the river and the food was so delicious that we were loath to try other places. But most of all, the staff was just the best. I cried when we left!

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The lovely ladies of Rikitikitavi—C.Helbig

Eclectic structures

Although Mike found it more decaying than charming, I really enjoyed wandering around dusty Kampot with its hodgepodge of styles. There are graceful buildings left over from French colonial times, budget-backpacker places that look like they will crumble in the first wind storm, modern construction around the durian roundabout, and cleverly-designed shops on wheels.

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French colonial building in Kampot—C.Helbig

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Maybe we should have tried this place?

 

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Plenty of cheap accommodations in Kampot—C.Helbig

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Meals on Wheels along Kampot’s riverside—C.Helbig

Wat Traoy Koh

This pretty wat has an exquisitely peaceful setting on the banks of the river (across from Kampot). It’s a good thing too, because we were hot and cranky after biking on an ugly highway, in the wrong direction, for at least 30 minutes. It’s actually an easy and pleasant ride from Kampot if you do it right. Don’t be stupid like us. Ask for directions! I left Mike to chill (well…more to stew) in the lovely riverside pagoda while I explored the grounds. The serene atmosphere drove away any lingering funk (except for Mike’s sore butt from the crappy bike seat). Sadly, our stupidity for the day continued when we realized Mike’s camera needed charging and I had forgotten my phone. I managed to salvage one so-so photo, and lots of nice memories.

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Wat Traoy Koh, Kampot—C.Helbig

The riverside promenade and gym

The town has done a nice job on its riverside promenade. It’s abuzz with locals in the cool of the evening. During the day, it’s only crazy tourists like us who go for a mini-workout on the entertaining gym equipment.

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I want this in my gym!

Day excursion to Kampot pepper farm and Kep seafood market

Beyond the simple pleasures of hanging around town, I highly recommend a couple of excursions. We hired “Jack the tuk tuk driver” to take us to La Plantation Pepper Farm and to Kep’s crab and seafood market. Here’s one piece of advice: if you go via tuk tuk or motor bike, buy one of those cheap surgical masks to avoid breathing in all the dust on the dirt roads. I used to chuckle when I saw people wearing them, but not anymore.

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Sprawling La Plantation Pepper Farm

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“Jack the tuk tuk driver” at La Plantation

Although La Planation is rather “touristy”,  their excellent tours are run like a well-oiled machine and their guides provide lots of interesting information about the famous Kampot pepper and its production. At the end of the tour we got to sample different types of pepper, and of course, I ended up buying some. Often, I find, when I buy things like spices during our travels, I’m a little disappointed when I try them at home. This time was different. My little bag of La Plantation Kampot pepper was the best pepper I’ve tasted. I wish I’d bought more!

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Kampot’s “Secret Lake”—C.Helbig

En route to the pepper farm, we passed Secret Lake. It’s not that secret and its serenity belies a disturbing past. The lake is actually a giant dam reservoir that was built by forced labour during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.

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Kep’s seafood market—C.Helbig

Our timing for a late lunch was perfect at the Kep seafood market.  Shrimp, crab, octopus, and fish are skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled up while you wait. There’s all kinds of dipping sauces ranging in spiciness from hot to hell.

We’re really happy we added Kampot to our Cambodia itinerary. It’s a wonderful place  to slow down the pace and while away the time.

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Just hanging out at Kampot’s riverside—C.Helbig

 

Categories: Cambodia, Places | Tags: , , , , , | 51 Comments

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51 thoughts on “The Simple Pleasures of Being in Kampot, Cambodia

  1. Pingback: Bangkok, Cambodia & Laos Trip Report: Reflections | Writes of Passage

  2. Pingback: There’s more to Angkor than Angkor Wat | Writes of Passage

  3. This beautiful post brings back so much memories. I love Kampot for its tranquil environment. Can’t wait to go back again. 😍😍

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m right there with you: “slow, easy days of simply absorbing a new place can be just as rewarding as visiting big name attractions.” I too chuckled at the locals in Beijing wearing masks, but after a day of trying to breathe in the smog, joined them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is nice to have the luxury of slowing down and/or to make a conscious effort to do so. Those masks and a good set of ear plugs—two must-haves for travels in Asia (and other places).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Caroline! I echo what James said; this post is so relaxing it makes me want to escape Jakarta right away! I’ve only been to Cambodia once, and that was back in 2011 when my traveling style was so different from how it is now. I stayed in Siem Reap for two nights and hired a bicycle to go everywhere, although the fact that it was my first time riding a bicycle in a country where people drive on the right hand side made me slightly nervous. Then I took a bus to Phnom Penh and stayed in a hostel right next to the royal palace to make the most of my one-night stay in the city. I travel more slowly now, and from your description and photos I know I would love Kampot. Oh, and I would love to try their durian!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bama! If I’m not mistaken, doesn’t Jakarta have the nickname The Big Durian? I’ve only visited once, a long time ago, and was awed by the size and excitement of the city. I can understand though how escaping for a little peace and quiet, would be needed at times. I think you’d enjoy Kampot, a very small durian compared to Jakarta.
      It is interesting how our travel styles change over time. I don’t think one is necessarily better than others, more a function of our preferences, time, stage in life…As I get older, I do enjoy “slower” travel but at the same time want to see as much as possible of a particular place because I probably won’t get back (the bucket list of new places is ever expanding). You’re much closer to Cambodia so hopefully you’ll get to visit again. Cheers, Caroline

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      • Yes, this chaotic metropolis that is the capital of Indonesia is often called The Big Durian, for an obvious reason — just look at the rivers! Hence my penchant for visiting idyllic and tranquil places, like Luang Prabang and some remote islands in Indonesia.

        What you said about the change in our traveling style is true. My younger self wouldn’t like the way I travel now, and vice versa, because people change.

        I do hope I can return to Cambodia in a not-too-distant future!

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  6. What a relaxing post, Caroline! Southern Cambodia seems like the place to be these days – I must confess that even though I now live in Southeast Asia, I have not yet made the effort to pay that country a visit. This is on top of the fact that I went to Laos in 2012 and Vietnam just last year! One of my high school friends back in Hong Kong raves about the food and architecture in Kampot; he went several times with his coworkers on a volunteer project to design and build an eco-friendly school.

    I chuckled at the picture of the durian roundabout – it strikes me as being such a Southeast Asian thing to do. Durian really is an acquired taste, I didn’t grow up eating it but I have warmed up to the stinky fruit in recent years. Once you get past the smell, the ice cream is actually wonderful, as are crepe cakes layered with durian cream. The most unusual thing I’ve tried is durian coffee, which had a strong, meaty aftertaste reminiscent of spaghetti bolognese!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well James, there is just too much to see in SE Asia. I’m quite envious actually of all the diverse travel opportunities within relatively easy reach of Jakarta. I’m sure you’ll get to Cambodia one of these days.

      The durian roundabout brings a smile to my face every time I look at my photos. I think you’re right about getting past the smell. Perhaps I’ll plug my nose next time I try the ice creme. This reminds me of a really stinky German cheese (handkase) that turns most people off before even trying it. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. Perhaps there is hope for me with durian. Coffee with an aftertaste of spaghetti bolognese…now that is weird! Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great pictures! Very interesting!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Before my very first trip someone told me to take time to do nothing. That looks like a good town to do nothing in. Having said that, it looks like you enjoyed the peaceful environment. That $5 river cruise looks like my kind of deal.

    About that exercise machine, does that actually do anything? I see Thai people on those all the time but I never thought to give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing that piece of equipment does do is make you laugh (at least it did for me). It was not just the actual cruise that was peaceful, but also all the stuff that goes with the activity…no crowds, no complicated ticket procedure, no rush.
      Someone gave you a good piece of advice! Most of the time my definition of doing nothing is still doing something, just a little more slowly and relaxed. Kampot is definitely good for this. Cheers, Caroline

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  9. I would love to have seen pepper growing, and brought home some peppercorns!!! Thanks for sharing your pics, your impressions and another segment of your travels in such an amazing, different-from-our-own world place. Like you, I remember sitting on our balcony by in Bangkok, watching the river traffic in a state of absolute fascination… though that was, of course, not quite the country in which you found yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We didn’t go to Kampot. It sounds absolutely delightful. I know I’d have loved the parade of boats and the sunset cruise.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I tried this when I was in Sumatra (my partner declined). Perhaps I can get him to try it when we head out that way again. I love your photos. I’ve just posted my photos of Sumatra, but sadly, no shots of this strange fruit, or roundabouts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Durian is definitely an acquired taste. I tried it and wasn’t impressed (even the smell of the ice creme version turned me off). Thanks for your comments and I’m glad you liked my photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Mike Hohmann

    Fantastic place, Caroline, and an even more fantastic post! I love the photos, especially the parade of fishing boats, you and the ladies of Rikitikitavi, Wat Traoy Koh, and you on the gym equipment along the river. Anywhere along a major river is usually a good bet! Thanks for the post!

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  13. I keep saying I’m going to start a file of all the great places people stay in and explore … but then I click the little x and say to myself “I’ll remember that it was Caroline who went to Kampot” … and you can imagine how well that’s worked for me. So all the little pieces of info that I want to pluck from this post are going in my newly-created Travel Tips folder online! Really, this looks like just my kind of place. (I had to laugh at the gym equipment; this is the 3rd set of such ‘machinery’ I’ve seen in the last year (Cuba and Ecuador were my 2 sightings), and it is hysterically fun to work out on (or at least play on). I loved that photo of you, as well as the one with the sweet ladies form your hotel. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s too funny Lexi, I’m constantly struggling with where/how to store all the pieces of great travel. I have old paper files, email folders, scribbled bits of info on note pads and guide books! It’s like when you had told me originally about El Puma and I had been meaning to go back to your post, then forgot! Enough, I just need to get organized! We found several “gyms” during our SE Asia travels, but this one was the best. Glad you liked the tour of Kampot.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I love this post! The photos, the warmth…I can feel the languid pace. So great to have days that are relaxed and relaxing. We never made it to Kampot so it is great to see it through your eyes Caroline. Love the sunset shot, wow, and the sweet one of you with the girls from your best stay.

    Yes, those face masks defintely protect not onoy from the dust but the sun too. In Viet Nam we just got in the habit of wearing them while on the motor scooter, like everyone else.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peta. Languid is an excellent word to describe our pace and general feel in Kampot. Yes, I have become a face mask convert ever since that day in Kampot when our tuk tuk driver saw me sneezing uncontrollably between burying my nose into my t-shirt. He was kind enough to run into a shop and buy me a package of masks. They came in handy for the rest of the trip. Cheers, Caroline

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  15. The colours of the sunset are unreal. It is a good thing you pointed out that they are in fact just so. And a roundabout dedicated to durian! Yikes.
    I can quite imagine how cosy your stay at Rikitikitavi would have been. South east Asian hospitality is fantastic. Also lovely photos, Caroline. A special mention for the gym equipment one 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dippy! It’s a fun and funny little place, including that riverside gym where I felt like a little kid playing on the equipment. We (Canada) could take some lessons in SE Asian hospitality…just fantastic. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Glad you liked it – we loved it too! We were actually dying to try that Ciao restaurant as we heard so many good things about it. Unfortunately, we left it as a treat for our last night and found that it was closed that day! We visited La Plantation too and were amazed by the wonderful tasting pepper. So yummy!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s too bad about Ciao! We should have tried it, but the delicious fish amok and grilled black pepper shrimp kept calling us. Based on your post it looks like you found some amazing lodging in Kampot too (and I wish we’d made it to Rabbit Island). Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Kampot looks lovely! I haven’t made it there, but have been to nearby Kep a few times – it is similarly perfect for a bit of downtime. Thank you for sharing and for the lovely photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Brian Foster

    Especially pleasant to chill out at times and do a lot of nothing but let the situation penetrate the spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, and I’m doing more of this as I get older (good excuse to slow down). How are you guys?

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      • Brian Foster

        We’re great. Just finishing up in UAE and heading to Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Greece. Three months leaves a lot of time for both rushing and chilling. Let it all be part of being and becoming. Look forward to your next report. Love them. So descriptive and engaging.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Those are interesting places. I totally get what you mean by both rushing and chilling. Hopefully we can get together sometime (in person) and swap travel stories. Enjoy!

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          • Brian Foster

            We would really love that. Been a very long time between seeing one another; our overnight back from China, I think in ‘11 or ‘12. Take care. Hi to little Mickey.

            Liked by 1 person

  19. I was lucky enough to visit Kampot last week and fell in love with its charm also! I didn’t get a chance to visit the pepper plantation but it looks great! I went to Bokor National Park though, which I’d definitely recommend!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Such a beautiful place! So glad you had a good time. I laughed when I saw the giant durian haha.. if only all of our towns’ roundabouts had fun statues. I remember really appreciatingthe giant 15 ft beaver stationed in Beaverlodge, Alberta.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad it made you laugh too! I haven’t been to Beaverlodge, Alberta but I just googled it—hilarious! My community needs to up the fun factor (we’re way too serious).

      Like

  21. Your time there sounds lovely and relaxed. So many of us go on vacation and cram in all these activities ; I lovevthstvuouvhad time to just sit and watch the boats and explore at a more leisurely pace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need to make an effort to slow down while traveling as I often feel like I’m missing things if it’s not go- go-go. But lately, adding a few relaxed days of doing “ordinary” things makes me happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank You for the Inspiration 🙂 Lovely ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Such an impressive journey. I clicked the link for Rikitikitavi, and it reminded me of a place we stayed at in Koh Samui once. What a great trip you had though.

    Liked by 1 person

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