The River Front
Best time of the day is sunset watching the fishermen head out to the Gulf of Thailand while sipping a cold one.
A discarded plastic water bottle has an average lifespan of 5 minutes on the streets of Kampot before it is transformed into a Lucite hockey puck and added to the others already in the bag. An army of human ants scours every square inch of town looking for recyclable materials. The work goes on 24/ 7. Karen and I were walking back to our hotel after a late dinner. We passed an old woman pushing a large wooden, bicycle wheeled cart before her. The cart was piled high with bottles and cardboard and crushed aluminum cans. A flash of heat lightning galvanized the night, picking out a small girl sitting in the midst of the cart's debris. My Princess of the pile. You could read books under your bedclothes with a smile like hers. But I suspect that she owns neither.
Kampot lies along the Preak Kampong Bay River. An river estuary that reverses flow with the tides from the Gulf of Thailand just a few miles south. The riverfront is simply known as 'The Front'. It is where most of the tourist businesses lay. Small guesthouses and restaurants line the banks. Most of which are owned and operated by
English and French ex-pats. The town comes to life about 5 PM when the outdoor cafes are populated with Happy Hour visitors mesmerized by the sight of the sun setting over the Elephant Mountains to the West. Fishermen set off to work at night and return to their river stilt homes with dawn.
Most folks stop here for a couple of days. There is little to see or do in this tiny burg. A handful of strange statues are sprinkled about. A giant Durian fruit. A trio of salt panners painted in brilliant colors. The number 2000 constructed of 6-foot high concrete numbers. The major industries here are tourism, pepper and sea salt. Kampot pepper is known around the world for its flavor. Tastes like pepper to me. Along the Gulf coast one sees hundreds of acres of salt pans laid out in orderly grids.
There are far too many hotels and restaurants here given the paltry number of visitors who make it this far into Kampuchea. While the Brit-owned 'Rusty Keyhole' is packed to the gills with customers every evening, other operations are lucky to entertain more than a couple of folks a night. As such, businesses
Old French Villa
Fairly representative of the homes built here by French traders and abandoned during the Khmer Rouge takeover. Slowly but surely these properties are being reclaimed.
come and go very quickly. There is no shortage of foreign visitors who fall in love with this quiet spot and attempt to make an economic go of it here.
Karen and I arrived by full-sized bus from Phnom Penh. Tickets were $6 each, one-way. It was a four hour ride with a short snack stop at a nondescript village where we were inundated by vendors selling fresh-cut fruit packaged in clear plastic bags. As bad as the poverty in the city is it is compounded in the countryside. The road to Kampot was in excellent condition. A big improvement from our last trip to Cambodia when Karen, Noah and I had to hire a jacked-up Camry to navigate the muddy gutter of a road that once passed here as a National highway.
We rode through the town of Kep before arriving in Kampot. Kep has beautiful views of the Gulf but most of the businesses are a half-kilometer apart. There is no center to the town. It is more of a resort destination where you stay at the same place for the duration of your visit. There is a small man-made beach which, by noon, is pretty
The old hill station is at the top of this peak overlooking Kampot. At the time of this writing the old hotel was being restored making the trip to the top a difficult affair.
well full up. Kampot is a river town and offers no beach at all, though there is a sandy path along its banks. The tourist area is known as the 'Front' and it encompasses the river between the 'Old' and 'New' bridges.
The bus 'Station' is a cafe across the street from a gas station. The cafe is surrounded by Tuk and Taxi drivers who are eager to convey you to your hotel. The town is small so walking with your bags might be an option but since most of the Tuks charge no more that a dollar why not travel in style?
Karen and I spent the first night at the Magic Sponge hotel a short walk from the river. We took a double room with A/C (but no TV or fridge) for $12 per night. Nice place. Khmer owned with a Brit manager named Martin. Martin is from the north of England and has a thick accent which, to my ears, sounded like a twisted jumble of Scot and Jamaican. After Karen discovered a foot-long Gecko lizard behind the drapes of our window we soon found ourselves moving to the 'Little Garden' hotel on the 'Front'.
This is one of the major landmarks in Kampot. Most everything touristy in town is located between this bridge and the new one a quarter mile to the north.
(Karen thought herself well rid of the Geckos but they would have their revenge and it was a dish served very, very cold indeed.) The Little Garden charged $15 a night with A/C, cable and fridge. No breakfast. The Khmer owner promised to move us to a room with a river few after two days but this never occurred and when we attempted to discuss it with him he suddenly forgot all of his English. Poor thing. If you stay there you now know where you stand. There is a restaurant on the premises but it is very expensive and the food is of mediocre quality.
The best places to eat in town are as follows:
The Rusty Keyhole. Vick is the owner and his entrees ($5 to $6) are so big that you are best served by ordering one and dividing it between two people. His claim to fame is 'Baby Back Ribs'. There is nothing babyish about this plate as the meat comes from a full-sized pig and tips the scale at about a kilo. He has great service and a riverside location. Best for dinner and drinks. Too hot and too many flies during lunch.
Everything travels by Cyclo in Kampot even this newly made glass display cabinet.
Flies are a major issue at all of the riverside operations in the afternoon. In the evenings they miraculously disappear.
Captain Chim's. Khmer owned. Very good and inexpensive Khmer food. ($1 to $3) Best for breakfast and lunch. They also rent scooters and arrange day trips. Very nice people and honest. Next door to Chim's is Kepler's books which probably has the best selection of English-language used books this side of Chiang Mai.
Peace Arts Cafe. Operated by an NGO for the local deaf and mute. Very good bakery goods but not cheap by Kampot standards. Breakfast for two can easily top $8. Nice place to hang out and feel good about yourself at the same time. Like going to a U2 concert. Try the scones. They're not as good as my niece Stace's but they're a close second.
Kampot was beaten to hell and back during a battle between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Army in 1974 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kampot). The Khmer Rouge was active in Kampot until 1998. The town is now a mixture of shelled buildings, abandoned French colonial villas and a growing population intent on restoring Kampot to its former glory. Bokor Hill dominates
Captain Chim's Restaurant
Best of the cheap places to eat. Excellent dinner for 2 is less than $5 US. Try the Red Soup. Very friendly proprietors.
the town. In 1916 the French built a casino hotel and a small hill station at the very top. It never was much of a success. Every couple of decades the place is abandoned to nature and then reclaimed by some perpetually hopeful businessman. As I sit here there is a multi-national corporation hard at work restoring the hotel. To get there involves a 2 hour uphill trek and the use of a four wheel drive vehicle. The peak is a hardscrabble place buffeted by wind and mist.
Tips for travelers:
Everybody talks about the fine crab there is to eat in Kampot. It's a lie. We never saw crab at any of the restaurants here nor had Vick, the owner of the Rusty Keyhole, heard of any. There is a crab market in Kep but most of that harvest is bound for Phnom Penh restaurants.
If you need to get to Sihanoukville hire a private car for $25. The mini-buses and shared taxis normally employed are shaky at best. Book cars at the bus station.
You can take a sunset river cruise for $5 departing at 3:30 PM. The price includes a Klang beer. The
The High Price of Drinking
Cocktail menu from one of the cafe's on the river front. While food is inexpensive, alcohol is dear at eateries.
Budweiser of Cambodia. Personally I thought the view better from the shore.
There are three disabled beggars in town. One in a wheelchair and two amputees on crutches. If you can't spring for a donation then kindly acknowledge their presence and tell them you have nothing to give them. Here's why:
On our last night in Kampot Karen and I were eating dinner outside the Rusty Keyhole. At the table next to ours sat two British, twenty-something females. Pale, milky skin, thick of hip and twisted of tooth. The beggars came up as they always do. Karen and I always endeavor to give them something and share a few words along with the smiles. When the first beggar got to the Brits the girls absolutely refused to look at him. (What's that game kids play when somebody says something you don't want to hear. You know, the one where you cover your ears and say as fast as you can, 'I can't hear you, I can't hear you.......' Over and over again. Such a silly game.) The girls sat at their food laden table playing with their i-Phones and looking at pictures stored within the magnificent Nikon SLR
The Statues of Kampot
This is a memorial to Durian at the town center. Every major Kampot intersection boasts some masonry shrine.
digital camera they were lugging around in a knapsack loaded with all kinds of extra lenses. Everything so shiny and new. The beggar stood next to them with his hands held together in a respectful Wei. After being studiously ignored, the first beggar stood back a little ways behind them and another beggar came up and the girls blew him off too and the last beggar came up and they ignored him too and now the silly cows are so occupied with all of their expensive toys that they can't see anybody (except themselves in the pictures of course) and the beggars are standing together right behind them and the beggars are talking amongst themselves and smiling little secret smiles and then they mosey off. The girls pay their check with crisp banknotes snaked out of a fat wallet which lay nestled in the knapsack along with the camera, the lenses, their passports and those really cool i-Phones and so, with the bill settled, they climb aboard their bicycles and head back to their hotel. Ten minutes later Karen and I walk upon two bicycles laying in the road. A few meters further along the girls stood at the center
Located next to the old market. Good selection at reasonable prices and they take trades. All new books are bootlegs from Nam.
of a crowd of Cambodians telling a policeman how their knapsack was snatched from one of the bicycle baskets by two men on a scooter and golly gee they lost EVERYTHING! Shit happens.
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