The main draw of Kampot is undoubtedly its laidback and relaxed atmosphere of a small riverside town and, of course, pepper. Pepper from Kampot is a well-known brand in South East Asia, and well, you cannot leave Kampot without buying some pepper for yourself, for your friends, for your mom – and then buying some more – just in case. Life is slow in Kampot, though in recent years more and more international cuisine restaurants and bars are making their way to the town, and the local expat community grows step by step. In general, Kampot is a perfect place to spend a couple of relaxed days savouring a slightly nostalgic air of this quaint town filled with once stately colonial mansions on the background of the green slopes of surrounding hills.
From Phnom Penh to Kampot by bus
The distance between Phnom Penh and Kampot is about 150 km, and most buses cover it in two-and-a-half-hour time. The road between Phnom Penh and Kampot was completely sealed in 2015, hurray, so no more bumpy rides there. You have a wide choice of operators competing to bring you from Phnom Penh to Kampot with buses departing from different locations throughout the city depending on the bus company. You can buy tickets directly at the relative bus stations or through tour agencies and hotels while in Phnom Penh. For the moment the only bus company in Cambodia which sells tickets online is Giant Ibis Transport. It also has the best safety record in the country and all of their passengers are covered with insurance.
In Phnom Penh, Giant Ibis buses leave from the company’s bus station in 106 Street, conveniently located close to the riverfront and the night market. Check with your accommodation if it is listed among Giant Ibis’ partners; if yes, the company provides free pick-up, but you have to inform them in advance.
For Phnom Penh–Kampot route Giant Ibis uses their smaller Universe County buses which are confortable enough for a short trip. Note though, that all ‘C’ seats are jump seats with backs lower than in normal seats. The first row feels a bit cramped as the leg space is rather limited. Otherwise buses are well maintained and quite comfortable. Tickets cost USD10 and include free Wi-Fi and the use of electrical outlets on board. A bottle of water and a cold towel are served in Kampot-bound buses. Note that there are neither toilets on board nor bathroom stops during the trip.
In Kampot you will be dropped off close to Durian roundabout behind the petrol station. It is about 250 m to the riverfront from there and a bit more to the main bus station in Kampot which is on Route 33 by the Old Market Street. There is plenty of accommodation options close to the river and a bit off on the both sides of the Old Market Street. You can easily walk there from Durian roundabout.
Further afield from Kampot
Bokor National Park
The French definitely new what they were doing when they built their hill station atop Bokor Mountain back in 1920s. Unlike in Kampot with its scotching hot summers, it is always refreshingly cool in Bokor, which occupies commanding position over the region at 1000+ m. Giant Ibis offers direct buses from Kampot to the hill station: ask at their ticket office where you arrive from Phnom Penh. Travel time from Kampot to Bokor Mountain is less than one hour.
Instead of going back to Kampot from Bokor National Park, you can hitchhike further southeast to the charming town of Kep. It is only 25 km or one hour’s drive to Kep. This small seaside town has nothing in common with its more popular counterpart, Sihanoukville, – except for the white sand which was brought to Kep from Otres Beach. Great seafood, tranquil atmosphere and friendly locals, unspoiled (at the moment) by mass tourism are a great draw of Kep. Visit now before it grows into something less attractive and more mainstream.
When you get tired of a quiet life by the river in Kampot and a quiet life by the sea in Kep, head west for turquois water, sweeping beaches and (relatively) vibrant nightlife of the most famous Cambodian sea resort city, Sihanoukville. 120 km between Kampot and Sihanoukville can be covered in two or three hours; buy tickets at the bus station in Kampot.
You can easily cover Kampot on foot: the town is small and flat. Nearly every guesthouse offers bicycles and motorbikes for hire; prices start from USD1.5 and USD5 per day respectively. Traffic is limited and riding a bicycle or a motorbike is a pleasure in Kampot. With your two-wheel transport you will have much more freedom and will not be dependent on tour agencies for visiting outlying caves, the Secret Lake, salt fields and pepper farms. Bokor National Park can also be reached by motorbike, and the road up the mountain is in good condition.
Where to stay
For a town of such a small size Kampot has a wonderfully good choice of accommodation – from basic budget digs to rather stylish upmarket bungalows and hotel rooms. Prices are a delight for your pocket, whichever type of accommodation you fancy. To get the most of your stay in Kampot it is highly recommended to opt for one of the guesthouses along the river. Many of them have terraces over the water and access to the river.
Apart from visiting Bokor National Park with its dilapidated casino and some other colonial buildings, a couple of waterfalls and breath taking views over Kampot, there are enough things to see and to do in Kampot and around to spend several lazy days.
Nearly every pepper farm around Kampot is happy to welcome visitors, so you can witness the process of pepper growing and processing from A to Z and buy some great – and genuine – Kampot pepper directly from farms.
Another important industry in Kampot is salt producing. Picturesque white cones dot glittering salt fields which reflect the sky along the road to Kep.
There several worth-seeing ancient temples and ruins around Kampot with Phnom Chhnork being one of the most impressive sights as well as a dozen of relatively modern Buddhist wats in town, some with surprisingly nice murals.
Oh, and definitely take a boat trip along the river – without it your Kampot experience will not be complete!