The French colonists built many luxury vacation homes along the coast here. Development continued in the high plateau of Bokor Mountain with a large hotel, casino, even a church and school.
The two towns are some 25km (16 miles) apart and today most choose to stay in Kampot and make a side trip to Kep. Kampot is just a quiet riverside town with views of the mountains and a lazy grid of old colonial houses. There are a few nice little hotels and little to do but wander, chat with locals and expats at cafes, and peep the sunset over Bokor. Kep has a large crab market sitting on a busy day of fishing vessels; hit Kep to check out the classic colonial homes (someday they’ll probably all be boutique resorts or private dwellings again). This area is a laid-back stop on your way to Sihanoukville.
Essentials Getting There
The road from Phnom Penh is good, a thin ribbon of asphalt. Your best bet is to arrange a taxi from Phnom Penh. There are no tourist bus services directly to Kampot or Kep.
Kampot is a tiny riverside town, all easily traversed on foot (if you can pull yoursell from the guesthouse hammock). Kep is just 25km (16 miles) east of Kampot, easily reached on rented motorbike, motorbike taxi, or motorbike with trailer (called tuk-tuk).
If you’re off to Kep beach or the caves near Kampong Trach, take a motorbike with drive. Maintenance at the town’s two rental agents is limited. The price is quite low, but so is the quality. Say a prayer and contact Sean Ly Motor Rental Shop at No. 27 DSoeng Ngoc Rd. (012/944-687), just south of the central traffic circle; it’s your best bet for picking up a motorbike. Next door, nearer the traffic circle, CheangTry (012/974-698) looks less efficient but offers the same bevy of beat-up bikes at the same price.
For more extensive tour services, Art Suriya Travel (012/501-742) offers custom tours of the surrounding area or other parts of the region. Costs are higher than the storefront tour offices, but you get the full custom treatment. Contact Mr. Sok Lim at his tour offices on the north end of Kampot (at riverside, north of the central bridge; 012/719-872) for adventure trips and jungle-trekking tours around Bokor.
From Kep, which has pretty, quiet beaches good for swimming.
Where to Dine
Just north of the Bamboo Light Cafe (below), past the bridge on the riverside road, check out the Little Garden Bar (012/602-661; www.littlegardenbar.com). Its expat owner serves up good Western cuisine. They also run trips and sponsor programs for a local orphanage. Stop in, and you’re likely to meet up with other like-minded travelers (whether that “like mind” is drinking all night or motor-biking up Bokor).
For good Khmer food, stop by the open-air Restaurant Phnom Kam Chay Thmey (012/602-505), an affordable joint right next to the bridge.
After dinner and a brief walk around town, the only thing going on is the bar at Blissful Guesthouse. Ask for no sugar unless you like it super sweet.
Bamboo Light Cafe Srilankan With cheap and tiptop eats, this ranks up there with my favorite Indian restaurant back home. Curries are red or yellow, mild or fiery prepared to your tastes. The mutton dishes are especially good, as are the Sri Lankan Kottu roti dishes (pancakes cut up and mixed with potato and curry). The very clean interior has cool, indirect lighting in bamboo stanchions. The balcony area is where you’re most likely to meet the groovy dudes you saw out on the road in the day. Great breakfasts of bacon and eggs, as well as good sandwiches and Western meals, are served all day. With an Internet cafe upstairs, this is a good place to beat the heat.
River Rd. (near the bridge) in central Kampot. 012/681-530. [email protected]. Daily 7am-10pm.