Kampot was beautiful. Kampot IS beautiful. You know when you go somewhere and you just get that feeling of contentment? That feeling that this is exactly where you’re meant to be and that you have everything to be thankful for? Well, Kampot was that place for us.
Situated in the south of Cambodia, Kampot is the capital city of the region of the same name. We stayed on the “other” side of the river in a bamboo hut on stilts. We had huge lizards as housemates and a beautiful view of the Kampong Bay River from the communal veranda at Samon Village.
We moved around the place via a combination of bicycles and mopeds which we hired for next to nothing.The centre of town is absolutely charming and is dotted with French colonial architecture, much of which has been left to grow old gracefully.There are several quirky cafes and restaurants serving various treats (like the scrummy flapjack from Epic Arts Cafe) available for hungry vegans and lovely shops selling earth-friendly wares. We bought some incredibly soft and comfy clothes from Dorsu which sells locally and ethically produced clothing.We particularly enjoyed exploring the nearby villages and sharing smiles and waves with the locals.
We also stumbled upon a gorgeous temple which overlooked the river and backed onto a local school.
On one of our trips we headed towards the rice fields. The views were just so unreal that we headed out the following day and did the exact same thing.
In fact, we got so carried away exploring the area that we found ourselves a bit stuck with no opportunity to turn around to go back. This resulted in Tom lifting our moped to turn it round. Needless to say, this was an extremely comical moment.A huge draw for tourists visiting Kampot is Bokor National park, home to the majestic Bokor Mountain, on top of which, French colonialists built Bokor Hill resort in the early 1900s.
The ascent requires a motor bike of some description or alternatively you could hire a taxi. Fortunately someone had mentioned to us the day before our visit that it can turn very cold and rainy very quickly within the national park and is known for its sporadic downpours.
We took a lovely scenic drive of around 8km from Kampot to get to the entrance of the national park and on arrival were given a map. We were surprised to see how many different things there were to see.
We started our journey upwards along the well finished road in the blistering heat through lush green trees. As we climbed higher and higher along the winding road, the air became wetter and before we knew it we had been totally enveloped by clouds. It was hard to tell when it was raining and when we were just covered in mist and cloud.
A little way up, a beautiful Taoist Chinese temple emerged from amongst the cloud like something out of a painting. Doors at the front and sides were open allowing the clouds to make their way into the temple. Truly magical.Bokor Hill was a hill station used by French officials and foreign visitors to Indochina during that time. It’s location high up in the hills would have provided a more temperate climate during the scorching hot summers. The construction of the hill which includes a (now abandoned) school, catholic church and a huge hotel, was no mean feat and around 900 of the forced labourers responsible for building the hill station and the road leading up to it died during the process. The Cambodian upper class moved in during the first Indochina war in the 1940s and amongst other things, built a huge casino and hotel, which is now sits up at the top of the mountain looking, well, creepy, 1000 meters up high in the sky. The Bokor Palace Hotel, along with the rest of the hill station unfortunately fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge for a number for years and was apparently used as a place where prisoners were torutred. When we made it to this region in the park, a lot of construction work was being done and it was too foggy and rainy to actually stop and look inside the abandoned buildings.
A little further along our journey, we reached the magical Wat Samprov Pram, which is believed to be the highest Buddhist Temple in Cambodia. Meaning “temple of five boats” because of 5 nearby rock formations which apparently resemble boats, Wat Samprov Pram was quite breathtaking inside and out.
We arrived at lunchtime when all of the young monks were eating some kind of delicious meal surrounded by an unimaginable amount of colour. Around them, locals and tourists offered their prayers to the many golden statues of the Buddha.
There were also stunning views from Wat Samprov Pram and luckily the cloud and fog parted for long enough for us to enjoy them. Visitors were appreciating the view as well as appreciating other people appreciating the view. Not sure if this depiction of the Buddha is everyone’s cup of tea but it totally blew us away. The Godly clouds behind made it particularly dramatic and it was quite moving to see such a huge yet human-looking representation, even if it was a little cartoon like. At a whopping 95 feet high, it’s hard to not feel a sense of peace when you stand looking up at a Buddha in the clouds.On our way back down the mountain, we stopped off at a waterfall but it was pretty wet so we didn’t hang around for too long.Whereas our upward journey had been shrouded in cloud, we had a rather more sunny descent and were treated to views so scenic it was almost funny.Towards the end of our time in Kampot, we took a boat trip on the river with Camille, a lovely Swiss traveller who was staying with us at Samon Village. We spent two and a half glorious hours cruising along the river, admiring magical cloud formations and their reflections in the water. We (Tom excluded) even went for a swim. This was great until it came to getting out of the water and back into the boat. Not so easy. Not so elegant. Once the sun had set, our boat driver took us to a particular area of the riverbank where a select few bushes attracted thousands of fireflies each night. As it got darker and darker outside, it was as if a dimmer switch gradually brightened the glow of the fireflies. Some of the very best food we ate in Kampot was at Samon Village, where we were staying. Delicious traditional Cambodian curries that were easily veganised. The staff were so friendly and helpful and nothing was too much trouble. We were also fortunate to be staying a few minutes away from Deva Cafe, which is part of the Banteay Srey Project which trains and employs local women as well as offering yoga classes. The food at the cafe is all veggie or vegan and totally delish. Yummy fresh bread can be bought from a little German bakery stall on the main road in town if you get your timings right. Local shops also sell locally produced peanut butter. You do the math.
The length of this post is testament to what an awesome time we had in Kampot. For us, it had the right combination of everything and we’d go back in a heartbeat!