Kampot is a sleepy riverside town a few hours outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In recent years it has been waking up, with more accommodation, restaurants and activities on offer than ever before. Below we have included some of the best activities in Kampot based on our own experiences. If you enjoy laid back vibes, outdoor adventures, good food and getting off the beaten path, then we highly recommend adding Kampot to your Cambodia itinerary.
Cycle around Kampot’s City Center
At first glance Kampot is a charming, peaceful town, and it only becomes more enchanting as you get to know it. We recommend exploring the city center by bicycle to get a feel for the area. You can rent a bicycle from your guest house or along the riverside for $1 or $2 per hour.
Kampot’s downtown is small and fairly easy to navigate. Cambodians are extremely friendly, and if you feel lost at any point just ask someone to point you back towards the river. It’s fun riding around exploring without a set route, but we have included some stops below that you may want to check out.
- The Fish Market on the riverside (Built in the 1930s, restored in 2016)
- The Old Market
- The Durian roundabout
- Old Royal Cinema
- The Salt Miners roundabout
- The Lotus Pond
- National Bank of Cambodia (French colonial period)
Motorbike up Bokor Mountain
Bokor Mountain is by far one of the quirkiest and most bizarre places we’ve visited in Cambodia. We recommend going by motorbike so you have the freedom to stop whenever you want along the way. Many guest houses offer motorbike rentals for around $5-$10 per day (depending on the type of bike), or you can rent a motorbike along the riverside in town. The journey up to the top of Bokor Mountain is about 40km from Kampot’s city center and takes around an hour. Be sure to rent a helmet as well. With limited medical care in Kampot you can never be too careful.
There are beautiful views and a few places to stop along the way up Bokor Mountain. Two of the more famous sites at the top are the abandoned Bokor Palace Hotel, also known as ‘the old casino’, and the nearby abandoned Catholic church. The Bokor Palace Hotel was built in the early 1900s as an opulent hotel and casino where royalty, wealthy Cambodians and French colonial elite would spend their holidays. During the 1970s it was taken over and occupied by the Khmer Rouge. As you wander around inside you can imagine what life must have been like through the different incarnations of the building’s history.
Both the Bokor Palace Hotel and Catholic church are located at the top of Bokor Mountain, and on a clear day you’ll have sweeping views of Bokor National Park and the Gulf of Thailand in the distance. At certain times of the day an eerie fog rolls up the hill and engulfs the old casino and the church, giving these spooky abandoned buildings an even creepier vibe.
Other interesting spots to check out on the mountain are:
- A 29m tall statue of Lok Yeay Mao, ancient mythical heroine and Buddhist divinity
- The remains of King Norodom Sihanouk’s Black Palace
- Tansur Bokor Highland Resort and Casino built by Sokha Hotels (bizarre in it’s own way)
- Wat Sampov Pram temple
- Natural waterfalls (look for signs)
Insider Tips: Only go by motorbike if you are an experienced driver as the road is quite windy and steep. Otherwise, it is possible to hire a taxi for the trip, which is also fun! Just make sure to negotiate the price beforehand and make it clear that you’ll want to make stops along the way. Bring a light jacket as it can get cold on top of the mountain.
Visit the Pepper Plantations
You can’t go to Kampot without checking out a pepper plantation! The province’s lush green hills and proximity to the sea create an ideal environment for pepper plants to thrive. Historically, pepper from Kampot was world renowned, until the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia in the 1970s and decimated crop growth. The reemergence of the pepper industry today is helping to revive the region, and pepper is regaining it’s fame in the foodie world.
We’ve visited a few pepper farms over the years, but our favorite is La Plantation, which offers free guided tours. You can get there by motorbike or by tuk tuk. The roads along the way are a bit dusty and bumpy, taking you through rice paddies, local villages, and past Kampot’s “Secret Lake”. The journey out to the pepper farm is an experience in itself, giving you a glimpse of rural Cambodian life. La Plantation produces red, white, black and green pepper. They serve lunch on site, of course using their pepper, and you can buy pepper fresh from the source to take home as well.
Related: Things to do in Kep
Kayaking the Green Cathedral
This kayaking route is one of our ultimate favorite escapes into nature in Cambodia, especially because so few people seem to know about it! The Green Cathedral is named for the canopy of green that covers you as you kayak through the serene, narrow channels surrounding a small island in the river.
To start, make your way to Champa Lodge, about 20 minutes from the city center, by motorbike or tuk tuk. When you arrive, you can rent kayaks and life jackets there. For ladies I recommend wearing your bathing suit and a modest cover up as you’ll be passing by local villager’s homes, and showing too much skin is taboo in Cambodia.
The route takes one to two hours, depending on your pace. The staff at Champa Lodge will be happy to explain the directions to you. Along the way, you can detour into the narrow channels jutting off from the main route, and this is where you’ll really be enveloped by the green palms!
Feel free to jump out and swim at any point. The water is calm and kayaking there is not too strenuous, even for beginners. Our favorite time to go is around 3:30 pm when the sun is not too high in the sky and the fishermen in the Cham village adjacent to Champa Lodge are preparing their boats to go out for the evening.
When you get back to Champa Lodge you can sit out on the deck overlooking the river and enjoy a drink as you watch the turquoise fleet of motorized fishing boats rumble out of the fishing village toward the sea for the night.
Shop and Eat for a Cause
There are several businesses in Kampot that also have a social mission. You can support these organizations just by eating and shopping!
Dorsu is a Kampot based clothing line that provides skills-training for Cambodian women and a fair wage. Their clothing is ethically produced on site and made to last, with minimal waste during production. They are the antithesis of “fast fashion”.
Banteay Srey is a beautiful women’s spa on the river. They offer daily yoga classes and a range of treatments including massages, scrubs, facials, manis/pedis, hair cuts and more. Along with their fabulous services, Banteay Srey is also a training facility giving Cambodian women the opportunity to develop a wide range of marketable skills in Cambodia’s hospitality and wellness industries. Trainees are offered two years of training and employment at the center. They can also study English, Khmer, and basic mathematics on site. After graduating they are given support to find excellent job placements in spas, resorts, or restaurants. Work exchange opportunities for travelers are also available through Banteay Srey, such as teaching yoga.
Epic Arts is a restaurant, shop and social enterprise creating work opportunities for people with disabilities in Kampot. They also serve up some of the best breakfast and bakery items in town! Epic Arts holds events and performances throughout the year, so if you’re lucky you might catch one. They also spread their message that every person counts through high-quality music video parodies, many of which have gone viral! You can purchase hand made items in their shop as well.
Related: What to Cambodia
Relax and Swim Along the River
One of the best ways to pass the time in Kampot is lazing on a river deck with a good book and a cold drink, taking breaks to swim in the river when the mood strikes. There are so many amazing places to stay in Kampot, and a lot of guest houses are located right along the river. One of our favorite places to stay is Samon’s Village, which was designed in the style of a Cambodian village. Each bungalow is on stilts and has a unique layout, plus it’s very affordable. Their restaurant is right on the water and has a big deck, which is a lot of fun to jump off!
There is so much to explore in Kampot, and this list only scratches the surface. We hope this will provide a great jumping off point for your trip as you start to explore more of Cambodia, off the beaten path.