A delightful town full of colonial architecture and cafes by the river, Kampot is a really pleasant place to spend a few days.
As we were dropped off at the famous Durian roundabout, I couldn’t see much special. Unusual statue aside, it just seemed like a normal Cambodian town.
But when we got to the area near the river, we realised we were probably going to like it here. As soon as we could we rented a scooter and explored. Crumbling old photogenic buildings lined the streets. There were some lovely bakeries to grab a snack in. And a dubious bridge to cross, with rust holes scattered along it.
What I most wanted to visit was far outside the town – Bokor Hill Station. Built by the French in the 1920s but abandoned 20 years later, it now contains the ghostly abandoned shells of a casino and hotel, and although it has recently started to be redeveloped, I still wanted to see it.
To get there requires a long drive up windy roads, but with a newly laid road I didn’t expect this to be a problem. We paid a small fee to use the road and entered. Very quickly, spectacular views were all around as we wound up the road.
After half an hour of driving, we stopped to check where we were on the GPS, as our petrol was getting quite low and there are no petrol stations. I thought we would be near the top so this would be ok. Nope, we were half way. As much as I tried to convince myself that we could make it, I soon saw sense. We’d used over 3 quarters of a tank getting halfway up, so we weren’t going to make it to the top.
Reluctantly we made our way back down, passing loads of tourists going up. I have to say I secretly wished that they too would run out of fuel. They probably wouldn’t – they all had decent bikes. Our underpowered piece of crap with a 3 litre fuel tank just wasn’t up to it.
One of our most chilled out days involved driving to the Greenhouse, a small resort by the river. A good place to get food and a few drinks but most importantly have a swim! The river was beautiful. It looked black because it was so deep but the water was wonderfully clean and refreshing. And the view…well I could never get bored of that.
A less relaxing place we visited was some rapids a few km up the river. When we got there it was calm enough…well the river was. The riverbank was jam packed with locals picnicking and playing in the water. I didn’t see another foreigner the whole time we were there, which probably explained why we were stared at so much.
I ventured out into the water, it was cold and uninteresting so I didn’t stay in too long. But soon we noticed the river had started to get a lot faster. Locals were starting to rush out of the water. And those rocks we had seen before were now submerged. This looked like fun.
I tentatively headed back in, and it was actually scary fast. I had to make sure I was behind a rock or I would have been swept away. it was fun though!
Afterwards we drove up the road a bit and discovered where the sudden rapids had come from – there was a huge dam, presumably built with Chinese investment judging by the Chinese writing everywhere. They had obviously let some water out of it, causing the sudden rush.
We also visited the old railway station, which I had hoped would be a another colonial beauty. It wasn’t, but it was a bit spooky. The track had been recently renovated though, so in common with what I had seen and read elsewhere in Cambodia, within a few years there may well be a functioning railway again.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Mea Culpa, a guesthouse just outside of the town but a short walk from the river. For $25 we got an ENORMOUS room and while we could have got a smaller one with a river view, considering the weather we were happy with the extra space. A lovely guesthouse which as a bonus does some amazing wood fired pizzas.