As my tuk-tuk bumbled along the uneven dirt roads, going deeper and deeper into the jungle, I started having my doubts about what I was doing in Kampot. Really, the only reason I had for coming here was to hike the Bokor National Park – was it worth all of this? All that I was feeling at the moment was, “Where is this guy taking me? Should I start getting worried? WHAT’S MY EXIT PLAN???!”.
I was thankfully put out of my misery shortly after that when we arrived at where I would be spending the next two nights. All doubts vanished from my mind when I saw my “room” – essentially an eco-hut facing the river with not much else around. I loved it!
After getting the download from the staff about what there was to do around Kampot, it became apparent that hiking the Bokor National Park has become a bit of a hit and miss attraction. The surrounding area is currently being developed into a casino amongst other things, which has detracted somewhat from the beauty of the park.
Thankfully, I was given a much more attractive alternative – a countryside tour that would take me from Kampot to Kep, stopping by all the little attractions that Kampot has become famous for. I ended up having the best time, as Kampot and Kep have emerged as Cambodia’s hidden gems. If I ever decide to come back to Cambodia again, I will most definitely be coming back to these two towns. Here are some of the reasons why.
1. Kampot – a sleepy, chilled out town with old world charm
You’ve got the capital, Phnom Penh. And then you’ve got Kampot, which is everything that Phnom Penh isn’t. This sleepy provincial town still retains its old world charm, with its wide riverside boulevards, still evident colonial architecture and its chilled out, welcoming locals.
2. Cambodia’s capital of the durian
Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I’m a big fan of the durian fruit. Unbeknownst to me before arriving here, Kampot is the (self-proclaimed?) Cambodian capital of the durian, and is famous for this fruit. They even have a main roundabout in the centre of town proudly displaying the king of fruits!
Knowing this, I of course had to try some of the local durian. The fruit itself is a LOT bigger than anything we get in Malaysia, though the taste is not as strong.
3. Ability to get close to the locals and learn how they live
Where roads are quiet and devoid of modern trucks, buses and cars, such as they were in Kampot, I like to rent a bicycle and explore the area on two wheels. It allows me to get my exercise in whilst travelling long distances, but still allows me to stop at will and interact with the locals. As the roads leading to Kampot from my eco-hut were undeveloped and essentially just dirt roads, it made for some dusty riding.
The peaceful countryside views more than made up for it though.
It was also good fun spying on what the locals were up to.
4. Kampot salt and pepper
Travelling from Kampot to Kep by tuk-tuk allows travellers to stop off and visit a number of sea salt fields and pepper plantations. Kampot pepper production, in particular, is world renowned, as the climate and soil found in this region gives the pepper a distinct and aromatic flavour. I have never really given much thought to pepper before, but now understand more about the production process and have a newfound appreciation for this spice! There are four types of pepper – green (young berries), red (more mature), black (sun dried red berries) and white (the seed within the red berries).
There are a number of caves open for exploration around Kep. The one that I chose to visit was Phnom Sorsir, also known as White Elephant Cave due to the shape of a particular limestone formation at the base of the main cave. Following a winding path up the hill rewards you with spectacular views of the Bokor mountains. There’s not much in the cave itself, so if you want to explore more caves, there’s always Phnom Salei, Phnom Ch’nork or the cave by Kiriseila Pagoda to check out.
6. Kep National Park
Kep National Park is an area of c.28 square kilometres of forests and hills, and is home to wildlife such as monkeys, deer and wild pigs. I had planned to do some some easy walking through the park but did not know what to expect. As it turned out, the park is very well signposted, with an 8KM mountain trail through the park and numerous side trails leading out from it. Benches and viewpoints are scattered along the trail, making it a great 1-1.5 hour walk. The side trails looked pretty rugged too, so I’m sure there will be suitable trails for the more adventurous (non-solo!) traveller.
7. The seaside town of Kep
I thought Kampot was small, but Kep is even smaller! This cute little seaside town is very much worth a visit though, if you’re looking to relax on white sand beaches without the overly touristic buzz of Sihanoukville. The Crab Market is another highlight, where you can taste the fresh seafood caught literally 100 metres away. Be sure to try the famous green pepper crab – I don’t normally even like crab but I’ll admit that this was very good!
8. Friendly locals
And finally, the best reason to visit this part of Cambodia? The friendly locals! This place was a breath of fresh air after the big city atmosphere of Phnom Penh. People here were super friendly, always welcoming with a smile on their face. Children in particular would constantly wave and shout hellos as I cycled past them on the streets. Their happiness was infectious. How can you not smile when you see this? 🙂