Kampot, west to Bokor
Kampot, on the south coast of Cambodia, once a sleepy little town where you had to wake a motodop to get a ride, is becoming popular as the years go by. With popularity comes development, more guest houses, restaurants & bars, giving more choice to the traveller. Looking at the bigger picture and the large scale developments like Bokor Hill Estate and casino, two new ports under construction with future plans for a marina and a man made island full of luxury homes, the town rivals any part of Cambodia’s ‘development’ strategy.
That said, Kampot has retained it’s charm. The town has many Chinese style houses adding to it’s character ( some say french colonial, but they are in fact Chinese, and Cambodia was under French protectorate, not colonised ). Every route out of the town is a delight for the photographer, the major constructions and new road building just makes access easier. If you have travelled to Cambodia before, you will know that the people are the heart of the country. Kampot is no exception. The locals are mostly Khmer, with an abundance of Cham*. Also many westerners have made this their home. The Expat and local cultures mix well making Kampot an easy going cosmopolitan community.
Sitting in one of the many pleasant bars that line the river you often get an amazing sunset as the sun settles behind Bokor hill. Neon lights are gaining popularity, detracting from the natural beauty, so, for the photographer, better to get out onto the salt fields, where stunning views can be had, enhanced with the mirror reflections that these dead flat workings offer.
For some culture, head to to the island (Tray Koh), over the old bridge then second left and over a second bridge. A mixture of rice paddy’s and salt fields give the place a uniqueness. The beautiful people make this place a delight, why not join them for some palm wine late afternoon.
Bokor hill can offer some stunning views and is has one of the best scenic roads in the country. Visit on a moto for a great day out, the views can be stunning if you get a clear day. For many, the highlight is the old Bokor Palace Hotel, featured in the film City of Ghosts. The old hotel has been rendered recently, the great lichen greens and mould were slowly making a comeback, but now the developers are at it again. Do not miss Sampov Pram Pagoda behind the new casino, a delightful spot, great views of Koh Tral, and with a few resident monks.
There are some great Cham villages around Kampot. Some small, some big, offering great photo opportunities. The best thing about these more remoter places is that tourists seldom visit them. Cham are traditional fishermen, their villages nest on the side of the estuaries. There vivid green boats make for great pictures, not forgetting the daily boat race along Kampot river front (aka KSG).
Kampot, East to Vietnam
Exploring the countryside around Kampot can be a great experience for the photographing the local culture. Grab a moto and explore, alternatively get one of the many motodops (a khmer term for motobike driver) or tuk tuks to take guide you, there are plenty of transport options now the town is developing.
Heading east along R23, over the river rewards you with splendid scenery, especially at the beginning and end of rain season when the farmers are planting and harvesting rice & crops. Head towards the secret lake for some great cultural views. All the countryside from here to the Vietnam border is worth exploring.
Hidden amongst the paddy’s are a selection of caves, worth a visit. The nearest to Kampot is Phnom Kbal Romeas. A bit further isPhnom Chhngok Cave with a small 6C Angkorian temple inside. This is thought to be the oldest known, some say it dates back much further, maybe 2000 years. Further afield, past Kep is Kampong Track Cave, an ex khmer Rouge stronghold, probably the best cave to visit. The ceiling has caved in, giving interesting light conditions, with a scattering of modern buddhist sculptures. With all cave’s attracting tourists, there is a small admin fee followed by numerous children wanting to be your guide.
Around 30 min out of Kampot you will arrive at Kep. The roadways in Kep are still under development, but seem to resemble an F1 circuit, with 3 lanes each side in parts, I guess someone had big ideas for the place. The crab market is a must, swamped with locals during public holidays. Many come from Phnom Penh for a short break. Just up from the crab market is the sailing club with a small bar and restaurant. From here you can see some of the best sunsets in Cambodia. Theres a scattering of old villas around Kep. Locals are reluctant to occupy these as they are afraid of ghosts. There are not too photogenic as there are mostly over grown and rundown, but still a good historical opportunity. Off the shore of Kep is Rabbit Island, offering a small beach with basic accommodation, but still offers that wonderful sunset.
A trip to the pepper farms is a must if your here in the right season, harvesting is from March until May. Sothy’s Pepper Farm is our favorite, a family run business with a free guided tour. Kampot pepper is the finest you can get, favoured by top chef’s from around the world.
Past Kep theres more great countryside, with a mixture of rice paddies and salt fields, great early morning and late afternoon for the photographer. Between Kep and Vietnam is a Angkoul Beach, rarely visited, where local fishermen are at work. It’s a great place for a spot of lunch, attracting a few Khmer. At the time of writing, the costal road from Kep has not been completed, thankfully, leaving this as a secluded backwater to escape too, for now.
The furthest you can travel is to the border of Vietnam. This is a great place to stop and observe the goods being transported in all sorts of imaginative ways. Again, good in late afternoon, the locals tend not to be so active in the mid day heat.
All the above is easily achieved in a couple of days from Kampot. Kep is rather spread out but does have a man made beach, whereas Kampot is more compact, with an abundance of reasonable quality eateries, certainly the best place to use as a base when exploring the south of Cambodia.
Kampot is great all year round. Rain season, June through to November, can make a trip up Bokor problematic, but it brings the rice planting. End of rain season the rice is harvested, both great photographic opportunities. The dry season sees the salt workers get to work. Whenever you decide to travel to Kampot, be sure to pick up your essential guide to the area, Kampot Survival Guide, a free publication found in many establishments full of helpful information.
*Champa, was a country to the east Cambodia, no longer in existence, although the people (often referred to as Cham) still exist. They are muslim, easily identified by their clothes and mix well with the local community.
A small note to those seeking quality FISH AND CHIPS. We tend not to recommend places to eat / stay, however, this dish at Bokor Mountain Lodge along the riverside is the best we have found inside Cambodia (note – ask Andy the owner, as recently good fish is sometimes not available), a bit pricy but well worth it for an Englishman missing home treats!
Keep an eye out for out latest work here, a time-lapse of the South East Asia monsoons, shot at the salt feilds, Kampot, coming soon!
Our main photography workshops are based out of Siem Reap. However, Darren is often in Kampot, especially during low season. If you wish for a bespoke workshop then get in touch!
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Map of great spots to visit: