Kampot & Kep
updated January 2006
Located along the southern coast, Kampot is one of Cambodia's more interesting provinces and should definitely be included with a trip to Sihanoukville. With the road from Sihanoukville to Kampot recently reconstructed there's no reason not to go.
Kampot is bordered by Sihanoukville and Koh Kong to the west, Kompong Speu to the north, Takeo to the east, Vietnam to the southeast, and the Gulf of Thailand to the south. Kep is a tiny self-governing municipality within Kampot province.
Transport to and from Kampot is by road only. Passenger train service has been discontinued. By road it's going to be share taxi (Camry, van, or pick-up truck) from Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh or bus from Phnom Penh.
We stayed at the Borey Bokor Hotel and were quite satisfied with the rooms. The guidebooks include the word 'restaurant' in the hotel's name but when I was there in July 2001 there was no restaurant to be had. We found the restaurant at the Phnom Kamchay Hotel (on the circle) to be pretty good. The rooms, however, weren't worth the money. We also had a meal at the Prochum Mit Restaurant which was forgettable. Nightlife was practically nonexistent. Little Garden Bar and Guesthouse is also worth checking out.
Jumping on the backpacker set, Mealy Chenda has a guesthouse here. For the uninitiated, Mealy Chenda is part of the Smiley's/Narin's empire with guesthouses in a number of tourist centers (Sihanoukville, Kampot, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap) and transport services between each of them. My opinion of this chain is that if you're a not very intrepid budget tourist they take well enough care of you but as they move you around the country realize they afford you with little more independence then what the package tourists receive. Think about it.
The park is reportedly teeming with wildlife but you probably won't see any. Half way up the mountain a family sells some delicious pineapple but I've heard the authorities are trying to kick these people out, which seems like a really bad idea. It's a great little rest area and the family is hardly raping and pillaging. Then again, perhaps someone with more money and clout wants to build a big restaurant or something.
Anyway, at the top of the moutain is the old hill station. If you're lucky, you'll arrrive in the fog and while you'll probably get lost (we did!), seeing the abandoned hotel, the old Catholic church, and all of the other crumbling buildings (there are about a dozen or so) in the soup really looks like something out of a ghost movie. Lonely Planet does in fact compare the experience to the movie, The Shining, which is a rather apt description. Actually, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds at the top and as conditions can change in an hour you probably won't need that much luck in getting fogged in.
There's also a waterfall up here, Popokvil Falls, which I have not visited.
All that said, take a ride out here anyway, because it's a scenic trip and all along the road are the numerous shells of once grand villas, some of which are indeed quite impressive. Do pause in a quiet spot to let your imagination take you back a few decades before the Khmer Rouge came and trashed the place. What Kep lacks in beach it makes up for in scenery and charm.
There are other caves in the region, but I'm not spelunker so I can't help out much in that department. Too deep in a cave and I start to get, umm, funny.
Lonely Planet mentions some caves around Tuk Meas but I know nothing of them. My understanding of the various caves around the province is that the Khmer Rouge found them to be suitable hideouts so land mines may be an issue. My suggestion is as always when dealing with potentially mined areas, take a local who knows what's what.
Ha Tien, Vietnam (border)
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.