Welcome to the seventh and penultimate in our ‘Off the Beaten Track‘ Cambodia series. As mentioned in the first of this series – Off the Beaten Track Cambodia – Kulen Mountain Day Trip, whilst living in Cambodia we tried to visit and write about a new off the beaten track destination every month. We hope this will encourage people to spend longer in Cambodia to experience what it has to offer away from the tourist trail. In November, Andy and I took my Dad to Kampot and Kep.
Kampot and Kep
Despite being a popular getaway for those in the know (i.e. mainly expats living in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) the towns of Kampot and Kep, in southwest Cambodia often get over-looked by travellers. Close to each other, about 30 – 45 minutes apart depending on your mode of transport, it’s possible to stay in either town. However, whenever we’ve visited we’ve chosen to stay in Kampot. As they’re so close and share many nearby attractions I’ve covered both in this post.
What to See and Do
Kampot itself, with its landmark Durian roundabout, doesn’t have a huge array of things to see and do, yet this is part of its charm. The chilled vibe makes it the perfect place for some downtime. If, and when you get bored of doing not a lot, there’s always the option to venture outside of Kampot, where there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
For us, this included trips to nearby Kep with its giant blue crab statues (just offshore and on the roundabout) and Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island).
Riverside and Beachside Walks
Countryside Tuk Tuk Tour
The best way to see most of the sights around Kampot and Kep is via a half or full day countryside tuk tuk tour from either town. In addition to the things to see and do that I mention below, the actual journey through the beautiful Cambodian countryside itself is amazing, if a little bumpy. You get to see rural Cambodia and it’s wonderful people at their best! Dad and I took a full day tour which cost us $30 USD (£21.17 GBP).
Kampot is most well known for its world-renowned Kampot Pepper. This pepper is produced in several hundred organic farms set at the base of mountains in the area. There are several farms you can visit ranging from small family run ventures such as the one Andy and I visited during our first time in Kampot nine years ago, all the way to huge plantations stretching more than 20 hectares. This time Dad and I visited La Plantation because this was where our tuk tuk driver took us. It was set up and is run by a French couple who train and employ many locals.
Phnom Chhnork Cave
Kep Crab Market
Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
- Community boat that leaves Koh Tonsay Pier in Kep at 9 am and 1 pm each day and returns at about 3 pm – check time. You can buy a ticket for this at the Community Boat Office in Kep for $7 USD (£4.94 GBP) return.
- Private boat that will take you and return you at any time before 5 pm for $25 USD (£17.64 GBP) return per boat. The boat can be booked and paid for at a little shack at the start of Koh Tonsay Pier and can fit six foreigners or eight locals. This is more flexible than the community boat and cheaper for four or more people.
- Crab Shuttle from Kampot which leaves Kampot, opposite Rikitikitavi at 9 am. It reaches Kep at 11:30 am and arranges for you to join the community boat at 1 pm. As per option one you’ll return on the community boat at about 3 pm before joining the Crab Shuttle back to Kep. This costs $18 USD (£12.70 GBP) per person and can be booked via the Crab Shuttle Facebook page.
Later Andy and I took a short trek through the jungle to another beach where Andy found the biggest starfish I’ve ever seen!
Where to Eat and Drink in Kampot and Kep
Nowadays Kampot has quite a good selection of places to eat and drink, more so than the smaller towns of Kratie and Kampong Cham that I visited earlier in the year. We tried a few out during our stay but sadly only had the chance to eat in one place in Kep during our short visit.
Like many riverside towns in Cambodia, most of the places to eat in Kampot are along either side of the river or up the streets leading off it. The area of river running north and south of the old bridge is where you’ll find the majority of them. We didn’t really have a bad meal while we were in town and enjoyed all the places we ate in which were:
- Rikitikitavi – set on the riverside road Rikitikitavi offers great river and mountain views from its first-floor seating area. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Kampot and serves a fantastic selection of Western and Khmer dishes. The prices are a little higher than some other places but after our amazing meal there I’d say it’s worth it. Dad had Sait Moarn Chantil (Cambodian Stir Fried Chicken, Vegetables and Cashew Nuts) for $6.75 USD (£4.76 GBP), Andy had Beef Tenderloin Kebabs for $7.75 USD (£5.47 GBP), and I tried their speciality dish Saraman (Beef, Tamarind and Roasted Peanut Curry) for $8 USD (£5.65 GBP). Initially, I thought the serving was small and suffering from food envy over the others piled plates, I asked for more. Big mistake, the dish was so rich I struggled to finish it. The serving size was clearly deliberate but was nonetheless delicious. We were impressed with the food, atmosphere and service; it definitely warrants the sparkling reviews.
- Razorbacks – this little American grill joint is tucked away to the right on the other side of the walking/ moto only bridge. Along with amazing grilled meat and fish, salads, pasta, sandwiches and a selection of sides and sauces are also served. We visited here on the recommendation from Siem Reap friends. It was virtually empty whilst we were there and the service was quick. I had a Smoked Catfish Burger, which although it may sound a little suspicious was fantastic, a little like jerky, at $4.50 USD (£3.18 GBP). Dad had Chicken on the Bone and Andy had a Pulled Pork Burger, they were both also $4 USD (£2.82 GBP). We also shared sides of Potato Salad and Coleslaw which were $1.50 USD (£1.06 GBP) each. This place is a hidden gem and great value for money.
- Rusty Keyhole – probably the oldest restaurant in Kampot, Rusty Keyhole, again on the riverside road is famous for its humungous ribs. We’d been recommended this place by numerous people over the years but had never tried it. This time we made a point of it to see if their ribs lived up to their reputation – I’m happy to report that they did. I’ve never had ribs like it before – instead of a rack of ribs with a thin layer of meat, this appeared to be the entire side of a pig! Andy and I opted for the half rack each smothered in their secret recipe sauce. They cost $6USD (£4.23 GBP) each and were massive, I’m glad we didn’t have a whole rack each as tempted because we’d never have finished them. There are other options if you don’t fancy ribs such as Chicken Pesto Pasta which Dad had for $5 USD (£3.53 GBP).
- bARACA – near the centre of Kampot is bARACA, a Belgium run Tapas bar which we visited with a group of friends early last year (2017). Serving delicious, inventive tapas at reasonable prices, the fun, yet quiet atmosphere makes this is a great place to spend an evening. I can’t remember exactly what we had but it was good and we thoroughly enjoyed the food and evening we spent there.
There are several other places in Kampot that we’d have liked to try. These include Ellies Cafe, known for its breakfasts, cakes and vegetarian food and Divino, serving up Italian food. For more restaurant ideas have a look at The Culture Trip‘s post on their Top Ten Restaurants in Kampot.
As with most places in Cambodia you can get a drink in nearly all restaurants and guesthouses in Kampot. The only place we visited in Kampot that was solely a drinking establishment was:
- Nelly’s Bar – set on a corner with a view of the river this little bar is a great spot for some pre or post-dinner drinks. The staff are friendly, it opens late, and they serve good drinks – be sure to try the local Kampot Cider.
Although Nelly’s is the only bar that we visited, the nightlife in Kampot has picked up over the last few years. There are now more options for drinking and even dancing – especially on the weekends. You can read more about these in Move To Cambodia’s post Dancing in Kampot.
There is a strip of restaurants along the waterfront next to the Crab Market in Kep but they are much of a muchness. Andy and I have only ever eaten in one restaurant – Kimly, which has a great reputation. I also took Dad there for lunch on our tuk tuk tour:
- Kimly – about a third of the way along the waterfront from the Crab Market has an extensive list of fresh seafood. Prices are slightly on the high side but the portion size and quality justifies these. I took Dad there to sample the famous Kampot Pepper Crab. I’m happy to be able to report that it’s still as delicious as it was on mine and Andy’s previous visits. We each had a ‘normal size’ Kampot Pepper Crab (it was actually still pretty big) which was $8.25 USD (£5.82 GBP). As always it was sooo tasty but very, very messy! Be prepared to be up to your elbows in pepper sauce by the time you’ve finished! This is not the dish to choose if you’re out for a romantic meal! Remember to wash your hands before diving in or use some hand sanitiser. This is real ‘finger food’ and you don’t a case of travellers’ tummy ruining your trip unnecessarily.
There were several other places in Kep that could be worth a look for food which Travel Fish have posted about in Places to Eat and Meet in Kep.
Where to Stay in Kampot and Kep
We were hosted for three nights in Kampot at Kampot Riverside Hotel. I’ve reviewed this below. Read our full Product Review Disclosure here
Kampot Riverside Hotel
Kampot Riverside Hotel has an ideal location on the Kampot riverside road with a great view of the river and Bokor Mountain behind it. With prices ranging from $30 USD (£21.17 GBP) a night for a standard room to $45 USD (£31.76 GBP) for a Deluxe Queen or King Room, I would class this a middle range hotel (for Cambodia).
Our clean bedroom was spacious and bright with a comfortable double bed. It had an en-suite shower room with sink and toilet, a hairdryer, and complimentary toiletries. The room was set out with a wardrobe, desk and chair, armchair, and bedside table. There was also a small table with tea and coffee making facilities. At the end of our corridor, there was a shared balcony with a couple of chairs offering excellent views. We were happy to find the wifi was good and reached all areas of the hotel which was handy as that’s not always the case in Cambodia.
Andy also has a vlog Kampot Riverside Hotel which shows you around the hotel and gives a bit more detail.
Other Accommodation in Kampot
If you’re looking for something different to Kampot Riverside Hotel, there are also many other accommodation options. Some, such as Meraki are in quiet locations a little further out of town and are ideal if you’re looking to relax. There’s definitely something to suit everyone.
We’ve never stayed in Kep so aren’t in a position to recommend accommodation there. There are, however, plenty of options available through a variety of booking sites on Hotels Combined.
How to get to Kampot and Kep depends on where you’re starting your journey from. Remember bus companies and schedules are prone to change in Cambodia, so only take the below as a rough guide. Be sure to double check before finalising plans.
The most common routes to Kampot and Kep are from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap, by road or a combination of plane and road. Most buses, mini-vans and taxies can be booked from the majority of hotels, guesthouses and travel agencies or online via CamboTicket for convenience.
Phnom Penh – It’s about a two and a half to three-hour journey by road from Phnom Penh to Kampot depending on your mode of transport. The main options are by bus, mini-bus (van), or taxi. Probably the best bus company to use is Giant Ibis which has a mini-van taking this route twice a day at 8 am or 2:45 pm for $9 USD (£6.35 GBP) plus a $1 USD (£0.71 GBP) booking fee for online bookings via their website.
Sihanoukville – It takes about two to two and a half hours to get from Sihanoukville to Kampot by road about three hours from Kep. There are mini-vans on both these routes from 8 am for about $6 – $8 USD (£4.23 – £5.65 GBP). These can again be booked online via CamboTicket or from your accommodation or an agency. A taxi will set you back about $50 USD (£35.28) again depending on vehicle and numbers.
Siem Reap – To get to Kampot or Kep from Siem Reap you can either go directly (hopefully) by taxi or indirectly via Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville. The first stage of the indirect journies could be by bus or plane. By taxi it will cost from $75 USD (£52.93 GBP) and should take around five hours if it goes directly. Be sure to agree on a direct taxi when you book it though as many companies tell you it’s direct then go to the centre of Phnom Penh and swap taxis. This happened to us and added at least an hour to the journey and is frustrating, to say the least.
If going via Phnom Penh often the cheapest way but longest is by bus. It generally takes around six hours and costs from between $6 USD (£4.23 GBP) and $13 USD (£9.17 GBP) if you book through CamboTicket. If you take an overnight bus with Giant Ibis it’s closer to $16 USD (£12.40 GBP).
JC Airlines is also worth checking, although they can only be booked through the Ctrip website.
Despite visiting Kampot an Kep a few times over the years there are still several things we haven’t managed to see and do yet including:
- Sunset Firefly Cruise – a lovely way to spend an evening in Kampot is on a two or three-hour sunset firefly cruise. You can watch the sunset as you move upstream, then once it gets dark, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to spot glowing fireflies in the trees lining the banks. Many operators in town tout these cruises along the riverside so you can take your pick. One of the most recommended ones though is that offered by Captain Chims Guesthouse. For $5 USD (£3.53 GBP) you get a two-hour cruise with a beer or soft drink included.
- Watersports – many of the riverside guesthouses in Kampot offer a whole host of watersports for visitors to have a go at. These include kiteboarding, paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing and much more.
- Bokor National Park – once one of Kampot and Keps most popular attractions this 1,500 square km park is the home of Bokor Mountain and Hill Station. There is a 2,000 riel (£0.35 GBP) entry fee to the park, then there’s a windy road that snakes around the mountain to the top with some great views en-route. The Hill Station at the top is a collection of old 1920’s buildings including a casino, hotel and church. The best transport for this trip is by scooter, but you could also take a more expensive taxi. Tuk tuks aren’t recommended as they’ll struggle to reach the top. We’ve heard the buildings at the top are being renovated so you may find it’s lost some of its eerieness and charm. Having said that as we haven’t been there ourselves I can’t confirm or deny that.
- Popokvil Waterfall – set at the top of Bokor Mountain Popokvil Waterfall has an additional 2,000 riel (£0.35 GBP) entry fee. It’s really only worth visiting in wet season as in the dry season its just be a dribble. When there’s water in the waterfall you’ll find locals enjoying picnics and splashing around in the water.
- Kep National Park – overlooked by many, Kep National Park makes for a nice visit if you’re into hiking, although don’t expect anything too challenging. The entry fee is only $1 USD (£0.71) and there are several well-marked trails through the jungle including an 8 km circular loop. Along the jungle trails, you should see some of the flora and fauna of the park, including, if you’re lucky monkeys, squirrels, birds and butterflies.
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Have you visited Kampot and Kep? Have I missed anything there else there is to see or do off the beaten track there?