Traveling without a plan has its pluses. You never know what you might discover next. That’s exactly was Kampot to me, a town popular with the backpackers looking to get close to the beaches in Cambodia.
Kampot lies en-route to Cambodia’s most of the popular beach destinations, Kep and Sihanoukville in the South West of Cambodia, making it a popular stopover for people heading to beaches. The beaches of Cambodia are as beautiful as the that of Thailand, albeit the crowd and the over-commercialisation, which makes them the best getaway for secluded beaches.
So, after being besotted by the brilliance of the temples of Siem Reap, I headed to Kampot taking a local bus. It was a sunny afternoon when the bus landed in Kampot. The scorching sun and the intrusive Tuk-Tuk driver didn’t help me in forming a good impression of the town at first sight. I headed off to look for accommodation, looking for any sign boards offering cheap guest houses. It was about to get worse as it was the time of New Year’s Eve and all the cheap hotels were sold out. I want, to be honest here. Backpacking is not always fun, especially when you get no place to stay. You’re exhausted, but you’ll still have to walk through the entire city, trying to fit in someplace. But there lies the beauty of travel after all, right? Moving out of our comfort zone and pushing ourselves to experience the things which we never expect.
So, finally breathed a sigh of relief after managing to get one guest house. I’d realised by now that Kampot was one of those truly rural towns where the town is at your disposal at your leisure. Because Kampot is a place to do nothing. It is one of those few places where you can only loiter around, either on the bikes which are cheap or just walk around with a chill beer (which is an excellent way to beat the sun).
It’s the reason travelers, especially the nomadic or the long term travelers dwell here for a long time – to cool off their heels, idle away or just get some work done. Kampot also lies strategically, close enough to the beaches, not very far away from the capital city Phnom Penh or Vietnam. In fact, you could cross over to Vietnam by land from here – a fact which I got to know only when I reached there to my discontent. Vietnam had been on my mind and had I known this before; I would’ve certainly crossed over.
Kampot was once an occupied French colony, and so the essence of French is still seen in the buildings, culture or people here. Although the area of Kampot is bigger than that of London, the real areas of interest are not significant. The streets adjoining the Kampot river are home to lots of guest houses. Sitting on the street watching the river is one of the best ways to unwind in Kampot.
I got to watch the magnificent sunset on all the days while I was here and I tried my hands in capturing it in the best way possible. There are two bridges built on the Kampot river which separates the city, the older bridge which was once used extensively for transportation and trade during the earliest times and the other, much bigger and prettier bridge which is currently in use. These are lit up in the night, and there are boat tours that take you along the river, where you can witness the Cambodian fleets, fishing settlements and the locals. I spent the evenings strolling around the city, checking out the night market and the eating areas.
Recommended read: 5 Truly Unique Things To Do in Kampot & Kep
The weird part about Kampot is that the most of the town sleeps too soon, around 10 PM which is quite surprising because it is always filled with backpackers and party people. I mean, where do all these people go? I could see some of them in a few pubs, where people were binging on the quite popular Angkor beer! When you get great beer for 50 cents, how could a beer lover resist? 😉
Bokor National Park
Renting a bike is the most convenient and the cheapest way to explore Kampot, and I was delighted when I got a great one. I headed to the Bokor National Park, which is about approximately 30 km from the city centre. It has few places to stop by including an abandoned casino hotel and a chapel in ruins – both built during the French period. A pristine lake occupies the foot of the hill on one side.
The viewpoints are the best, which give a panoramic view of the horizon, including the beautiful lush green forests of Bokor, the coastal towns of Kep and Sihanoukville in the distant and the vast deep blue ocean of the Gulf of Thailand in the horizon. The mountains of Bokor were an active volcano once, although much of it can’t be seen these days.
The drive through the curved roads was what I enjoyed the most, with series of astounding views of the town and the coastline passing by now and then.
Recommended read: Kampot and Kep: Cambodia’s Hidden Gems
The Cave Temple of Shiva
For those who would love to explore the places in and around Kampot, there are plenty of them. I’ll skip them as the information about them is available online for those looking to go and the other being I didn’t go to them, mostly because I wanted to do unwind without doing much in Kampot. After reading some interesting stuff, though, I and a friend zeroed in on the cave temple located in a remote area away from Kampot, and we decided to check it out.
We set out in the evening looking for the route set by Google map. Dusk was setting in and so was the dust, as we drove through the village roads which had no tar. The experience wasn’t pleasant, with motor vehicles stirring the muddy streets right onto the face, making me unable to drive at times. But I believe that most rough experiences have a happy ending while traveling! And so did this. The locals in the remote part of Cambodia don’t speak or understand English. Most of the school going kids is learning English though, and they’re the best bet for asking directions or making conversations.
So we stopped by few houses trying to find this cave temple. Very soon I realised that English wasn’t helping. From making hand gestures to showing them the map to uttering some stupid sounding words, nothing seemed to help. And finally, few young girls ran towards us, very delighted and excited to find foreigners. I tried in English with them, and they got in no time.
They offered us to help to state that they would lead us the way to the temple. We visited one of their houses. I greeted their parents and smiled, and that was the only conversation that was possible. Parking the bike, we set out on foot holding the mobile torch. The girls were too curious to know my name, age and so forth. They offered me coriander leaves and a mobile with the torch.
We walked through the fields, towards the mountains, as the sunlight faded away. The sky displayed the vibrant colours of red, yellow and orange adorned the sky in that sleepy village surrounded by hills and the green fields. It looked exquisite and the funny conversations with the sweet and adorable girls delighted me.
The cave stood there – large structured, pointed rocks formed over hundreds of years. Climbing the steps into the empty cave in the dark, with bats flying above our heads, I saw the alley of rocks inside the caves. The rocks perched from the above, with its pointed ends facing the ground. Series of clusters of such stones were mounted inside the cave.
To the right, there was this temple. The naturally formed idol of Shiva, with the sharp rocks directly hanging over the idol, it was a peaceful feeling to watch. Water drops dripped slowly on the Shiva, and all of these were nature’s wonder, including the water. It was a mesmerising sight to behold, and a feeling of respect and tranquillity went through my mind, for nature’s miracle.
People had offered their worship of the God. It is considered to be one of the oldest temples, the cave itself dates back to hundreds of years. I was just lucky enough to get only a few pictures as my camera’s battery had given away by now. Admiring the cave for a few minutes, we headed back to the village. I was extremely contented and happy to be there and about the day itself. Thanking the children, we bid goodbye.
It was the best part of my backpacking experiences in Kampot with me. I headed off to my next destination after lazing around for a while in Kampot, feeling recharged to get on the road again!
Getting to Kampot – Reaching their from Phnom Penh is the most preferred way as there are buses every day, usually in the morning.
Quick tip – It’s better to plan your travel to Kampot a day before at least, as the bus tickets could be sold out in a few days. Also, try to book a guest house, if the cheapest ones are available online. Because the best ones are cheap here, and so, they get full quickly.
Getting around in Kampot – As I said, rented bikes are the best option for places far away. Tuk- Tuk could be tried for short distances, but needs a bit of haggling.
Quick Tip – Get a copy of the local guide book ‘Kampot Survival Guide’, which is a quarterly published guide book published by the local expats. It’s freely available everywhere – shops, hotels & guest houses. It’ll come in handy as it has the information to some extent.
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