Kampot‘s economy is based on salt and pepper production, fishing, and durian fruit. The city is surrounded by a river. There are many French influences in Kampot. The buildings are French colonial style which gives the city a certain charm. Some of old and new structures going up have the same French outline to them.
Kampot is especially known for the peppers that grow here. Like wine vineyards there are different types and qualities of peppercorns grown here. Kampot peppercorns can sell as much at $60.00 (USD) per kilogram. During the Khmer Rouge genocide attacks, pepper farms almost completely vanished. The regions of Kep and Kampot have specific attributes that make the peppers grown there unique. Kampot pepper has been renowned for decades as one of the best pepper in the world. E Che Ngov Heng is where I purchased peppercorns to send back home. A family owned farm that grow and harvest peppercorns on a large pepper plantation on Phnom Voul Mountain.
Phnom Chhngok Caves were a highlight. Phnom Chhngok is a large limestone karst with deep caves inside. Some of the formations in the caves resemble animals. Upon arrival to the mountain we were greeted by a 13 year old boy named Jake. He said he would be our tour guide and explain everything about the cave to us. My initial response was no thank you. After he explained we wouldn’t understand about the cave. He asked for $3.00 and we were sold. Thank God we hired him. We would have never found our way out of that cave. Deep inside the cave, he showed a way out where we could see bats sleeping but he said it gets narrow toward the end. We couldn’t even see down in that hole, never the less walk down there. We quickly said no to that. The alternative way wasn’t any better. At one point it was complete darkness and our lives were in his little hands guiding us down steep rocks and over water to the sunlit exit.
An elephant-shape limestone formation in the Cave of Sasear stands a shrine where worshippers pray. The shrine was built by monks over a 100 years ago and still standing. Inside the brick shrine is a huge stalactite is directly over a stalagmite. Water naturally drips from the stalactite onto the stalagmite. The Cambodians believe this water is holy. Prayer candles are lit and placed inside the shrine for good health, blessings and prosperity.
Phnom Chhngok cave was used as a hiding place by refugees during the genocide attacks in Cambodia. Several Cambodians hid inside the deep holes in the karst. Unfortunately many lost there lives there as well. Some were found and shot and some hid successfully in the caves. Some of the holes were narrow towards the end, not leaving enough room for everyone to go deep enough without being seen from above.
Secret Lake is minutes from the cave. This was built as an irrigation dam by Cambodians who were captured and used as farming slaves during the Khmer Rouge genocide attacks. Blood, sweat, tears and a lot of deaths went into building this by hand. The lake is huge. It’s a sad place because of the history but something very beautiful came out of it. While visiting the lake two little boys were swimming with plastic water bottles on a string attached to them as floats. How creative that is!
Kep is a town on the ocean about 30 minutes from Kampot. Kep is known for their crabs and is home of the Crab Market. Fisherman set out crabs traps and bring free-flowing fresh crab to the markets and restaurants nearby. Many of the restaurants claim to have the best crab dishes. Kimly Restaurant was highly recommended by a local resident. I’m going on record to say this was the best crab I’ve ever had. Aside from crabs, the menu had many fish and seafood choices. Stingray, shark, squid, shellfish and shrimp were just a few to name. I ordered the crabs fried in butter. They were so good I ordered a second dinner size portion.
The Kampot Central Market is huge. Fresh meats, fish, eggs, seafood, household items, clothing, linens and jewelry are sold in the market daily. Boards are used to walk on in some places due to the uneven concrete. Vendors have hammocks set up at their stations, and can be found laying in them waiting for a sale. Most of the seafood vendors were squatting on the floor next to the fish in pans full of water. Some of these ladies were elderly but still had the agility to stay that way for hours. The meat stations were the most interesting. Every part of the animal is sold at the market. None of which is refrigerated or kept on ice. We even ran into a vendor selling chicken. She had 3 live but dazed chickens on the floor. This was kind of disturbing to see because their fate was doomed in there.
The knives used and sold are more like machetes. They come in big and bigger. Made of cast iron these are the knives being used to clean fish and meats.
The first two nights we stayed the trendy hotel Rikitikitavi Hotel. Located in the central part of town across the street from the river. The owners are European, so the hotel had many western amenities that make a stay comfortable. It’s also a stylish and beautifully decorated hotel. I was so happy to be on a real mattress with soft linens and hot shower water. The restaurant upstairs was a local hot spot in town. The food there was great and they played really good music. It was always packed at night. Looking back I wish we stayed there the entire visit to Kampot.
After two nights of staying in the city of Kampot we moved away from the busier part of town to hotel Villa Vedici. The property is lush with gardens and on the riverfront. Kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and a sunset cruise on the river are popular activities offered here. The highlights of the hotel were a trampoline and the resident dog named Lady. Upon check in we were advised not to go near or touch Lady because she bites. I found a way to her heart by feeding her bacon and nachos from table on the days we ate here. We had a system where we wouldn’t look at each other. I would put my hand down with food in until I felt a nibble. She stayed by my side until the food was gone. Funny thing was when I put my hand down with no food she snarled.
The rooms could use a facelift but the grounds were beautiful. Jumping on the trampoline was really fun. The owner looked a little disheveled but he had a large collection of DVD movies to watch in the room. It wasn’t until our last day that we realized the door to our room could be opened while locked by just pulling on it. This kept us from leaving the property that entire day.
Kampot is a relaxing sleepy town. I would recommend staying here a couple of days to experience the caves and visiting the town of Kep. The river is beautiful and the people were friendly. Renting a motorbike is safer here to get around but I would recommend using a tuk tuk. There is a method to the driving style here that isn’t safe for foreigners. There are no traffic lights, lines in the road or signs to help you navigate, so this can be very dangerous to the tourist behind a wheel.