KOMPOT - South Eastern Dreamland
By: Ann Creevey. Pictures by : Nathan Dexter. ( January, 2002 Volume 2 No.1 )

Once known by the French as the Perle de la Cote d'Agate, this charming, sleepy province is a wonderful place to get a true feeling of Cambodia. Kampot is bordered by Kampong Speu, Takeo, Koh Kong and Sihanoukville provinces, with a coastline interrupted only by the tiny municipality of Kep. The provincial capital of Kampot Town is just five kilometers from the sea, and wide, empty boulevards stretch towards the lazy river that divides the town, past fine old colonial buildings. Horses graze by the river as the sun sets. The people are unhurried and friendly. This is a place where time has almost stood still. All around are attractions for the visitor - the abandoned former resort of Bokor, caves, pagodas and cool rapids.
In the last census, Kampot recorded a population of 528,405 __ just over four and a half percent of Cambodia's total population. Its eight districts are divided up into 92 communes and 477 villages. Kampot is known for its durian, as well as its seafood. Kampot pepper is world famous and it also provides most of Cambodia's locally produced salt.

Bokor Mountain

A rough and ready road leads travelers to this former French hill station, 1000 meters above sea level in the Elephant Mountains. Built in the 1920's, it remained a resort for wealthy French and Khmers wishing to enjoy the cool mountain air until just a couple of years before the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. The proud ruins of a former casino, villas, a hotel and a Catholic church are often shrouded in mist, giving the place a ghostly feel. Bokor (which means the ox's hump in Khmer) was a strategic military stronghold until several years ago, but is now secure actor/director Matt Dillon shot scenes for his recent movie here but, as in much of Cambodia, wandering off marked paths is not advisable. The fee to enter Bokor is now 20,000 riel ($5) for foreigners. Recent visitors were warned by rangers not to camp out on the peak as tigers may occasionally stray in at night, but very basic accommodation with park rangers can be arranged for a small fee. Several people are now operating tours from Sihanoukville to Bokor (such as Red Snapper Tours) and from Kampot. Although small motorbikes can navigate the road up, a trail bike is advisable. The views from this rugged mountain plateau are spectacular when the mist lifts, and there is always the slight chance of a glimpse of rare wildlife long extinct in other provinces, such as tigers and elephants. This is a highlight of any visit to Cambodia.

Teuk Chhou Rapids

Cross the main river in Kampot Town, turn right down a wide dirt road and after about seven kilometers you will come to one of the most peaceful, pleasant little hideaways in the province. Although referred to as waterfalls by locals, Teuk Chhou is in fact a series on sparkling natural rapids with crystal clear water which is always cool and fresh. A line of food stalls satisfy picnic makers with everything from fruit to whole roast chicken and catfish, to banana and coconut roasted in banana leaves (a specialty of Kampot). On the weekends, this place is a hive of activity. But on weekdays, you may have the place almost to yourself, except for an occasional family arriving to bathe. Motodops will take travelers there for around a dollar, depending on your bargaining skills. There is plenty of parking for cars and motorbikes and the road there is in quite good condition.

Kampot Zoo

On the way to Teuk Chhou, signs on the left of the road advertise the reasonably modern Kampot Zoo. This privately owned zoo is currently under renovation, but although enclosures here are small, the animals are well fed and it is clean. Sun bears, tigers and a myriad of less exotic species are on display. The entrance fee is small and it might provide a few entertaining hours for those wanting to catch a glimpse of some of Cambodia's rare wildlife.

Durian Plantations

The reason you might have been offered so much of the spiky, strong-smelling fruit known as durian while enjoying the Teuk Chheu rapids is because of the proximity of the plantations, which line either side of the road en route. Kampot durian is famous throughout Cambodia for its flavor and sweetness. It is deemed superior to Thai durian by Khmer connoisseurs (Prime Minister Hun Sen among them) and the price reflects this it can cost double its imported counterpart. Many foreigners do not enjoy the strong taste and smell of this strange fruit, with its creamy yellow flesh encased in brown spiked skin, but those who do might find this area sells the cheapest (and tastiest) durian in the Kingdom.

Kampot Town

Sitting by the river as the sun sets in the evening is one of the great pleasures of a night in Kampot Town. Although almost everything here closes by 9pm, this sleepy town has a unique charm, enhanced by the fine colonial architecture and boulevards. A walk back into town to enjoy a refreshing tik-kra-lok (a Cambodian fruit shake) and a chat with locals out enjoying the evening air is a nice way to end a day in this pretty province. Hotels offer basic Chinese and Khmer dishes, and the seafood is some of the best in Cambodia. There is an abundance of accommodation, from very basic to air-conditioned rooms with cable television and mini fridges. The average cost is between $4 and $5 without air-con. Kampot is a relaxing stop-off for travelers doing the Phnom Penh to Kampot to Sihanoukville loop and a place that, despite its lack of lively clubs and all-night bars, few people want to leave. See our travel guide inside for tips on how to get there and what to pay.