Many of the best things to do in Kampot, Cambodia take advantage of the mighty Praek Tuek Chhu River and the numerous side streams where birds catch fish in mangroves. Only around 50,000 people call Kampot home, but the sizable expat community lends a lot of diversity.
It's no Siem Reap, but that’s OK: The riverside setting and pleasant vibe attract just enough local and international tourists. Wandering town to enjoy French colonial architecture and strolling the riverfront promenade at sunset are enjoyable in their own rite.
Take a Sunset River Cruise
Getting on the river is a must when visiting Kampot, and taking a sunset or firefly cruise is the easiest way to do so. Numerous boats depart from town every evening. With so much competition, prices are surprisingly cheap (around $5) and include a drink or two.
Choose your boat carefully. Some cruises are all about karaoke and loud music while others offer a more serene experience. You’ll find many choices for evening cruises by walking along the river south of the Old Bridge; smiling agents will be standing by the gangplank of each boat around 4 p.m.
Ride the Crab Shuttle to Kep
The province of Kep is around 16 miles southeast of Kampot. Although taking a boat down here will take an hour or so longer than a bus, taxi, or tuk-tuk, the Crab Shuttle has a way of encouraging visitors to slow down. Once on the coast, you’ll get to enjoy a small beach, national park, and fresh crabs eaten within eyesight of the boats that caught them. You also have the option of popping over to Rabbit Island, a scenic island 20 minutes from Kep.
The Crab Shuttle departs Kampot around 9 a.m. and returns at sunset. You can book via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or their Facebook page.
La Plantation is a social-and-sustainable “agritourism” project and certified organic pepper plantation. The rural setting is pleasant, and free guided tours of the operation are available. One-hour “buffalo cart” tours to a lake and nearby villages are also an option. Two restaurants, one serving traditional Khmer food and the other French cuisine, are located onsite and offer cooking classes.
To organize a visit, pop into La Plantation Information Center in Kampot; pickup service is available.
If you don’t have time to go tour a plantation outside of town, you can still cross the Highway 3 bridge to Farm Link, right in Kampot. Farm Link is partnered with 120 small pepper farms, providing them access to an overseas market. Natural growing and sustainable practices are taught and encouraged.
Farm Link is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; it closes for lunch. Visitors can enjoy a free tour, samples, and buy local pepper products to take home.
Booking a LoveTheRiver boat tour (3 hours; $20) is one way to really experience the Praek Tuek Chhu River. Your small boat will float down a narrow side stream (as opposed to out in the middle of the river), allowing you to enjoy the flora and fauna up close. The knowledgeable captain helps people spot birds in the mangroves and explains daily life along the river. Every excursion includes fruit, cold drinks, and an optional swim to cool down.
LoveTheRiver boat tours begin each morning from Greenhouse, a guesthouse 15 minutes north of town. See the LoveTheRiver website for booking details.
Climb Inside a Cave to See a Hindu Temple
Located around 30 minutes east of Kampot is Phnom Chhnork, a Hindu cave temple thought to have been constructed in the 7th century. The road getting there is a bit rough, and you’ll have to climb down 200 stone steps—but looking around the ancient shrine generates a feeling of adventure. Be aware that local children will approach you at the entrance and offer to be your guide for $1, and mischievous macaques patrol the area. Get to Phnom Chhnork by hiring a tuk-tuk from town (around $12).
Phnom Sia is another nearby cave, but you’ll want a flashlight to explore it. Wear real shoes instead of flip-flops if you plan to climb inside!
Ride to the Top of Bokor Mountain
Preah Monivong Bokor National Park is a 550-square-mile reserve located about an hour west of Kampot. The hill station atop Bokor Mountain was a retreat for French colonists in the 1920s. While you're here, you can visit abandoned buildings, including a dilapidated Catholic church adorned with graffiti and bullet holes.
Preah Monivong Bokor National Park is one of only two ASEAN Heritage Parks in Cambodia. Sadly, a casino resort and apartments have been awkwardly constructed atop the mountain by foreign developers.
Go early to beat the tour groups, and take a windbreaker.
Cool Off Under a Waterfall
Tada Roung Chan Waterfall, about a 30-minute drive from Kampot, is a scenic area with natural pools for swimming. The waterfall sometimes dries up between February and April, but when there’s water, dipping under Tada Roung Chan is a refreshing way to escape Cambodia’s heat. Entrance is only $1; holidays and weekends are busiest as local families go here to enjoy their time off.
Located deeper in Preah Monivong Bokor National Park and harder to reach, Popokvil Waterfall is a two-tiered waterfall in a more natural setting. Consider deviating if you’re already exploring the hill station atop Bokor Mountain. Again, there may not be much water during dry season.
Try Durian Fruit
If you’re brave enough to try durian fruit for the first time, you may as well do it in a place with a giant durian statue! Upon seeing the statue in Kampot’s biggest traffic roundabout, you could guess correctly that Kampot takes Southeast Asia’s notoriously stinky fruit seriously. The Kampot-grown variety is one of the best, widely celebrated for its sweetness and rich taste. People either love durian or hate it, but trying it at least once makes for a memorable experience.
Durian season in Kampot is short, hence the steep price tag compared to other local fruits. The freshest durian is enjoyed in June and July.
The Kampot Art Gallery isn’t very big, but that doesn’t stop it from being memorable. The gallery showcases unique work by Cambodian artists, and a shop on the ground floor sells souvenirs and art pieces creatively upcycled from trash and discarded products. Visiting the gallery is a nice way to support local artists and escape the sun while exploring town.
Find the Kampot Art Gallery just south of the Salt Workers Roundabout (the one south of the big Durian Roundabout).
Play at a Waterpark
If the waterfalls near Kampot are running dry, you’ll certainly be able to cool off at one of Kampot’s two waterparks. Daung Te, the waterpark most popular with locals, has a mix of free and inexpensive activities such as zorbing balls, kayaking, a water slide, and a giant inflatable on the river.
Arcadia, the other waterpark, is a hostel and social scene for backpacking travelers. You’ll find a bar, restaurant, rope swing, zipline, inner tubes, water slide, and more. Hiking, kayaking, and guided boat trips are also available.
A popular seafood restaurant in town, Kampot Seafood & Pepper also offers well-executed cooking classes on site. Classes begin with a trip to the nearby market, finishing three hours later with students enjoying their creations.
Kampot Seafood & Pepper is located just south of the Old Market in town. Book your cooking class ($20) the day before.
If you’ve ever wanted to give stand up paddleboarding (SUP) a try, forget learning in city parks at home. Kampot, unexpectedly, is a great place to try a sport that originated in Hawaii! Along with being fun and good exercise, SUP is an excellent way to sneak up on birds and wildlife along the river’s edge. SUP Asia, located at the corner of the Old Market, offers daily lessons and half-day mangrove tours.
You may not have time to volunteer while visiting Cambodia, but you can still help a good cause. The Epic Arts Cafe is an atmospheric restaurant, gallery, and shop in Kampot with the motto: “Every person counts!” Any money you spend (100 percent) on food and handmade gifts goes directly to helping provide opportunities for people with disabilities.
With a very central location in town, the Epic Arts Cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Explore Nearby Villages
Kampot is surrounded by small fishing and farming villages where traditional life moves slowly. By driving south only 15 minutes, you can explore a patchwork of salt fields, rice paddies, and rural communities. Fish Island, south of town where the river splits, is photogenic and easy to reach. Be courteous: Don't photograph local residents without their permission.
Renting a scooter allows for the most freedom; however, conditions and road quality can be challenging if you haven’t driven much in Southeast Asia. Going by bicycle, either independently or as part of a group tour, is an alternative option.