You know, there are some things that you like so much — you don’t even want to share them with anyone? Well, the theme of today’s post is one of these things for us: we will tell you about our favourite city in Cambodia and probably all our trip — Kampot. (Don’t tell anyone!)
Originally we didn’t plan to go to Kampot: we thought that from Sihanoukville we will go directly to Siem Reap, see the Angkor temples and then go to Thailand. But in the end we decided overcome our laziness and spend a few days in the towns neighboring with Sihanoukville — Kampot and Kep.
The plan failed: two days in Kampot turned into two weeks, and in the end we stayed there to celebrate the New Year. In early January we went to Ho Chi Minh city to meet Natasha’s brother, and them returned to Cambodia with him and our new German friends for another month. And, of course, we showed them our favorite Kampot.
During the planning of this trip we thought that we would stay in each country no longer than two to three weeks. It turned out that this time is not enough for us — because it is interesting not only to see the main attractions, but also to live in a place that we like for some time; it helps to understand a city better. That’s why we spent six weeks in Vietnam and two months in Cambodia. Our friends in Moscow have already started to send alarmed messages, asking if we are going to go further. But we have nothing to regret.
Kampot, as well as the whole Cambodia, has tragic history. Cambodia was a part of French Indochina, and in the 1920s Kampot and Kep, a nearby seaside town, became popular places for relaxation among rich French people. A new resort town with a huge casino, Bokor, was built in mountainous national park near Kampot.
In the 1970s, during the civil war and the fight against the Khmer Rouge, all these cities have been badly damaged; Kep still looks a bit like a ghost town because of the large number of abandoned villas built in the beginning of the century. Bokor is a pretty scary place with empty houses and uneasy atmosphere; in the days of the Pol Pot dictatorship Bokor was the site of mass executions. Kampot began to slowly come back to life only in the last ten years or so.
The spirit of desolation is still present in Kampot: many buildings even in the city center aren’t restored and sometimes look abandoned. In addition, Kampot is not that clean (you better be ready for a meeting with cockroaches — giant ones!)
Frankly, there is nothing particularly remarkable in Kampot: no museums, stunning temples or beaches. One of the main attractions in Kampot is a huge statue of durian, a fruit with a very sharp and specific odor and ambiguous taste (Natasha believes that it is similar to the the taste of rice meatballs, a popular kindergarten dish in Russia).
A small story about durians. We first tried this wonderful fruit a year ago in Vietnam, at Phu Quoc island: we bought it at the market for the sake of the experiment, left for a few hours in the room, and when we returned back we tried to guess what kind of animal has died — the stink was so bad. We ate the durian feeling like criminals, because the smell was strong on the whole territory of the hotel (by the way, in some Asian cities it is forbidden to eat durians in public places or even carry them on the subway and trains). In Kampot there is a processing center for durians, but there is no smell, honestly.
You can see Kampot surroundings in a couple of days: visit the local caves or farms growing the famous Kampot pepper (that is really tasty) — frankly, that is all the entertainment available.
And although there is not much to do here, Kampot is a magical place. It is a very quiet, very sleepy town with few people and motorbikes, where every house is picturesque, dilapidated or entwined with violet flowers, where almost anywhere you can hear the loud chirping of birds.
Not all cities in Cambodia have a pleasant atmosphere — for example, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap in our opinion are fairly soulless tourist cities. But Kampot is a place with good energy; it is nice to be here, and you don’t want to leave.
Some colonial architecture is preserved in Kampot (thanks to the French), and typical houses here have large arches on the ground floor which are closed by iron bars. In the Asian hinterland, this architecture looks unusual, and this is definitely one of the components of Kampot’s beauty.
The city center is quite small: just a few streets that lead to the Kampong Bay river embankment where some restaurants are located. Tourists (which usually briefly stop in Kampot) spend most of their time here. Embankment of the river is very picturesque — especially at sunset.
On the waterfront there is a playground where children do exactly what they are supposed to.
You can get across the river by several bridges; the other side of Kampot is more rustic than the central part.
Away from the center the town is a little less well-groomed and paved roads are sometimes replaced by sand.
Kampot animals, like Kampot itself, are not perfect; but is it really necessary?
In general, something elusive holds people in Kampot, and, by the way, we’re not the only one who fell in love with the city: there are relatively many Europeans in Kampot who have chosen to live here; some of them have opened cafes or guesthouses. When we told the owner of the local cafe Espresso (people say that here is the best coffee in Cambodia) that we can not leave Kampot, he said: be careful, because some do not leave here ever.
Kampot has all the charms of a small town: a few days later the same Australian cafe owner helped us choose the wine in a supermarket (he approved of our choice of Australian wine, of course); and a friendly lady selling delicious pomelo on the street talked with us in Khmer (as we understand her perfectly well).
One of the places in Kampot that Andrey photographed probably every day is a small family bakery (maybe not exactly a bakery — they sell only a few kinds of bread, but it’s tasty). Near the shop is always a pile of wood and a pile of coals from the oven.
In Kampot we fell in love with
We lived in Baraca guesthouse that was opened in the autumn of 2014 by two Belgian girls. On the ground floor there is a tapas bar; yes, it sounds strange — a tapas bar in a province of Cambodia, but why not. We strongly recommend this lovely guesthouse with somewhat Portuguese atmosphere — because of the white walls and bright tiles.
By the way, to get to your room in the guesthouse, you need to either enter through the back door, or pass through the kitchen of the restaurant — very home-like.
In a sense, Kampot is colonized again: the owners of many restaurants and guesthouses are foreigners. But this city lives its own life.
Big news today: a palm tree was cut in front of the prison.
Everything is serious with transport in Kampot: people are always carrying something somewhere, and usually in some kind of motorbike-trailer hybrids.
And this is the transport of guests who attended a local wedding — imagine if they were not on motorbikes but in cars.
Local residents in Kampot, and indeed in Cambodia, are mostly friendly and calm; nobody is in a hurry — everything that should happen will happen. We remember one episode from New Year’s: it’s midnight, fireworks, people (mostly tourists — Cambodian New Year is celebrated in April) are hugging and drinking champagne; and on a nearby porch sits a couple of elderly Cambodians and eats a pomelo. Something like: we don’t care that much about your New Year, but we don’t mind to be a part of it.
Kampot is great. Visit it if you’re ever in Cambodia.