The coastal town of Kampot offers an idyllic getaway from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and is only two hours away in a bus.
Here’s a handy bunch of ideas to make the most out of 12 hours spent over a weekend.
As soon as you arrive, head to the market for lunch. It’s a great way to soak up the local atmosphere and get an idea of town’s vibe. The food stalls open from 7am to 5pm, offering a variety of Khmer dishes – with 2000 riels buying you a plate of steamed rice and barbequed pork, served with fresh cucumbers and a tangy sweet sauce.
After your fill, settle on $1.00 with a moto and head to Olly’s Place, a charming back-to nature-guesthouse set on the banks of the Teuk Chhou River.
Nestled in lush foliage, Olly’s offers four thatched bungalows, three bedrooms and two shared bathrooms. A rugged wooden deck extends over the river, a comfortable space for guests to lounge on rattan sofas and take in the landscape as the river flows below.
Olly’s Place exudes warmth and a laidback charm with relaxed guests smiling at newcomers and starting up conversations.
“The concept was to get the backpacker community talking and chilling out with each other,” says Olly, who left Belgium to seek adventures in Asia.
He and his girlfriend, Nahm, settled in Kampot and opened their guesthouse in November 2010. Since then, it’s been busy all year round and the guest house is a success.
Advice is free here – guests can enquire about things to do in town, including exploring the mangroves on a paddleboard, kayaking and windsurfing when the weather conditions are right.
“This is for people who are really chilled and enjoy doing something different.’’ Olly says. They don’t seek out the normal - they’ve been on the road for a while, doing all the temple tours from sunrise to sunset. The first thing they do when they get here is jump in the river and say, ‘Ah, time to relax.”
Nahm, a wonderful chef, oversees the kitchen. If you’re feeling peckish, tuck into one of the house specialties, Lucky Chicken ($3.50), a delicious stir-fry of chicken strips, famed Kampot pepper and a “secret recipe sauce”, on a generous serving of golden-brown, hand-cut Belgian fries.
No one should leave Kampot without going on a three hour, scenic river cruise with Bart the Boatman, another affable Belgian gentleman. Depending on the season, the boat can seat up to five passengers.
Having lived here for four years, his knowledge of the hideaways, the Cham Muslim community which lives on the riverbanks and flora fauna is extensive.
“I saw this river and thought, it would be nice to own a boat,” he said.
No one can navigate the Teuk Chhou (Khmer for rapids) better than him. He has set out five different river tours, snaking through thickets of Nipa palms and mangroves.
As dusk falls, head to Jolie Jolie, a respected beauty salon which opened in 2010. Owner Sichan, who was professionally trained at Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, ensures her clients get personal service.
You can choose from an inexpensive range of manicures, facials, massages and special packages to pamper yourself before dinner.
Dinner options are plenty and if you’re ready to splurge, go to Rikitikitavi Restaurant and Bar.
Happy hour runs from 5-7pm and the wine list is extensive. Try a local favourite, Saraman ($7.25), a Khmer beef curry infused with peanuts and fresh herbs. According to the menu, this dish is only served during special occasions.
Save room for the apple pie ($3.00) though. Served warm with a side of traditional vanilla ice cream, the pie has a delicate, crispy crust and is chockfull of baked cinnamon-coated apple slices and raisins.
Your last stop should be the Greenhouse when its hosts live performances.
The guesthouse and bar is Kampot’s answer to the iconic, now-defunct Snowy’s bar in Phnom Penh.
“Our plan is to host special events once a month and bring bands from the city,” said co-owner, Dave Barbe, otherwise known as Donkey Dave. “This place has a natural soundboard because of the wood, it helps the acoustics.”
Since bringing bands over from Phnom Penh, locals have grooved to bands like Grass Snake Union, Kampot Playboys, Dub Addiction and the Tina Turners.
“Snowy’s was a very important venue in Phnom Penh and our clientele is familiar with its rich history,” said Dave.
Well-thumbed travel guides and helpful word-of-mouth can only do so much. You have to experience it yourself.
As Olly puts it, “Kampot’s a really beautiful place for a holiday. Sometimes, I get on my bike, drive for miles and say hello a thousand times to the kids in the villages.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lareina Choong at email@example.com