Last year, some 76,000 tourists visited Kampot – 14 per cent more than the previous year – and quite a few of them seem to have stuck around and opened businesses. While Kampot has long been a mandatory spot on the tourist trail and a much-loved getaway destination for Phnom Penhers, there has been a big spike in the number of new restaurants, guesthouses and tourist activities in the past year. ‘This is the next Chiang Mai,’ says travel writer Jessica Lee, who is writing the Kampot portion of the upcoming edition of the Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook. ‘The Kampot part in the book is so out of date now. A lot has been built up very quickly.’ From Portuguese restaurants to leisurely boat cruises, Brent Crane explored the best of what’s new in Kampot
The Kampot Arts and Music Association (KAMA)
One of the initial motivations behind the founding of this new bar/art space/vinyl-record shop was to form a bridge between the Western and Khmer art worlds, according to bartender Billy MacCartney of Austin, Texas. “Kampot already has a small but thriving art scene.
"We hope to engender, incubate and promote the art scene. We’d like Kampot to be known as the place for artists to come and live and work in Cambodia.” MacCartney and founder Julien Poulsen, who wields the guitar in the Khmer psychedelic rock band Cambodian Space Project, have big plans for the venue, including upstairs workstations.
They already have an impressive collection of vintage vinyl records on sale, rumoured to be the only space hawking the antique format in the Kingdom, a kitchen serving up Asian dishes, as well as film screenings. “We just want to create a space where people can get creative and appreciate art in all forms.”
Kampot Arts and Music Association, East Street, next to the 2000 statue roundabout. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 6pm to midnight. Sunday is family night, with children films.
The Loving Spoon
After decades of living away from his home-country of Switzerland, the cheerful owner of this Thai-European hybrid eatery, Lukaz Bohm, 65, can speak five languages and has a trove of tales. The Street 176 restaurant carries two identities, reflective of the couple who run it. In the morning it serves European food, mostly breakfast items like coffee with homemade jam and swiss bread ($3), scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, bacon and bread ($4) and fresh orange and lime juice ($1).
Then, in the evening, Bohm’s Thai wife Aom prepares dishes from her hometown of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Her scrumptious plates include pad krapow (fried chicken with basil leaves) and tom ka gai (chicken soup with coconut milk), both $4.50. She is touted as the only chef making Thai food in Kampot that is actually from Thailand. “I like Kampot a lot,” Bohm said. “There’s a lot of friendliness.”
The Loving Spoon, #11 Street 176. 7am to 1pm, 4pm-9pm.
Move over Utz – Kampot now has its own locally sourced potato crisps. Flavoured with Kampot pepper and sea salt, the crisps are made from potatoes sourced at the local market and provided as pub snacks throughout town. “It was really random,” said founder Richard Defoy who began making the crisps out of a converted room in his house.
The crisps are entirely natural, he said, made from potatoes sourced in Vietnam’s central highlands. ”I noticed there weren’t snacks really in the bars apart from peanuts, so it just started from there.” While Defoy said he is concentrating on the Kampot market before expanding, he said a move to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh is not out of the question. The Quay Hotel on Phnom Penh’s riverside has already taken interest, he said, and has started stocking the product.
Kampot Krisps can be found at select bars throughout Kampot.
The food at this quaint creperie run by a Frenchman and his Khmer wife is something to brag about. Small plates include the smoked salmon on toasted bread ($3.50) and the popular $5 cheese platter, with cheese imported from Phnom Penh’s Le Votre French import shop.
The crepes, made with a $2,000 machine from France, come in savoury and sweet, most for $4.50. For the drinker, there is a generous selection of tipples, as well as an equally expansive juice menu. And of course, there is French wine – $14 for a bottle from Bordeaux.
Honeymoon Creperie, #56 Street 726. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 8am to 3pm and then 5:15pm to 10:30pm.
Just over the “new bridge”, Tertúlia offers delicious, fresh Portuguese food and wine in a casual but sophisticated open air setting. Co-owner and head chef Francisco Salema said he and his business partner Filipe Duarte saw Kampot’s potential as a developing tourist town – with access to a wide variety of fresh seafood and produce – and opened the restaurant in April.
Portuguese cuisine is based on the Mediterranean diet – with a mix of fish, other seafood and meats – but thanks to the country’s history of conquest, it also has influences from its colonies all over the globe – from Africa to the Americas, India and Asia.
“Basically, it’s a fusion of many cultures over many centuries,” said Falema. “We use all sorts of spices like cumin, saffron, cinnamon and chilli.” He said the restaurant’s signature dishes, like Bolhao Pato Clams ($4) and tiger prawns in Kampot pepper ($7), were cooked in a cataplana – a kind of lidded wok that steams food in its own juices.
The beef cheeks slow-cooked for eight hours in wine, rosemary and garlic are also very popular.
Tertúlia, Tek Chhu Road. Open Thursday and Friday 3pm to 11pm and Saturday and Sunday midday to 11pm. Phone: 089-850-358
Blue Buddha Hotel
When Jessica Rawe, 28, and Raphael Rodrigue, 30, from Britain and Montreal respectively, started work on their boutique hotel five months ago, they faced difficulties from an unforeseen direction: local monks.
“You wouldn’t think you could be scared of a monk,” joked Rawe. “But you can.” The holymen’s gripe was with the hotel’s mascot. They spent months negotiating with Kampot’s monastic higher-ups, along with officials from Phnom Penh, trying to figure out a way to keep their cherished Buddha.
Along with concerns that the Buddha’s face printed on their business cards would be too near uncouth surfaces, they were worried about how the blue custom-made Buddha statue in their courtyard was positioned. Eventually, they reached an agreement.
The statue would be elevated on a platform and given regular offerings, it would face east, surrounded by a moat, and be covered from the rain and prayed to five times a month. They couldn’t keep their logo.
The clean, modern hotel caters to travellers who want a higher level of comfort but don’t want to break the bank. The rooms, from $18-$35, are spacious and come with wide, tiled bathrooms, cushy beds, a TV, wifi, mini bar, hot showers and AC.
Blue Buddha Hotel, #1 Street 730 off the salt workers roundabout. Call 071-637-2924 for reservations.
BARACA Rooms and Tapas
Belgian couple Minke Van den Winkel and Elke Van Ongeval opened their guesthouse and restaurant/bar bARACA in October, serving up a wide selection of budget-friendly and mostly vegetarian tapas dishes, along with Spanish cava sparkling wine and cocktails. “We fell in love with Kampot at first sight and started a tapas bar because Minke likes to make them and I love to eat them,” said Elke. “bARACA does not do Spanish tapas, our flavours come from all over the world; you can call them fusion if you like.
We just love the concept of tapas, sharing small dishes while having a drink, ordering more while having the next drink.” The plates include more unusual ideas like holy basil squid ($3) along with traditional favourites like patatas bravas ($3) and regional specialities like Bish Kampot ($3). “We really like to work with local products (only a few of our products are imported), so we see what is fresh on the market to compose our menu and daily specials. However, some lemon and olive trees would be very welcome in Kampot – and some goats to produce cheese.”
BARACA, #7 Street 726, near the Loving Spoon.
Bandini’s rooms & books
After backpacking around Southeast Asia last year, French couple Sarah, 27, and Thomas Schweyer, 26, decided to sell everything and relocate to the Kingdom. They opened this cosy, low-range guesthouse in February. What separates theirs from the slew of new guesthouses in Kampot is its tranquility and impressive secondhand bookstore.
More than a few guesthouses in the traveller haven around the Kampot Old Market can be loud, with the noise of construction and other residents amplified by the close buildings and narrow alleys. Bandini’s, located 500 metres from the Old Market in a quiet area, benefits from its isolation.
It has a verdant garden with hammocks and cushy lounge chairs, perfect for a slow morning spent lost in a new book. It is not a place for partiers, but one for readers and loungers (boardgames are also available). The rooms go for $10 a night but there are only four, so make sure to call ahead.
Bandini’s Rooms & Books, Kopong Bay Village. Contact 087-923-623 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are faster ways to travel between Kampot and Kep than by boat, but speed is not the point of the Crab Shuttle. The two-hour tour on a refurbished trawler takes guests down the scenic route, along the river in Kampot and out onto the emerald sea on the way to Kep. “Usually we see fishermen on the sandbanks fishing for small shrimps or collecting shellfish,” said founder Jeroen van Vliet, 43, who has lived in Kep for five years.
Tickets can be purchased through licensed travel agencies and also at select Kampot businesses. A round-trip journey costs $13.50 per head, while one-way is $9.50. Children under six ride free.
Crab Shuttle. Kampot to Kep departure at 9:30am arrive in Kep at 11:30am. Return from Kep at 3:30pm, arrive in Kampot at sunset.
The Flying Dutchman
For those finding themselves with 3am munchies, Flying Dutchman delivery service has you covered. For all day, every day, the Dutchman offers three four or dishes which alternate on a weekly basis – this week it was pasta salad ($2.50), chilli cheese rolls ($2.50) and pizza rolls ($2), along with blue cheese and anchovy add-ons for a buck. But if the weekly menu doesn’t appeal to you, the Dutchman will deliver food from any restaurant in town for a $1 fee (or $2 if delivered outside of town) provided it’s open. Also booze and smokes.
Call 0888 306 205 for delivery. Visit The Flying Dutchman Kampot group on Facebook for an up-to-date menu.