Phnom Penh Aside: Chilling in Kampot

Phnom Penh Aside: Chilling in Kampot


Photo by:

Tracey Shelton

View of the river from a guesthouse just outside Kampot town.

WE think of Kampot as a pretty little town with nothing to do for good reason. It's true. There are no sights of any interest, no ruins and Bokor is closed, which isn't really a big loss - a hill can be seen from the bottom as easily as it can be seen from the top.

The beaches around Kampot are pretty miserable - mud and stones, mostly - but the upside is that crabs thrive here, so although you can't frolic on golden sand, you can get a damn good crab lunch.

The rock crabs are usually better than the blue and are at their best cooked in black pepper.

On the beachfront in nearby Kep, they will cost around US$11.50 a kilogram.

Phnom Penh's residents go to Kampot to get away from the noise and stress of the city and to laze around in hammocks watching the river flow past. Well actually, it doesn't flow past - it's tidal, so it just swirls around most of the time.

The setting of river and hills is an unbeatable combination for relaxation.

As there is so little light pollution, you can see the stars at night, and guesthouses generally have gardens to hang out in.

The town market is of little interest, as the only things worth buying - pepper and fruit - can also be found elsewhere.

The Kampot durian is of the highest quality, and squeamish foreigners who have taken a dislike to durian without ever trying it should take the opportunity  to sample the pleasures of this special fruit.

For several reasons, durian should be enjoyed at point-of purchase, be it on the roadside or in a market. Foreigners have neither the correct tools nor appropriate skills to open it without loss of blood. Transporting it on a motorbike also involves the risk of serious injury, as it is  sharp all over and comes with only the flimsiest of built-in handles.

The necessities

There is a small community of foreign restaurant and bar operators in the town supplying visitors with food and drink, and there is also a thriving back-packer guesthouse trade.

Many of the guesthouses supply backpackers with wireless Internet and friendly, agreeable staff for them to argue over the minutiae of the bill with, but they do not supply hot water or air-conditioning - these necessities are seen by backpackers as frivolous luxuries that would merely eat into their beer budget and restrict their appreciation of local culture.

One Kampot eatery that makes the bone-shaking journey down Highway 3 worthwhile is The Rusty Keyhole.

The restaurant's simple barbecue is the best in cambodia and the ribs are divine.

While the Keyhole could be mistaken for just another simple riverfront bar/restaurant - sports on TV inside the bar, chairs and tables outside - it is worth a closer look.

The restaurant's simple barbecue is the best in Cambodia, and the ribs are divine. The quality of the meat, the care in preparation, the "secret recipe" basting sauce and the size of the portion make it not only the best value you'll find in Cambodia but may bring a barbecued-ribs gourmand to orgasm.  

It's the kind of meal that makes you pity those who didn't order it, makes you give withering looks towards those who ordered some other item on the menu and makes you shake your head in sadness for those who arrived too late to order it (sometimes the ribs run out as early as 6:30pm).

But is there more to do in Kampot than eat ribs? Well, not much more.

For the visitor from Phnom Penh, there really is only one other stop and that is Bar Red, a friendly hole-in-the-wall kind of bar, simple but an enjoyable latenight drinking place.

Like most Cambodian towns, Kampot goes to bed around 9:30pm, but Bar Red is open late and has great Indian food for those who, by some horrifying oversight or omission, didn't get the ribs earlier in the evening.

The other alternative is Mea Culpa, which has a wood-burning oven in the garden and offers great pizzas in a smart and simple garden-bar setting.

Like Bar Red, Mea Culpa has rooms that cater to the crowd from Phnom Penh who appreciate a good place to stay.


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