Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Enjoying the quiet charms of Kampong Cham

Enjoying the quiet charms of Kampong Cham

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The colonial era French watchtower on the banks of the Mekong. Brent crane

Enjoying the quiet charms of Kampong Cham

Only a couple of hours by bus from Phnom Penh, the ‘harbour of the Chams’ makes for a sedate getaway with plenty to see – from Angkorian-era ruins to a pink French-built watchtower

Once a bustling Mekong River port during colonial times, Kampong Cham (“harbour of the Chams”) is now a largely sedate transit point.

Only 123 kilometres from Phnom Penh, it typically serves as a quick stopover for travellers heading to the better known tourist locales of Kratie or Mondulkiri.

It is unfortunate the place is so rarely explored; the provincial capital contains more than a few worthwhile activities for the weekend wanderer.

After a two-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, I arrived to the “Emerald of the Mekong” around lunchtime.

Refusing the offerings of the bus stop moto drivers, I strolled down to the riverside to find a guesthouse on my own. If you can ignore the KTVs and shady massage parlors, the downtown is charming, with wide boulevards, colonial-era buildings, tree-shaded benches, a cool breeze and hardly any traffic.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The watchtower from the ground. Brent crane

Already it was worth the $6 Sorya bus ticket just to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

For $14, I rented a room at the Moon River guesthouse.

The friendly 29-year old manager named Gecko said there were only four other guests, so I got my pick of the rooms.

“Tourists don’t come to Kampong Cham,” he frequently lamented. I chose a room on the second floor with a view of the river and the mega-sized Japanese-built Kizuna bridge.

In 2001, it became the first in the country to cross the Mekong.

I began my weekend jaunt by renting a cruiser bike from the guesthouse for $2.

Following Gecko’s suggestion, I headed south along the river, pedalling slowly to take in the sights: under the bridge and past a Chinese school, a street-side potter, a sprawling wat complex and two old-fashioned riverboat hotels.

The further I went, the more rural the landscape became; the paved road turned to dirt, stucco houses into raised wooden ones.

Two mosques and several burqa-clad women loitering in the shade indicated that I had arrived at a Cham neighbourhood.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
One entrance to the atmospheric 11th-century Nokor Bachey temple.Brent crane

Through a distorting loudspeaker, an imam voiced a languid, doleful-sounding call to prayer.

Heeding the call, men trotted up the steps and into the white-walled mosque.

Meanwhile, a gaggle of half-naked tots, too young for the musalla, hollered “Helllooo!” as I cycled past.

After reaching the end of the road, I doubled back in a loop and came to the onramp of the Kizuna.

I zipped onto it and pedalled hard up the incline alongside a steady flow of trucks and motorbikes.

Soon I was looking over the whole city, the empty Mekong flowing lazily many metres below.

As I caught my breath, I peered down the bridge and spotted my destination: a pink-walled French watchtower built in the early 1900s, protruding out of the jungle like a giant Lego creation.

The ascent to the top was precarious but worthwhile: from the ancient platform, I took in splendid scenes of the green flat expanse of the Kampong Cham lowlands.

Besides the power lines, not much appeared different on this side of the river from when the French enacted their mission civilisatrice. It seemed a land frozen in time.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The 11th-century Nokor Bachey temple has a modern prayer-hall built inside of it. Brent crane

The next day I awoke at 8:30am and Gecko, who supplements his guesthouse work with a tuk-tuk, took me across town to the 11th-century Nokor Bachey temple.

Like Angkor Wat, it was built by King Jayavarman VII. But unlike Angkor, it was completely deserted and, for a $2 entrance fee, I had the whole ancient complex to myself.

Next, we sped off to see the Broh and Srey (“man and woman”) mountains. Phnom Broh was the smaller one, with a sizeable wat built on top and many skittery macaques around.

“Feed banana monkey!” was a popular refrain from local vendors.

I opted for a cup of iced sugarcane juice and observed the monkey madness from a plastic chair instead.

Phnom Srey was a five minute walk away and its ascent was the more demanding of the two, with a long slog up a steep stone staircase.

The payoff was the view from the top, which was tranquil, breezy and instead of jittery primates there were floaty butterflies.

Afterwards, Gecko and I grabbed lunch in a lazy, open-air dining hall and drove back into town, where I caught a 1:30pm bus south, to return to the tumult of Phnom Penh and nurse my sore calves.


  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from