Charming, compact KAMPOT TOWN enjoys one of the nicest settings in Cambodia, situated on the north bank of the Teuk Chhou River, with a panoramic view of the forested Bokor hill slopes. Once a bustling trading port, Kampot still boasts a large Chinese population, their single-storey houses, built without stilts, contrasting with the Khmer stilt-houses and colonial shophouses that grace the town’s streets.
Kampot, with its sunkissed riverfront lined with splendid trees and old colonial houses, is a pleasant little town to wander around, even though there are no sights as such. To the southwest of the central roundabout is the colourful French quarter, where shophouses line the streets through to the river and flowers planted in cans, pots and just about any other available container give the place an almost Mediterranean atmosphere. Getting to the riverfront with a camera for the sunset as the night fishermen head out to sea in their brightly coloured boats is a must. The elongated old market – abandoned some years ago when a new market building was constructed and stallholders forced to move – was being restored at the time of writing. An altruistic expat has designs on it as a community sports centre, but whether this gets the go-ahead or not remains to be seen. Further along are the government offices, imposing prison (said to house at least two Westerners at any one time), post office and, at the end of the road, the Governor’s Residence, which has been restored to its original opulent grandeur.
Another pleasant stroll is to follow the river from the old road bridge to the disused railway bridge in the north. At the railway bridge you can cross the river on the rusty, pockmarked walkway, and return to town along the other bank.
While in town you could drop in at Kampot Traditional Music School, where you can see students practising traditional dance and music. Alternatively, visit the Provincial Training Centre Kampot (PTC Kampot), in a compound behind the post office, which trains women from the province in weaving. The theory is that they can learn a trade, which will give them a sustainable income, but in practice once they leave, there simply isn’t enough demand for their products. You can help by buying a silk length, a cotton scarf or krama at the workshop, which comes complete with a label bearing the weaver’s name and photograph.
Kampot has become a popular destination for weekending Khmer and expats from Phnom Penh, as well as for foreign tourists: the surrounding province is one of Cambodia’s most picturesque, the landscape ranging from the cloud-topped mountains of the Bokor National Park, now sadly spoilt, to salt-flats and misty, uninhabited offshore islands. Kampot is ideally located for visiting a wealth of nature-based attractions in the area and is en route to the tiny seaside resort of Kep.