Situated on the west bank of the Mekong, the mellow town of KOMPONG CHAM has little of the bustle that you’d expect of the biggest city in eastern Cambodia. Its small commercial port doesn’t exactly hum with activity, and the riverfront, in the shadow of the massive Kizuna Bridge, is pretty quiet too since road improvements have led to the demise of most river transport. The town’s attractive backwater somnolence belies its more energetic past. In the 1930s and 1940s, Kompong Cham – named after the sizeable population of local Cham Muslims – was a prosperous rubber and tobacco trading centre and the most cosmopolitan town in Cambodia. You can sense some evidence of its previous affluence in the wide, tree-lined streets and the faded shophouses and warehouses lining the waterfront.
Today’s town has a distinct charm, and it’s easy to while away a day meandering through the unhurried streets, taking in the faded colonial architecture (particularly around the market) and visiting the remains of the venerable Wat Nokor just outside town – as well as enjoying the convivial riverfront cafés, busy in the evenings with tourists stopping over on a slow journey through the country. In half a day you can follow the Mekong north to Phnom Hann Chey, a quirky hilltop temple with fabulous views of the river, while a day-trip will get you to the pre-Angkorian site of Banteay Prei Nokor, home to a few ruined towers surrounded by a massive earth embankment. Enjoyable boat trips can also be made to villages up and down the Mekong.