It is hard to imagine that this sleepy town was once a thriving port. Then Sihanoukville was founded in 1959 and Kampot started a period of decline that it is slowly crawling out of. Before the Civil War there were hundreds of Pepper Plantations surrounding the town. Demand was high as restaurants in Paris had to have Black Kampot Pepper on each table. That industry, like everything else, was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.
Now the town , slowly re growing, supports some restaurants and guest houses with the main attractions being riverboat cruises and trips to Bokor National Park. There are great examples of French Colonial buildings but sadly most of these are run down.
We spent our first evening booking a tour and then having a pint in the towns ‘Irish Bar’ to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It was rougher than the bar in Star Wars where Obi Wan and Luke hire the Millenium Falcon. We only stayed for one drink and then moved on.
The next day we went on the sightseeing tour of Bokor National Park. Luckily for us some rich company had built a casino and hotel on top of the mountain so they had to build a fancy road up to it which made our journey much better.
The first stop was a large Buddha Statue and the overgrown remains of a summer palace used by King Sihanouk. The palace was pretty much in ruins due to the US Air Force and wasn’t that great as the rest is overgrown, but the views were pretty good all the same.
Next stop was the old French Casino (Bokor Palace)and the remains of a small village. Combined with the clouds of mist and fog that wash over everything on a regular basis it is quite a scary place. It is no wonder that the final showdown in the movie City of Ghosts (2002) was filmed here.
The old Casino had been restored structurally but still lies empty and you can walk around the corridors with their broken tiles and cold walls and if you listen closely you can probably hear the ghosts of the past colonials laughing and placing wagers at the roulette tables.
Just down the hill is the old Catholic Church which has been left to be consumed by time. There are lots of bullet holes and debris as this was used by the Khmer Rouge in a desperate last stand against the Vietnamese Army, who were holed up in the Bokor Palace Casino 500m away.
The last stop and lunch stop was disappointing. A waterfall with no water. It probably would have been better if we all went back and skipped this stop. Lunch was cold veg rice.
We had some time between the last stop and the sunset boat cruise so we went to the shop and got some food. Had we known what was to come we would have got our swimming togs.
The river cruise was packed and on one of the more substantial looking boats that had a bar which was good. The cruise took us upriver past rice paddy fields with the Bokor Mountains to our left. We passed men in small wooden canoes and small boys swimming by the rivers edge.
Half way on the return journey the boat suddenly stopped and the crew immediately changed into swimming outfits and threw themselves into the river. We didn’t know about the swimming stop 😦 . Soon enough we were transformed into a Beach Boys Music Video with people splashing about with rubber rings and performing crazy jumps off the top deck in colourful bathing suits.
Dinner was in a nice local restaurant with some spicy peppered beef and chicken amok and $0.75 beers before we went back to our digs, Mea Culpa Guesthouse, and watched a movie on the brand new Samsung Tv with smart card reader (Thanks again Martin!!)
Tomorrow we head for Sihanoukville and it’s famous Otres Beach.