Second time’s a charm for this little adventure to Kampot! Some government induced flooding caused by an upstream dam had cancelled our previous attempt (our bed would have literally been underwater) but we gave it another try last weekend. Kampot is a sleepy river town in southern Cambodia known for it’s “bohemian” ways – writers, artists, and the occasional gypsy have long been a part of this post-war expat nook. We hopped on a $9 Giant Ibis van for a 4 hour drive to Kampot. We arrived in town and grabbed a tuk tuk using the broken Khmer phrases we had learned (still no discount on price he he) and headed straight for Greenhouse, a highly recommended spot from our well traveled Phnom Penh friends. The place was exactly as described – peaceful, relaxed, super lush grounds, and with the occasional waft of dank herb (Adam’s words not Jax’s). The hotel was set alone on a quiet stretch of the Tuek Chhu River with a large open house, multiple balconies overlooking the river and several docks for swimming and kayaking. For $30 per night, we got a little riverside bungalow with hot water and a hammock. Our only complaint was the pillows were not that comfy (aka we’re getting too old for crappy pillows).
Interesting historical note: the “GreenHouse” was originally located on the banks of the Tonle Sap River Phnom Penh and operated as a popular expat dive bar for many years before development forced the owner to either let it be demolished or save it. Like any good westerner, the owner dismantled and physically moved the entire house 150 km down to this sweet spot on the river in Kampot where it will undoubtedly live out the rest of its Bohemian days.
After we settled in a bit, we grabbed some lunch from the restaurant. The dishes and drinks here were hit and miss. The Khmer curry, ginger chicken, and Khmer iced coffee were average but our dinner later made up for it. Also, you can’t go wrong with a cold Angkor Beer – the self proclaimed National Beer of Cambodia. Our stay was a little more like home when we made friends with this local 3 month old puppy “CHU CHU” who took it upon himself to become our guard dog.
That night, we had some drinks, played cards (Jax finally beat Adam at his family’s traditional card game of Hand and Foot – similar to Canasta) and Adam of course was not a sore loser, congratulating his triumphant wife. The special of the day was barramundi with a ginger sauce and veggies – delicious and gloriously priced at only $6 for a large portion.
Day 2 was the perfect combination of relaxing, being lazy, reading books, drinking tea and coffee and swimming in the river. Jax had to slowly slink into the water because she was afraid of the unknown river inhabitants. Adam was certain he was going to be eaten by an anaconda after making fun of Jax for being worried about these “snakes”.
Our chill quiet day took a turn towards PARTY when we learned that this weekend in Kampot was the Writers Festival which meant that all of Phnom Penh was also in Kampot. We ended up running into a few friends at Greenhouse and hung out for a few hours. Pretty surreal to be sitting on a dock in Kampot (where?) watching the sunset with people from all over the world sipping our cocktails and laughing about cultural and language differences.
Later that night, we rented a super charged moto and drove the 8 km through rural Khmer villages to downtown Kampot and the Rusty Keyhole restaurant for ribs and “mash”. It was a bit of a bummer that we got there just as the last of the ribs had been sold off, but we still had a great time with our new friends. We learned about gun policy in the UK, the difference between British “northerners” versus “southerners,” and that we must try a proper beans and toast for breakfast. Everything cool we know about America that we tried to “teach” to these Brits was already common knowledge to them – apparently most Brits are up on their Modern Family. Also got a solid lesson in ecotourism from Bryony, a British lass stationed in Kuala Lumpur, who tours teens around SE Asia and teaches kids about Komodo Dragons and how to not be spoiled brats.
Our drive home from downtown Kampot back to Greenhouse was incredible. It was so pitch black without any light pollution that when we looked up (Jax not Adam because he was driving of course), the sky was on fire with stars — something we hadn’t seen in months – pinch me! Only downside were the wild packs of dogs that chased us down the road nipping at Jax’s heels. “Ahh, go faster babe!”
Day 3 – we could not pass up all this talk of “American” style pancakes at Cafe Espresso in downtown Kampot – we were NOT disappointed! While the place oozes intellectual expat flavor with hole in the wall flare, the salted caramel banana pancakes and veggie burger (when in doubt with brunch or lunch – get both!) exceeded all initial concerns over hygiene.
Overall, Kampot is a good spot for a chill weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, especially with friends. The river is a major draw, for good reason and we would come back to do more touring of the mangroves on kayak or SUP or the infamous spelunking tour. However, the worn down vibes are not for everyone and probably would not be recommended for any friends that were “just touring through.” We’re more likely to return to its south coast counterpart on the sea (Kep) or further island retreat (Koh Rong Samloem) for our next Phnom Penh weekend getaway.
Lessons Learned #17: Kampot is for rib lovers… and gypsies.
“There is more to life than increasing it’s speed.” -Ghandi