We booked a private taxi transfer to Kampot from our hotel in Sihanoukville for $25. Others we met in Kampot told horror stories of “shared taxis” which were standard cars with upto nine people in them. In one case the driver had a passenger to his left and it was a left hand drive car! Operating the pedals seems to have been something of a team effort.
It’s a two hour drive through beautiful scenery. Satisfactory accommodation was difficult to find at first. The Bokor Mountain Lodget overlooking the river was well overpriced in such a sleepy little town at $36 a night. The Borey Bokor hotel was fairly run down and completely empty. We settled for the very pleasant Kampot Guesthouse ($12) where rooms are far nicer in the new block than the old one. There are several other nice looking guesthouses on the same street.
There’s not a great deal to do in Kampot but it’s a charming riverside retreat where I could have quite happily lazed away a number of days. Instead we headed off on our first full day to do the main excursion that’s available to the old French hill station of Bokor.
Bokor Hill Station
Construction of the road up to Bokor began in 1917 and once completed the luxurious Bokor Palace Hotel was constructed and a small community developed there. In later years it became a Khmer Rouge stronghold thanks to its altitude at 1080m which gave it commanding views over the countryside.
We’d paid our $10 for the excursion ($5 extra to enter the national park) and were collected at 8am. Seven of us climbed onto the back of a truck with the guide whilst two more got inside with the driver. I hardly know how to start describing just how awful the state of the road was. If any fast talking tour rep. tries telling you that their trip is any more luxurious then try to find out why because with the state of the road all journeys to Bokor must be nothing short of an ordeal.
The first 22kms to our first stop at the Black Palace was nothing but potholes making for a very bumpy ride. Also the vegetation had grown across the road so whilst being shaken all over the place you have to keep an eye out for branches waiting to whack you across the face so you spend most of your time with your head between your knees.
Shortly after the Black Palace we stopped to do a one hour jungle walk that seemed quite pointless. We weren’t taken to the nearby Popokvil waterfalls as they were (apparently) dry when we visited. The truck then met us and took us the remaining 10km to the top where we had a nice lunch outside the abandoned Bokor Palace from where there are great views across to Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island.
We then took a walk around the other abandoned buildings including a casino where drunken soldiers had fired their guns into the ceiling and a Catholic church with its altar still intact. Then we embarked on the torturous 32km return trip downhill to a boat which was supposed to get us back just in time to see the sunset from the river approaching Kampot town. Unfortunately, we arrived late and missed the sunset but the cold beer onboard was more than welcome.
With hindsight would I have done the trip? No I probably wouldn’t. Personally I found the rewards of arriving at Bokor Hill Station didn’t justify the journey. But that’s just my opinion, others didn’t seem to mind so much so give it a try and make your own mind up.
Things to do in Kampot
Kampot is very much a town to chill out. There’s a bloke from Manchester who runs the Rusty Keyhole Bar on the front overlooking the river. Good place for breakfast and for happy hour followed by English football! The Bamboo Light Café does a superb Sri Lankan curry and there are several other good restaurants along the front.
Also on the front you can go for a shiatsu massage. It cost just $4 for a one hour massage given by blind people. Just what the doctor ordered after an arduous trip to Bokor.
Other main excursions include trips to local caves, Kep and Rabbit Island.
If you’re heading for Vietnam from Kampot take a look at Vietnam to Cambodia border crossings. We crossed at Phnom Den (Cambodia) to Tinh Bien (Vietnam) which is near Chau Doc. You’re alternative is to return to Phnom Penh first.