Bokor Mountain and eating the freshest seafood on Kep Beach are perhaps the most popular day tour destinations out of Kampot. But Bokor Mountain is currently closed for the development of a luxury resort on the top.
So, what else can you do around Kampot? Well, there are plenty of other things to see and do: stunning landscape, pepper plantations where the famous Kampot Pepper is grown, and numerous limestone caves.
Where Cambodians are already well-known for their friendliness, the people of Kampot must be the friendliest of them all.
It’s easy to get in contact with locals when taking a stroll along the Tek Chhou river or sitting in one of the local cafes.
A short car or motorbike ride takes you to the popular swimming hole at the Tek Chhou Rapids, about 8 kilometers north of Kampot. Especially on weekends the rapids are crowded by locals and they’re delighted to see one or two barang (foreigners) taking part in the fun. The Tek Chhou Zoo ($3) is a nice diversion on the way back; this being Cambodia, you can get very close to the elephants, emu and sun bears. The somnolent tigers, however, remain safely ensconced in their cages.
Hire a bicycle or a moto to enjoy Kampot’s landscape. But if you’re too lazy for that, you can also just sit on one of the tree-shaded benches facing the river, the mountains and brilliant sunsets.
Pepper has a long history in Kampot and has always been one of the main industries of the region. Its flavour and its pugnacity made it one of the best peppers in the world – the unchallenged king of spice in the kitchens of the most renowned French chefs.
Unfortunately the events that took place in Cambodia destroyed the majority of the production.
Despite pepper cultivation being adversely affected by events in Cambodia’s recent history, small farmers in the region are using their traditional skills and knowledge to once again make Kampot pepper a valuable product.
Pepper is a vine that grows along standards consisting of vertical poles. This vine originating from the tropical forests requires a hot and humid climate.
A pepper vine starts producing after 3 years. When 6 – 7 years old, it reaches its maximum production potential and can then be 5 meters tall. A pepper vine can live for more than 30 years but its productivity starts decreasing after 15 years and is almost nil after 20 years. Harvest takes place from February to April.
Tour those pepper plantations and support the farmers by buying their product.
Blissful Guesthouse, Epic Arts Cafe, Rikitikitavi, Jasmine, Bokor Mountain Lodge and Little Garden Bar sell pure Kampot pepper in attractive gift bags.
The caves of Phnom Slap Ta’aun are very accessible, lying only about 8 kms from Kampot town.
Go out the Kep road for 7 kms to the village of Kbal Meas (=’golden head’). At the Garuda statue in the crossroads, turn left and proceed out to the small hill. It is the only hill in the area, so you can hardly go wrong.
The outside of the caves are not very photogenic because the locals have turned the place into a small limestone quarry.
This is not just a small hole in the mountain. Rather, it is a huge complex of passageways, amphitheatres, stalactites and strange formations.
You need a flashlight in most places, even though there is usually a small amount of light filtering through some fissure or other. In fact, it is the low, mysterious lighting that gives the caves their charm.
The cave at Phnom Sasear is better known as the White Elephant Cave. The stairs up the side of the outcropping provide a beautiful view of the countryside, especially during the wet season.
Kampot and Kep have quite a few cave systems. Locals and guesthouses will be able to give you information on several more.
Visit the Kampot Traditional Music School for Handicapped and Orphaned Children during the week to see young Cambodian students practicing a range of traditional Khmer instruments and styles of dancing.