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Driving in Cambodia

A three-hour drive from the Cambodian capital, Kampot is the perfect rustic retreat from big city life.
Kampot, Cambodia

A three-hour drive from the Cambodian capital, Kampot is the perfect rustic retreat from big city life.

Day 1


For boutique waterfront living, try Rikitikitavi (Riverside Rd.; +855 1223 5102;; double room US$35), a European-run hotel that’s on Kampot’s main drag along the peaceful Kampong Bay River. Housed in a converted rice barn, the five rooms feature four-poster beds, recessed lighting and timbered ceilings. Further afield is the family-friendly Les Manguiers (2 kilometers north of town; +855 9233 0050;, whose simple wooden bungalows are set in a grassy field. Kids will love the playground, while the free kayaks and bikes are great for exploring.


Not only are Kampot’s bougainvillea-edged streets ideal for a quiet stroll, but they’re also lined with breathtaking architecture; the charming, crumbling shop houses and regal colonial-era homes are the sole remnants of a time when this was one of French Indochina’s key ports. Look out for the Chinese-roofed pagodas, a rare sight in Cambodia.


For a sunset ride, book a seat on one of the small, wooden boats that set sail at 3 p.m. (US$5 per person; hotels can arrange). You’ll follow the river south until it merges with the Gulf of Thailand, where the boat anchors on a sandbar that’s perfect for swimming, crabbing and searching for seashells. On the way back, watch the local fishermen pass by, headed out to sea for the night.


With warm lighting, art on the walls and an eclectic playlist, Jasmine Restaurant (Riverside Rd.; +855 1292 7313) makes it easy to kick back for a long meal. Super tender steaks and fish amok are the house favorites; look out for the daily specials, often inspired by the American–Khmer owners’ travels.

Day 2


If only every Cambodian town had an Epic Arts Café (May 1 Rd.; no phone; freshly baked bagels and divine cakes and cookies served in an airy, cheerful setting. The place is mainly staffed by deaf and disabled Khmers who’ve been given a second chance by Epic Arts, a U.K.-based charity. The organization also conducts an impressive arts and dance program.


When the French colonialists wanted to escape the heat, they would head 40 kilometers west to the hill station of Bokor, where they built an elegant weekend resort complete with casino and church. Sok Lim Tours (across from Blissful Guesthouse; +855 1280 1348; arranges guided treks to the 80-year-old ruins, which are now part of a national park that’s filled with evergreen forests and waterfalls.


It’s tempting to spend all night curled up in a papasan chair at the Rusty Keyhole (Riverside Rd.; +855 1267 9607), a relaxed, riverfront pub serving very affordable cocktails. Every night sees a festive barbecue on the terrace, which features baked potatoes and superb, melt-in-your-mouth ribs (the recipe is a big secret).

Day 3


Spend the day visiting Kampot’s lush and varied countryside, which is dotted with craggy limestone mountains and lime-green rice fields. Across the river are the mesmerizing, grey stretches of Cambodia’s only salt fields, while the nearby pepper plantations produce some of the world’s finest peppercorns—look for them in local dishes. The seventh-century brick temple in Phnom Chhnork cave, 8 kilometers out of town, is one of the country’s oldest and is cared for by a trio of friendly monks.


Grab a sunset cocktail at Rikitikitavi’s breezy, riverfront bar before savoring a candle-lit meal in its restaurant. The Khmer and Western dishes are made using only the freshest local produce and the best imported meats from Australia and Argentina. The Beef Saraman, a traditional Khmer peanut and beef curry, is one of the chef’s specialties.


Published on Sep 8, 2009

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