Kampot: Captain Chim’s, caves, churches and casinos. And let’s not forget the giant durian. 

Thursday 17th – Saturday 19th March

Miles over two days: 45

Just fifteen miles west of Kep was our next two-day stop, Kampot. 

After an uneventful journey we checked in to Captain Chim’s Guesthouse. We liked this place, it offered free drinking water, free laundry and good, cheap meals. Captain Chim himself is a rather serious man (or a “surly old captain” as Eric put it) but him and his family will do what they can to help you arrange any excursions. 

Also highly recommended from fellow cycle tourers is Kampot River Bungalows, accommodation set in a beautiful spot by the river. 

There isn’t all that much to see in Kampot itself – the most exciting thing we saw was this: Kampot's giant durian 

A giant durian in the middle of a roundabout. 

Though there are a lot of good places to eat. 

We enjoyed the well known Epic Arts Cafe, run by people with disabilities or learning difficulties. I’ve read that in Cambodia there is still a lot of stigma against people with mental or physical disability, so this is quite a special place. The menu includes some basic Khmer sign language. Epic Arts Cafe, Kampot 

And the food we had was excellent. (I had a cream cheese bagel with roasted veg.) Epic Arts Cafe, Kampot 

There is also a tiny art gallery upstairs. Epic Arts Cafe, Kampot 

For a cheap and tasty dinner, Ecram’s Noodles & Dumplings is the place to go. The chefs make the noodles from flour right before your eyes.  Ecram's Noodles and Dumplings, Kampot 

On day one we pedalled back the way we’d come to see some caves and a lake between Kampot and Kep. 

We hit the dirt roads and cycled by little houses and basic shops. It was great to finally see a bit of non-touristy Cambodia.  Village outside of Kampot, Cambodia  

Village outside of Kampot, Cambodia 
The people in villages were very friendly. The standard of living looked quite poor.

Our first stop was Phnom Chhnork Temple (odd spelling, I know). This small pre-Angkor temple is set in a cave. We paid a dollar each and went to take a look.  Phnom Chhnork Temple 

It was beautiful and quiet. We were lucky – nobody else was here, though a tour group arrived as we left.  Phnom Chhnork Temple  

Phnom Chhnork Temple 
 
Outside a couple of guys were admiring our bike. One of them asked us how much it had cost. As soon as I told them that we paid $1000 I wished that I hadn’t. How long would it take them to make $1000, and would they ever be able to use an amount like that as disposable income? Around here, the difference in our wealth – an accident of birthplace – felt like a dirty secret. 

Next we made our way to the Secret Lake.  The Secret Lake, Kampot 

It’s a lake. You can swim if you want to. 

Why is it called the Secret Lake? The reason is a grim one. The Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s lot) commanded the villagers in the area to build a dam in order to create this lake. During this time they were fighting the Vietnamese, and so they killed the villagers in order to stop them revealing the lake’s location. One villager apparently escaped, and so the secret got out. A sad story.

Finally, we made our way to the White Elephant Cave. We did some educated guessing about its location, but finally found the official sign!

The official sign for the White Elephant Cave 

As we climbed the stone stairs up to the caves, a local teenage boy began following us silently. “I guess that’s the guide,” we said to each other. In other circumstances I may have been a bit worried if a silent seventeen-year-old started following me into a cave, but with Eric “I likes punchin’ I dos” Barton around I had no fear. 

Before we reached the cave there were some cool temples and statues. Temple outside of the White Elephant Cave  

Temple outside of the White Elephant Cave  Statue, the White Elephant Cave 

Can you see the elephant? The elephant in the White Elephant Cave 

Our tour guide was very shy, and for the first fifteen minutes literally just followed us around. But then he came into his own. We said: “Can we go this way?” He said “Yes.” We then followed him. This happened maybe four times, the route we took getting ever more rustic until we were scrambling over rocks and being led through the bushes. He had doubled his tip by the end of our tour. (It was quite impressive that he did it all in little plastic sandals.) The White Elephant Cave  

The White Elephant Cave 

That evening we hopped on board Captain Chim’s boat and took a ride along the river Preaek Tuek Chhou. 

A sunset cruise down Preaek Tuek Chhou, Kampot 

Day two, and opposed to yesterday’s DIY tourism, today we had opted for a tour group and an air conditioned bus. This was because we wanted to visit Bokor National Park, but didn’t fancy cycling up a 26 mile hill (gotten soft).

The bus was cramped and the hotel pickups in the morning seemed eternal, but finally we got there. This national park is an odd place. A tonne of investment is currently being poured into it, but a lot of its charm lies in the fact that it’s weird and derelict. 

First we visited King Sihanouk’s old summer retreat, two fairly modest-looking houses. King Sihanouk fled Cambodia in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge took power. King Sihanouk's old summer house, Bokor National Park 

Graffiti in one of the houses.  King Sihanouk's old summer house, Bokor National Park 

We visited some temples and a giant Buddha. They were OK, but nothing that special (I don’t mean to sound flippant, but good god we’ve seen a lot of temples).  Bokor National Park  

Bokor National Park  Bokor National Park 

We saw a viewpoint… with no view.  The viewpoint at Bokor National Park. Wow, what a view! 

The highlight was the old abandoned Catholic church and the old abandoned casino. In the 1980s there was a standoff between the Khmer Rouge, who occupied the church, and the Vietnamese army, who occupied the casino. 

Church Bokor National Park 

Spooky! Church, Bokor National Park 

Bullet holes? Or maybe someone trying to fit a shelf? Church, Bokor National Park 

The casino.

Abandoned casino, Bokor National Park  
Abandoned casino, Bokor National Park 
Two horror films have been made in this building.

The view from the top of the casino.  

Things just don’t feel as special any more when we haven’t cycled to them. On the plus side, we met some nice people, and had the conversation that is yet to grow old: “Isn’t the driving in Vietnam nuts?!!!”

That was Kampot. Now we turn inland. A two day journey will take us to Cambodia’s capitol, Phnom Penh. The hot, dusty roads beckon… 

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3 thoughts on “Kampot: Captain Chim’s, caves, churches and casinos. And let’s not forget the giant durian. 

  1. Prince Sihanouk didn’t flee when the Kher Rouge took power. Be was overthrown by a right-wing military coup in 1970 and went into exile In Beijing and North Korea. He then allied himself with the Khmer Rouge and was nominal head of state during their reign, though in practice they kept him under house arrest and killed half his family.
    Pol Pot released him when the Vietnamese invaded and he, the Khmer Rouge and the remnants of the old military regime united against the Vietnamese until peace came in the late 1980s (ish).

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