Kampot is a charming riverside town that was established in the early 1900s by the French. The town lies at the base of the Elephant Mountain Range, 5 km inland on the river Prek Thom and was for a long time the gateway to the beach resort at Kep . On one side of the river are tree-lined streets, crumbling mustard yellow French shop fronts and a sleepy atmosphere, while on the other side you will find locals working in the salt pans. The town has the feel of another era - with a dabbling of Chinese architecture and overall French colonial influence - which, with a bit of restoration work, could easily be compared to UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Hoi An in Vietnam and Luang Prabang in Laos. Life is laid-back in Kampot and the town has become an expat retreat with Phnom Penh-ites ducking down here for the fresh air and cooler climate.
Bokor Mountain National Park
Kbal Romeas caves and temple
Bokor Mountain National Park's plateau, at 1040 m, peers out from the southernmost end of the Elephant Mountains with a commanding view over the Gulf of Thailand and east to Vietnam. Bokor Hill (Phnom Bokor) is densely forested and in the remote and largely untouched woods scientists have discovered 30 species of plants unique to the area. Not for nothing are these called the Elephant Mountains and besides the Asian elephant there are tigers, leopards, wild cows, civets, pigs, gibbons and numerous bird species. At the peak of the mountain is
Bokor Hill Station
, where eerie, abandoned, moss-covered buildings sit in dense fog. The buildings were built by the French, who attracted by Bokor's relative coolness, established a 'station climatique' on the mountain in the 1920s. In 1970 Lon Nol shut it down and Bokor was quickly taken over by Communist guerrillas; it later became a strategic military base for the Khmer Rouge. In more recent years there was a lot of guerrilla activity in the hills, but the area is now safe, with the exception of the danger, ever-present in Cambodia, of landmines. The ruins are surprisingly well preserved but bear evidence of their tormented past. There is a double waterfall called
, a 2-km walk from the station, which involves wading through a stream, though in the wet season this is nigh on impossible.
Ten kilometres outside Kampot, on the roads to both Phnom Penh and to Kep, limestone peaks harbour interesting caves with stalactites and pools. It is here that you can find one of Cambodia's hidden treasures - an 11th-century temple slowly being enveloped by stalactites and hidden away in a cave in Phnom Chhnok, next to the village of Kbal Romeas. The temple, which is protected by three friendly monks, was discovered by Adhemer Leclere in 1866. Many motos and cars now do trips.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF