Kampot is a beautiful and elegant colonial city, its fall from grace as a port nearly fifty years ago has left it in a time warp. There is a raw beauty in the streets and some of the buildings reminded me somehow of Cuba. Although small and not a tourist hotspot, this town has a lot of interesting things to offer. No wonder that I ended up staying here longer than in Sihanoukville.
Hiring a small moto for the day is the way to go in Cambodia. Especially here in Kampot, where small trips took me to the surrounding rice fields, caves and the nearby town of Kep. And there is a riverside promenade with a couple of small stalls and restaurants, perfect to watch the stunning sunset over Bokor hill – a nearby mountain.
The French built a resort in the early 1920’s on Bokor hill that served the Europeans to get some cool and fresh air – far away from the hot and humid weather in the Cambodian plains. The resort is called Bokor Hill Station. Currently there is a lot of building activity next to the station and the dirt road to the location was therefore closed for tourism. The only option was to walk up.
The guidebooks warn that such a hike should be only undertaken by fit people. Therefore, I was mentally prepared for a strenuous walk on this two day hike through the Cambodian forest. We were a group of 16 tourists having the same idea and it seemed to me that everyone had arrived on the same day. Especially since I was told that no one else had booked the tour and I was prepared to do the hike alone with a ranger.
Nevertheless, hiking in such a large group was fun and most of us quickly became friends and chatted while walking uphill. Once arrived on the top of Bokor Hill at the ranger station, rain and heavy fog set in. What would be a very disappointing moment when visiting other places, was actually a great setup for taking pictures.
Here, in this strategic place, the Khmer Rouge fought one their last battles against the Vietnamese. The abandoned colonial buildings of the station were full of gun holes and other testimonies of heavy fights. After being soaked wet, we decided to wrap up for the day and went to the rangers house for dinner and sleeping.
In the morning, some of us got up at 5am to watch the sunrise in the mist over Bokor Hill – which was a spectacular view as well. It was starting to rain and the mix of sunrise, fog, patches of blue and grey sky produced the most awesome rainbow I have ever seen in my life.
After breakfast we set off to walk down the hill – but a different route. We were told, that we will have to walk in shallow water. Some of the group decided to do that part of the trip by car instead. But I wanted the “Full Monty”. Rain already soaked me and most of us wet, including underwear. So, there was little point in wanting to keep the feet dry.
That part downhill of the trek was actually the most scenic one. And we really had to pass many parts of the trail in knee-deep water. This was – after hesitating first – not really feeling too uncomfortable, since the cold and wet feet in wet socks and wet shoes provided a refreshing cold in the warm and humid rain. There was quite some plant and wildlife to see along the way – most of them unknown to us. But the occasional spiders, frogs and chameleons would always excite the women in the group. Which was fun to watch.
I recommend this place highly to anyone and I wonder why it doesn’t rank among one of the major Cambodian tourist spots. On the other hand, the laid back setting of Kampot and Bokor Hill make it a wonderful area to explore – without the crowd (although it may get crowded occasionally, as our trekking group proved).