6 reasons to visit Southern Cambodia

Cambodia is a country that is fast developing in the world of popular tourism, which is due in the large part, to the amazing Angkor Wat and surrounding ancient temple ruins. But head south and you’ll see a different side to the Kingdom of Wonder, one where the hustle and bustle of the main tourist sites are left far behind. There are beaches on tropical islands offshore where boatloads of people seeking an idyllic escape in the sun head to for some serious downtime but there are also some compelling reasons to stay on the mainland and explore the rich culture and history in the area.

1. The sleepy riverside town of Kampot is wonderful

Kampot is a sleepy riverside town with some interesting old French colonial buildings and Chinese style shophouses. Lose hours wandering the streets spotting architecture, drinking coffee or eating in one of the many restaurants and cafes on the riverside. There are sunset river cruises and plenty of local life and culture to immerse yourself in during your stay at this famously laid-back town.

Kampot - sunset

Kampot has a growing number of restaurants and cafes offering everything from hand-pulled noodles and dumplings to freshly made pizza and pasta being sold from a roadside stall in a makeshift restaurant. There are artisan coffee producers, cake shops and bakeries alongside local people selling banana and sticky rice baked in banana leaves and delicious noodle soups assembled from passing street carts.

The streets of Kampot are quiet and peaceful but the bustling local market gives you a real glimpse into local life and culture, as well as being somewhere to spot many of the locally grown fruits such as the infamous durian which the area is famed for.

Kampot - streets

2. Experience some of the best service in the region when you stay at Rikitikitavi.

The best place to stay in Kampot is undoubtedly Rikitikitavi, a friendly, boutique luxury hotel right on the riverside with excellent views of life on the river as well as the stunning sunset at night. Make this one of your stops on your southern Cambodian tour because you’ll find some of the best service for miles around waiting for you (and after a long day of travelling this might just be what you need).

Rikitikitavi - entrance

Accommodation is classy and informal; hand selected wooden carvings, quality rattan and quirky modern art add to the natural, easy going feel of the place. It’s the best stop for well made cocktails in the evening (treat yourself also to a delicious dinner) or to wake up to a filling a la carte breakfast served by the friendly and helpful staff. Check-in, sit back and enjoy the sleepy Kampot vibes.

3. Bokor Mountain National Park is stunning

Like a lot of tourist attractions in Cambodia, there is a dark past to this top sight to see in Southern Cambodia, but there are many other reasons to visit also. Bokor Mountain National Park is home to part of the last remaining rainforest in Cambodia with pristine forest, plants galore and even rare sightings of wild animals like tigers, leopards and elephants (amongst many other rare and endangered species).

Bokor National Park - entrance

The air is clean and the temperature is cooler than down below in nearby riverside Kampot; some would say it’s worth visiting just for this. Popokvil waterfall provides a humbling experience in the rainy season with tea-coloured water (stained by organic matter in the water) gushing down over the rocks with a dramatic force. Stand on the polished flat beds of rock as the water gushes by with real force and feel truly alive.

Bokor National Park - waterfall

It was the natural beauty and wonderful climate in the area that encouraged French colonists and high society Khmers to retreat to Bokor Mountain where they built a ‘hill station’ to service their needs. The hill station was abandoned after the Khmer Rouge took power in the 1970’s and occupied many of the buildings whilst the regime was in power. They continued to fight bitter battles with Vietnamese and government forces, right up until the 1990’s bringing a new and darker part of the story to this one grand retreat of the rich.

The remains of the buildings, crumbling and derelict, can still be seen today and as misty clouds of fog drift in off the mountain side, the eeriness of the abandoned Bokor Hill Station can be fully felt. The views are legendary and on a good day you can see down across the rainforest canopy for miles until the sea, almost forgetting the more sinister times from the past.

Bokor National Park - hotel

4. Kampot pepper is said to be one of the best in the world

Buying Kampot pepper should be on every food loving travellers ‘things to do’ list whilst in Cambodia and what better place to do it than at the source, from one of Kampot’s many pepper farms. Awarded ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ by the EU to prevent fakes being sold in EU Member Countries, this spicy seasoning has long been famed for its quality.

Chefs around the world extol it’s virtues, as they have been for years since the spice first became popular abroad during the French colonial times. It is said to have floral tones with hints of eucalyptus alongside its fiery flavour.

Kampot - pepper drying in sun

Kampot pepper has been cultivated in Cambodia for over a thousand years when the Khmer Empire was at its greatest and the mighty Angkor Wat was in its hey day. But pepper farms were all but destroyed and replaced with rice fields during the time that the Khmer Rouge was in power and it wasn’t until more recent times that people were able to restore their pepper farms and regain the lost knowledge of farming which had previously been passed down through generations.

Now there are many excellent quality farms where you can see the pepper growing and also shops selling their products; look for those with organic certification which are ethically sourced with farm workers being paid a fair wage for the best pepper that money can buy.

Kampot - pepper vines

5. Kep has a seriously sleepy seaside resort

If you think Kampot is sleepy when you visit then Kep is practically comatose, it’s one of those places where the sleepiness of the atmosphere hits you as soon as you step onto the promenade. It’s become famous for selling fresh crab cooked in Kampot pepper to hoards of people who visit just for this reason. However, if this isn’t your thing then you’ll still find enough to make you glad you spent a little time here.

Kep - seafront

It used to be the seaside hangout of wealthy French citizens in Cambodia as well as others who had money, who would all visit to escape the heat of the city and enjoy life at a more relaxed pace. However, after the occupation of the Khmer Rouge and the ongoing civil war in Cambodia, most of the sophisticated modern villas fell into disrepair, subject to looting and dereliction. Today, their crumbling empty shells, covered in green moss and overgown tropical plants stand as an eerie reminder of times gone by.

Kep - beach

Like a lot of other places in Cambodia, Kep is having a more recent revival and there are many new luxury villas and boutique hotels opening on this famous costal Cambodian destination so it may well just be the place to go to for the finer things in life once again.

6. World class luxury at Villa des Palmes

For some top end luxury in an enviable location overlooking the rainforest and the sea, Villa des Palmes is a good choice for some luxury in the South of Cambodia. With 2 private villas, complete with infinity pools, and your personal team of housekeeping staff who will cater for you during your stay, this is a place to experience living in true peaceful comfort.

Villa des Palmes - cinema

Spend time swimming in your pool, relaxing or watching a movie in the beautifully designed cinema room. Nearby Kep seafront is within walking distance, through an ‘off the track’ jungle path for a little adventure, otherwise the only things to occupy you here will be selecting what you want the housekeeping staff to make for your meals. Choose from the menu or request an alternative, they’ll go to the local market to pick up fresh ingredients to prepare traditional Khmer or Western dishes depending on your requirements.

Villa des Palmes - pool

Wake up to ocean views that will provide the backdrop to your days at this well maintained private villa and surround yourself with sounds of birdsong, rustling leaves, crickets and not much else as you gaze into the dense forest canopy.

Southern Cambodia has much to offer those who visit; culture, natural beauty, an interesting history, delicious food and a slow pace of life for those seeking to unwind as well as explore. It’s just another face of this wonderful country which won’t disappoint and will fill your heart.

Paul Eyers is Founder of Vegan Food Quest.

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Comments (1)

  1. Eileen Eyers says:

    What an interesting and informative piece about a part of Cambodia I have not yet visited. I am tempted to make a reservation at the Riktikitavi in Kampot when I next visit. Your pictures are stunning – even the one of the derelict Hill Station, although it does look a little creepy with maybe ghosts of previous residents wandering it’s dilapidated rooms.

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