Not that long ago, getting from Phnom Penh to Kampot by bus was a big struggle. Buses used to detour to stop in Kep on the way to Kampot, making the trip around five hours long. Now, there are many direct minibuses from Phnom Penh to Kampot which make the trip in around three hours, and taxis can be even faster than that.
The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh is known for both its lovely architecture, both from French colonial times and ancient, as well as its more recent violent history. Take the Phnom Penh Killing fields tour if you can as it’s important to understand what went on here under the reign of Pol Pot.
Before the war in the 70s, Phnom Penh was known as the Paris of the East, and hailed for its picturesque white facades scattered with temples (wats) that are over a millennium old. Though the Khmer Rouge regime is now long gone, the coarseness of Phnom Penh is only just disappearing. The main charms of the city are that it hasn’t been Westernized to the level that a few of its neighbouring countries have been, and so it gives a more pristine Southeast Asian experience.
Phnom Penh to Kampot
You can get a taxi from Phnom Penh to Kampot for around $50–70, although the prices can rise during public holidays (and Chinese New Year). Taxis are normally very clean Toyota Camrys which can can seat up to four passengers. However, most of them have very little room for baggage, so if you have a lot, you may want to try and get a van.
Taxi drivers like to drive as fast as possible and you will be able to make the trip in around three hours. You can book a taxi in advance online, or at a guesthouse or any travel agent in Phnom Penh or Kampot, although they will probably add a surcharge. Larger SUV or CRV taxis cost a little more. They can seat four passengers more comfortably than the normal taxis. It’s a good option if a few of you are sharing.
There are several bus companies that go from Phnom Penh to Kampot, but many stops in Kep first, making the trip a long five hours. Sorya is the massive player on this route — book direct at their office or on their website. They drive older buses which stop in Kep first. They used to be ridiculously cheap, but now at $8.50 per ticket there’s not really much reason to take them over one of the more comfortable mini vans.
Minibuses are a brilliant option for the trip between Kampot and Phnom Penh. There are many companies which do this route, the primary ones being Kampot Express and Giant Ibis. Giant Ibis are known as a tourist-oriented bus company which places a big priority on safety. They run 21-seat mini-buses and tickets cost $9 for all passengers and full review of the Giant Ibis service between Kampot and Phnom Penh, including photos and seating tips. The trip takes about two-and-a-half hours.
Kampot Express is also popular minibus, with tickets going for $6 for locals and $8 for foreigners. If manage to get your ticket directly through Kampot Express and make your booking in Khmer, it is fairly possible you’ll get the local price. Kampot Express uses large 15-seat vans and has a ten-minute stop on the way. They arrive in around three hours and you may buy tickets and reserve your seat online.
You may always travel between Kampot and Phnom Penh by a shared taxi. You can retrieve shared taxis at Psar Dang kor in Phnom Penh. The cost is about $5 per person, and the drivers will wait until they have enough customers to fill up the taxi. Even though the cars are 5-seater Camrys, many will wait for up to seven passengers (plus the driver) before departing. You can offer to pay for two spots to take the front seat, else you may be squeezed in with three or four in the backseat. The journey takes about 2.5 to 3.5 hours.
There is now an option of taking the Royal Railway train which goes directly from Phnom Penh to Kampot. Even though the total journey can be around 5 hours, don’t disregard the idea immediately. There is some absolutely incredible scenery along the way, and all in all it makes for an enjoyable experience. The train operates only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays and costs around $7 one-way. The carriages are fairly comfortable and come with plug sockets, AC and TVs (playing Charlie Chaplin re-runs). The atmosphere is very joyous and cheerful, and because the train stops off many times along the way, the journey is broken up pleasantly.
Welcome to Kampot!
Kampot’s sleepiness is part of its charm. Traffic is minimal and it is easy to get around the wide streets on bicycle, motorbike or foot. Life feels somewhat slow here, unrushed, with warm afternoons meant for swimming in the river or lazing in hammocks. The rundown architecture isn’t beautiful, but it is fascinating as a mix of Chinese and French colonial style shop houses with fading green and blue wooden shutters with peeling yellow paint.
Kampot certainly isn’t pristine but on a few streets where the pink bougainvillaea blossoms on trees definitely feels good.
Kampot is an easy, liveable town which is great for digital nomads. It feels like a real Cambodian city that doesn’t exist purely for tourism, but there are a number of expats, and many of them working for the NGOs that are so common in Cambodia.
This means you can find cool cafes, good restaurants and some comforts of home. You can find everything from veggie burgers, delicious pizza and apple pie to street stands selling freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, baguettes, sweet potato cakes, and lovely steamed corn on the cob.
NB. Ticket prices were correct as of 2019 — if you find any changes in tickets or routes, please comment below or contact me and I will update the information.
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot — this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.
Originally published at https://www.templeseeker.com on February 10, 2020.