In southwestern Cambodia, I fell in love with a quaint riverside town due to all the incredible nature and sustainable projects going on in the area. I spent a week here but it’s the one place in Cambodia I’d like to return to for a few months eventually—that’s how much I loved it. Kampot is one of my favorite towns in Southeast Asia, right up there with Hoi An, Chiang Mai, and Penang. If you’re heading to this wonderful area of Cambodia be sure to bookmark this Kampot responsible travel guide.
KAMPOT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE TO STAY
Mad Monkey has a socially-sustainable in the southern part of Kampot town near the river that boasts a rooftop terrace, swimming pool, several bars, affordable private rooms as well as budget dorm rooms. Out of all the Mad Monkey hostels I visited in Cambodia I felt that the Kampot location was making the most measurable impact on local people. Over the years they’ve given many UV water filtration systems to surrounding villages where access to clean water is hard to come by. They’ve also built a playground in Kampot, collaborate with Epic Arts, and run several community-based tours.
Browse and reserve accommodation at Mad Monkey Kampot on Booking.com.
KAMPOT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL GUIDE: WHAT TO SEE AND DO
MAD MONKEY KAMPOT COUNTRYSIDE TOUR
Mad Monkey supports socially sustainable ecotourism and community-based experiences with an array of tours targeted towards their backpacker crowd (hint: this means they’re some of the most affordable tours in town). I was invited to go on the Kampot Countryside Tour during my stay. It was the perfect way to start the new year. The stunning landscape provided the perfect backdrop to reminisce on how much I’ve grown this year and focus on what I wanted to manifest in the new year.
I headed off with my sweet local guide in the Mad Monkey tuk-tuk to see what the countryside had in store for us. Within minutes we were out of Kampot town and crushing down rusty red-dirt roads lined with pristine palm trees and bamboo huts. The untouched countryside at the foot of the Elephant Mountains is home to many National Parks, vegetable farms, villages, and more. On our journey would include stops at the salt fields, a pepper plantation, a mysterious cave, and a ‘secret’ lake with a painful history.
I loved the chance to get to know Kampot’s agricultural industry—so much of the country’s food is grown here. All these beautiful fruits and veggies make for an incredibly lush vista, especially when you’re perched on top of a mountain. The scenery changes quickly from flat salt fields to lush farmland or rolling hills.
Kampot is the world’s treasure chest of salt and pepper. Our food would be so bland without all the farmers who grow these seasonings. Kampot has over 2,500 acres of salt fields. Salt water from the nearby sea is poured over natural clay fields and left to evaporate which eventually forms salt crystals.
TASTING KAMPOT PEPPER
Some of the best tasting pepper on Earth is grown in Kampot and you’d be amiss not to learn about the production process as you tour a plantation and even taste test some of the world-famous peppercorns. During my Mad Monkey Kampot Countryside Tour, we visited the environmental and social sustainable La Plantation in Bosjheng village just east of Kampot. The tours at the certified organic La Plantation are a well-oiled machine with scheduled tour times for English, French, and Khmer speaking tourists. You cannot explore by yourself as this is a functioning organic farm. The tour is complimentary and some proceeds from the pepper shop go towards a project to teach village children English.
I knew pepper was a plant, obviously, but I had no idea how much work went into the process from planting a seed to seasoning the food on my plate. These aren’t chili peppers. On the tour, we saw the crops and learned about harvesting. Pepper looks like a berry. The green cherries are hand-picked and sun-dried to make black pepper. For red pepper, the skin is boiled off. There’s also green and white pepper. They also dry the stem and use it to make a tea. My guide confidently told me that pepper can prevent cancer.
Cambodians have been cultivating high-quality pepper since Chinese pepper planters arrived in the 13th century. There was a major hiatus during the Khmer Rouge when the violent regime took over the land and used the farms to grow rice. In 2000, pepper plantations began to be restored and the industry enjoyed a renaissance which is ongoing today. The growing methods haven’t changed at all—tried and true ancestral practices are still followed today.
Kampot Pepper has been awarded the ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ status by the EU which helps prevent counterfeit peppers from monopolizing the market. Palm Sugar produced in Kampong Speu province also has PGI protection. PGI status requires farmers to grow produce without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. We can all thank Kampot pepper for spicing up our lives and making them sweeter.
KAMPOT SECRET LAKE AND CAVES
For lunch, we made our way towards the secret Brateak Krola Lake. No, this massive lake wasn’t once hidden. There didn’t used to be a body of water here. It’s a man-made dam.
The horrifying secret is that it was built by slaves during the Khmer Rouge regime. It’s believed that thousands of people were executed and then thrown into the water. The ‘secret’ is that the lake is a grave. Just like other parts in Cambodia, local people are trying to move past this horrific history.
I was asked if I wanted to take a swim and there are even resorts along the shore. I didn’t get in the water. I found it difficult to even enjoy lunch here or relax in the hammock knowing the horrors that occurred here.
We also visited the Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple. Inside is an altar for Lord Shiva that dates back to the 7th century. There are also several rock formations that look like creatures—do you see the shape of an elephant? There are seriously epic views on the way up!
EPIC ARTS PERFORMANCE WITH MAD MONKEY
Epic Arts is a social enterprise supporting people with different abilities through inclusive arts. The Come Back Brighter public performance is a form of visual communication and incredibly expressive. Arts and theaters were destroyed throughout the country during the Khmer Rouge regime. Prior to the genocide, Cambodia was considered the pearl of Asia with many talented people across various art platforms.
The performance was choreographed by Khmer Nim Narim and the performers are part of the Inclusive Contemporary Dance Company. The first scene of the hour-long show was an Apsara blessing dance. Next was a film in Khmer which is wonderfully inclusive and makes locals feel like they’re welcome at the powerful shows. One of the lyrical scenes in the performance is clearly meant to depict what life was like before and after the Khmer Rouge. Other contemporary dance numbers narrated Cambodia’s complex history.
I loved the final act where there was audience participation as we learned how to use Khmer sign language to applaud and thank the deaf dance crew members. Epic Arts continues to honor the legacy of those lost and that the spirit of the Khmer people can’t be destroyed. It was one of the most transformative performance art pieces I’ve ever seen.
Epic Arts also has educational programs in marginalized Cambodian communities for children who are both disabled and non-disabled. Mad Monkey Kampot has been involved in many of the Epic Arts projects as they’re a Gold sponsor, the highest ranking. They fund grants for projects such as a 2014 donation of $750 which funded the purchase of a tuk-tuk to transport students from the countryside to school.
HAVE A SPA DAY AT THE BANTEAY SREY PROJECT
This is a safe space for women—there are no cis males allowed except for the morning yoga practice. It’s truly a sanctuary for all women—the beneficiaries, employees, volunteers, and guests are all oozing joyful bliss. The Banteay Srey Project is a social enterprise and runs the Women’s Spa. Female beneficiaries of the program receive pro bono vocational training at the center focusing on culinary skills, hospitality skills, and beauty treatments.
Prior to the training many of the women were at-risk of horrifying future such as the sex trade. After they’ve completed the program they’ve obtained a hireable skill which will lead to sustainable employment. Many even stay and work at the Banteay Srey Spa. What could be better than receiving a personalized therapeutic treatment using homemade organic products? The peace of mind that the experience is fully female-powered and supportive of marginalized women.
The simple spa relies on nature to create a warm and welcoming ambiance at its a no-fuss riverside location. You won’t miss the luxurious amenities of day spas as you chill out on the deck by the mellow flowing river (take a dip in a Khmer swimsuit, a sarong) or enjoy an organic juice before and after your treatment. They also run a fully-vegan cafe. The spa isn’t fully-vegan so be sure to ask to have no honey or yogurt in your treatments if you’re vegan.
If you still haven’t made a reservation listen up. I had the very best facial of my life at Banteay Srey. It was so soothing on my acne-prone skin and I was glowing like a ray of sunshine for days afterward. I didn’t even mind the cucumber mask—a food i despise. The all-natural body scrub was also excellent but if you can only afford one service get the facial! Get it weekly if you’re in Kampot long term. It will save your life, or you know, maybe just your skin.
If spas aren’t really your thing you can come down to Banteay Srey for a yoga class or meditation practice. These are usually led by foreign volunteers and are held daily except for Tuesday at 9 AM and 4:30 PM. The open-air wooden yoga shala is on the second story and gets a great crisp breeze from the river below. Classes are just $5 each time and support the social enterprise. I really enjoyed my practice here and it’s what made me finally decided to do yoga teacher training in hopes of someday sharing my practice with beneficiaries of women’s empowerment projects similar to this one.
KAMPOT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL GUIDE: ETHICAL SHOPPING
I walked past a minimalistic clothing shop in Kampot store and immediately fell in love with Dorsu. The staple wardrobe goods are made of luxuriously thick and soft 100% cotton that’s grown in Cambodia and assembled by Khmer seamstresses at their in-house studio. I picked up three pairs of underwear, a sports bra, and a tote bag—all of which are super high quality, I’ve been using them weekly for 6 months!
The ‘SAY NO TO PLASTIC’ tote goes with me everywhere and is my silent broadcast to encourage others to live more sustainably. On the other side of the tote bag, the saying is written in Khmer. Aren’t the characters gorgeous? Dorsu is environmentally and socially sustainable with several projects that give back to the community.
KAMPOT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS: EAT AT SOCIAL ENTERPRISE TRAINING RESTAURANTS
Epic Arts and Banteay Srey also operate cafes which benefit their charitable programs. The vegan food I ate at these cafes and several others are included in the Kampot vegan guide.
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I was hosted at Mad Monkey hostel and on the tours and at the show. I was also a guest at the Banteay Srey spa. All opinions and photos are my own. This article contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.